Pet businesses will prosper: Industry trends for 2014 and beyond
By Clarice Brough

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Is your pet business stoked for the industry trends of 2014 and beyond? If you own a pet store or another pet-related enterprise, chances are your business concerns are similar to those of most pet operations across the United States.


What do you think about the pet industry outlook?
  • 1. It's looking strong
  • 2. I have some concerns
  • 3. This might get ugly

You most likely belong to a group of small, independently owned pet businesses with either none or fewer than four employees. This is the case for 92.2 percent of all U.S. pet operations according to June's IBISWorld Industry Report, Pet Stores in the U.S. by Caitlin Moldway. Just 7.8 percent of pet-related businesses have more than 20 employees.

A number of different types of retail operations exist in the pet industry. These most often sell pets, pet foods and pet supplies, and provide pet grooming and boarding services. Other closely related industries are veterinarian services, which also occasionally retail pet foods and supplies, as well as pet insurance. The two national retail chains, PetSmart and PetCo, account for more than half of the industry revenue, with smaller stores and franchises accounting for the remainder.

A variety of specialized pet services and products have also emerged, largely the result of a "pet parenting" attitude among owners. This trend has been increasing for a number of years, but according to Moldway it reached a tipping point in 2005 and 2006 as increasing numbers of people are rewarding pets in human terms. Premium diets have become a mainstay for many pet owners.

Today there is a large demand in specialized diets for dogs, cats, birds and even reptiles, as well as specialized treats and supplements for a number of different household pets. Demand has also increased for specialized pet services such as dog walking and training. Premium services such as pet therapy sessions, full-service boarding in doggy hotels and even pet-only airplane flights have been increasing in popularity as well.

The majority of pet businesses are independently owned and operated, and being small heightens their sensitivity to external market pressures. During the past five years, fluctuations in the economy have affected the buying decisions of pet owners. The demand for standard pet products stayed flat or decreased, while specialty pet products and services increased, pushing the industry revenues up overall, to an average of 3.4 percent annually.

With the economic downturn of the past five years followed by a slow recovery, it helps if you understand where the pet industry has been and where it is heading. Here's a brief overview of the past trends, where we are now and the future outlook. As a pet industry player you will quickly learn how you and your business can prosper.

Past Trends Leading into 2013

The overall economy has been shaky, but the pet industry was less affected by the recent recession than other retail sectors. The IBISWorld Industry Report shows that for 2008-13, the industry has averaged an overall 3.4 percent annual growth. As reported by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) in the Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics, the total U.S. pet industry expenditures for 2008 was $43.2 billion while it is estimated at $55.53 billion for 2013.

Although the industry did expand, growth had slowed significantly from earlier years. Surveys conducted in 2010 by Pet Business report a reduction in pet supply spending from 2008-10. During the past five years only supermarkets, mass merchandisers and large retailers benefited from the slowing economy, as they could offer discounted prices and the convenience of one-stop shops. Unfortunately, these tough times forced some smaller specialty retailers to exit the industry. In the five years preceding 2013, the number of pet industry operators contracted at an average annual rate of 0.9 percent to an estimated 13,470 companies.

On a positive note, the downturn prompted about 22 percent of small pet businesses to offset the decline in their retail product sales by adding other specialty pet services. Overall, the industry has continued to expand and is considered to be in the growth stage of its life cycle.

A consistent average growth (since 2008) is attributed to an increase in the number of pet owners along with an emerging trend of the humanization of pets. Moldway says that owners more often see themselves as "pet parents," considering their pets as family members. This has increased demand for premium pet products and services. Consumers are indulging in all-natural and organic pet foods and treats and there is an increased demand for boarding, daycare, training, socialization services and more.

Pet Trends into 2014 and Beyond

Going forward, growth in the pet industry is projected to be 4 percent annually through 2018. In the next five years, pet operations are projected to maintain strong growth. The number of households owning pets is expected to continue to increase along with an increase in discretionary income as the economic recovery takes hold. These two factors combined will continue to bolster the demand for premium products, foods and pet services.

Pet ownership is the key to increased growth in the industry. Ownership has been on the rise in the United States for the last two decades. The demand for pets, especially cats and dogs, is expected to continue to rise through 2018 and probably beyond. For the next five years, it is projected that the majority of new entrants into the pet-keeping hobby will be single-person households and the aging population.

The IBISWorld report estimates that the average rate of pet ownership will increase at 2.2 percent annually. According to studies by the APPA, in 1998 about 51 million households owned at least one pet, and by 2005 that number had reached 69 million. The most recent APPA study, the 2013-2014 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, estimates 82.5 million or 68 percent of American households are now pet owners.

Pet sales are normally a one-time purchase, so it represents only a small portion of the industry revenue. For 2013, IBISWorld tags the live-animal segment at about 5.6 percent of total industry revenue. The large retailers generally only sell fish and some small animals, and then partner with local pet adoption programs to provide dogs and cats. The independent, small retailers often sell all types of animals. These can include fish, birds, rabbits, a variety of small animals, a variety of reptiles and invertebrates, and cats and dogs.

Two other factors besides an increase in pet ownership are expected to influence an increase in business for independent retailers.
  1. The recovering economy. This will provide consumers with more discretionary income.
  2. The ongoing trend of pet humanization. This will spur demand for premium foods, upscale products, and more specialty services.
Competition will continue from supermarkets and grocery stores that offer one-stop convenience. But consumers will also be seeking pet supply options based on factors other than low prices and return to smaller operators.

Specialty pet services have been the fastest growing segment in the industry. This segment will continue to grow as more pet owners consider animals to be valued members of their families. The IBISWorld report forecasts that the number of pet-related operations will also expand. The number of companies is projected to increase at an average annual rate of 1.6 percent. The number of businesses is expected to reach about 14,611 by 2018, well above the 13,470 in operation today.

Worldwide Pet Industry Trends

Both the United States and the United Kingdom have long been the leaders of the world pet market. But today a number of other countries are emerging as global pet industry forces.

The majority of the pet operations in the United States are small businesses that operate within a local or regional scope. The IBISWorld Industry Report states that globalization will not have an impact on the retail segment. However, at the manufacturing level, pet supplies are increasingly being imported and exported, and then sold in the domestic market.

A London-based market research firm, Euromonitor International, reports that the trend in world pet markets has increased exponentially within the last five years. According to the article, The World Pet Market Booms, Countries that are Experiencing Unprecedented Growth by Alissa Wolf, the industry insiders attribute this growth to global humanization of pets. Other cultures are also increasingly regarding companion animals as family members.

Wolf indicates that a boom in the world pet markets can be seen in a number of emerging countries. Not only have they experienced growth in their pet industries, some have also begun to schedule their first "Pet Expo"-type conventions. Some of these up and coming countries include:
  • China, where ongoing economic improvement is providing more and more people with disposable income. It has begun to really take off within the last five years here.
  • India too is growing, although the majority of the retailers are "mom and pop"-type outlets, and this country has been slow to adopt commercial pet foods. It has a long history of feeding pets homemade fare, but with an increase in two-income families and hectic lifestyles, it is expected to experience large growth in coming years.
  • Russia has experienced a huge growth in the realm of commercial pet foods, notably in 2010-11.
  • Other up-and-coming world pet markets include Japan, Vietnam and Latin America — where Brazil and Mexico are two of the upcoming superstars.
Pet Industry Future Outlook

The future looks bright in the pet industry. The economic downturn of the past five years is now being followed by a slow recovery, which is quite promising. For the small stores, the impact of competition from supermarkets and mass merchandisers has been strong and will continue. These outlets offer a range of pet products and foods in a moderate price range.

Larger pet retailers like PetSmart and PetCo will also continue to have a strong showing. They offer a broad range of pet foods, pet supplies and pet services ranging in quality and price. They can also buy in bulk, private label these items and subsequently sell them for a lower price, which helps give them an advantage.

Heading into 2014 and beyond, customers will continue to pamper their pets. And as they experience an increase in disposable income they will also be looking for more than low prices. Small business will benefit the most from this shift. Independent operators tend to be the most knowledgeable and experienced in the industry and are able to offer expert advice on a variety of pet-related issues.

As a small business, you need to look at incorporating specialty foods, products and services. You can outshine the competition in your ability to offer personalized customer services. You are more adaptable and can readily offer pet products, foods and services to meet the specific needs of your customers.

Clarice Brough has more than two decades of experience as an exotic animal professional — from owning an exotic pet store to breeding all sorts of exotic pet species. Today she is the website content and public relations manager for, a website devoted to providing quality pet information. You can follow Clarice on the following social media sites: LinkedIn, Google Plus, Facebook and Twitter.