Starting a Pet Business in SA

There is a great deal of opportunity in the pet industry, however, as with many entrepreneurial ventures, it is essential that you obtain the relevant knowledge and expertise before starting out.

Dealing with pets brings with it much joy but of paramount importance for any pet related business is the ethos of responsible pet ownership and care. It is important that you consult with a veterinarian on any important issues to ensure the pets’ wellbeing is always a priority.

Whilst the economic downturn has affected many industries, the pet industry has proven to be remarkably resilient to the global recession. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) the pet industry has seen unprecedented growth in the last ten years in the USA, with spending up by an estimated $2.49 billion in 2011, despite the recession.

In South Africa there is a growing middle class who can afford to own pets and offer them the best care. In July 2011, a staggering 18,384 people attended the World of Dogs and Cats Pet Expo (WODAC) in Johannesburg during the two day show. The Expo had a record 123 exhibitor stalls and exceeded all expectations.

Within the pet industry, pet services would appear to be the fastest growing area both locally and internationally. While pet training, boarding and grooming remain popular and necessary, services such as pet photography, portrait artists, hydrotherapy and even pet spa treatments are offered as more and more owners are splashing out on their beloved pets. Innovative new products are constantly being developed for pets, from bacon scented bubbles to DNA tests that determine the heritage of your “pavement special”.

There are a wide range of pet services and products you could offer the pet-loving public and we will highlight just a few;

Boarding Kennels and/or Cattery

Due to the growing demand for accommodation for pets whilst their owners are away on business or holiday, there has been a steady increase in the number of kennels and catteries available and there are even places that will look after more exotic pets. Taking care of a loved companion animal is a serious business and a huge responsibility, and a number of factors should be considered.

Most animals create noise so you would need to ascertain whether your neighbours would object, whether you comply with your local bylaws and what permissions need to be sought. Your facilities would also need to be secure enough to prevent the escape of an animal and large enough for dogs to have space to run and be exercised.

Animals are also more likely to pick up diseases when in high density, stressful conditions and a lenient intake protocol could result in disaster. It is therefore imperative that you receive proof that all animals admitted for boarding have had the relevant vaccinations, a schedule of which can be provided by your veterinarian or by consulting the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA).

You should also have a signed release form that allows you to take any pets to the vet should the need arise. Simple things, like a sudden change in diet for example, can result in diarrhoea and illness so care must be exercised when considering the dietary requirements of your lodgers.

Cats in particular are prone to stress and need to be kept in a quiet area far away from any barking dogs. There are some establishments that have gone the extra mile and included televisions and music to both soothe and entertain the pets in their temporary care.

Ensuring that your customers receive individual attention, exercise and mental stimulation in addition to a comfortable environment during their stay will result in happy pets, happy owners and return visits.

Pet Sitting

Professional pet sitting has become very popular and whilst there are a number of companies and individuals who offer these services, many are localised so it might be useful to check if there are any operating in your area.

Many owners prefer to have their pets stay at home whilst they are away and would rather have somebody come to their house. Your duties would include feeding the pets and giving them water and may also include walking, grooming, administering medications and even playing with the animals. You could be asked to stay at the property or to visit daily.

Dog Training

In recent times much progress has been made on the psychology of pet behaviour and a number of organisations in South Africa offer accredited behaviourist and training courses. These days it’s not only horses that are “whispered to” and many a nervous kitty and misbehaving pooch have benefitted from seeing a professional who can provide guidance to both them and their owners!

It would be imperative to research which method of training appeals to you and to enrol in the recommended course before you attempt to offer classes or assistance.

A website to look at is:

Pet Foods

Pet foods makes up the bulk of spending within the pet industry but it requires a great deal of research and expertise and as a result would require a fair amount of capital expenditure and product development before the actual marketing of the product.

Anyone interested in food production would certainly benefit from consulting the Pet Food Industry (PFI) Association which is a non-profit body formed by manufacturers, dedicated to upholding quality standards that ensure the nutritional well-being of household pets.

Bedding and Housing

One only needs to visit your local veterinary store or pet shop to see the great number of different products available for your pets to sleep on or in. From adapted tractor tyres to custom made homes complete with lighting and under-floor heating, sponge cushions to memory foam mattresses and everything in-between, there are always unique new products entering the market and with some innovation and the right market research there are certainly opportunities in this area.

Animal Shelters

Starting a shelter requires much in the way of initial set up and administration, and possibly more good could be done channelling your energy into helping an existing shelter. Running a shelter is both physically and emotionally draining. In most cases it will deplete your financial resources rather than add to them.

Every animal that is admitted needs to be vaccinated, sterilised, treated for parasites and, ideally, micro-chipped. Even at reduced veterinary rates these essentials cost more than the adoption fee the public is willing to pay for a rescue animal and most shelters make a loss on each and every animal they home. Organisations that focus on fundraising for animal charities provide a tremendous boost to existing charities.

Emerging Trends

New moves within the pet industry according to the American Pet Products Association include;

Eco-friendly Pet Products
High-tech Pet Products
Monogrammed Pet Products
Pet-Friendly Hotels
Human Product Manufacturers now offering Pet Products (e.g. Paul Mitchell, Harley Davidson etc.)

Advertising your pet business

There are many pet owners out there just waiting to hear from you and there are number of platforms available to promote your pet related business. SA Pet Pages Magazine is a pet products and services directory that provides an extremely effective way of reaching your target market as it is distributed FREE into the hands of pet owners. Each quarter 55,000 copies are distributed through veterinary clinics throughout Gauteng, KZN and the Eastern & Western Cape.

The old adage goes: “Doing business without advertising is like winking at someone in a dark room. You know you’re doing it but nobody else does.” It is important for any business and especially for any new enterprise to advertise. Ensure that you make the most of your advertising investment by asking consumers how they found your product.

This will enable you to calculate the return on investment (ROI) that you are getting from the various advertising media you employ. Additional advertising platforms to consider include the annual WODAC Pet Expo, dog and cat shows, dog parks and the internet. Social media is of course another important tool that must not be overlooked.