Pet Franchising Takes Off

Pets and pet-related businesses are among today's hottest franchise opportunities--especially in the U.S., where owners are notorious for pampering their dogs, cats, birds (and even their rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and fish).

The total number of in the U.S. is estimated at 400 million. The Pet Food Institute cites surveys showing more than half of all U.S. households with at least one cat or dog--more than 60 million dogs and 80 million cats overall (sorry, dogs).

That's a lot of mouths to feed, hair or fur to wash, legs to exercise, and bodies to clothe, decorate, and otherwise spend money on.

Add to this the "overworked American" with less spare time every year, and you have opportunity--and an increasing number of pet-related franchisors trying to cash in on the nearly $40 billion a year that Americans spend on their pets.

Areas ripe with opportunity for franchising in this growing sector include pet supplies, boarding, and even pampering.

Daycare/spa/boarding (and pampering)
Rather than leave their precious pooches home alone, busy (and affluent) dog owners are turning more and more to doggie day care (preferably located near their center). Specialized doggie day care franchises are on the grow, offering lucky dogs everything from daily play dates with other dogs to grooming, training, their own crate to sleep in, and online web cams so "parents" can check in on their four-legged children from anywhere in the world. Stays can be daily or for weeks.

Dogtopia, based in Virginia and franchising under the name Happy Tails Dog Spa since 2005, describes itself as "a full-service spa, and boutique." Competitors include Gulliver's Doggie Daycare (formerly Doggie Daycare), in business since 1994 in Williston, Vt.;
Wellington Pet Care, based in King of Prussia, Penn.; and Camp Bow Wow, Boulder, Colo., franchising since 2003.

Other recent entrants in this segment include The Canine Grande Resort, franchising since 2005; and Preppy Pet, which began franchising in 2006.

While doggie day care businesses require an often hefty investment in (and often a deft touch with neighborly politics), less expensive options exist in the form of home-based businesses.

Pets Are Inn, founded in 1982 in Minnesota, and franchising since 1986, puts a different spin on this segment, offering boarding at prescreened private homes. Startup costs range from $20,000 to $75,000, compared with $100,000 to $500,000 when buildings, and staff are involved.

Dogs may run free, but their owners like them clean when they come home. Companies like Hydro-Groom Mobile Pet Wash, Aussie Pet Mobile, and The Pooch Mobile deliver a dog bathing service to your dog's door.

The Pooch Mobile, which bills itself as the world's largest dog hydrobathing service, claims more than 160 Pooch Mobile units on the road in six countries (Australia, U.K., Malaysia, U.S., New Caledonia, and New Zealand). The company offers master franchise and subfranchisor opportunities.

Aussie Pet Mobile, started in 1996, also in Australia, provides a heated hydrobath and service for dogs--and the promise of freedom and flexibility for its franchisees.

Hydro-Groom, based in North Carolina and franchising since 1998, offers a "salon on wheels," which the company describes as a therapeutic animal bathtub that deep cleans and massages as it bathes. There's also nail and hair trimming, breath freshener, blow dry, and a final "brush out and cologne spritz." Dog Wash America is a new entrant in this sudsy niche.

Dog owners also like their dogs well behaved. For dogs with behavior problems, or young pups in need of civilizing, a franchise like Bark Busters may be just the ticket. Founded in Australia in 1989, this in-home franchise prides itself on its "holistic and humane dog system." Its "behavioral therapists" have trained more than 300,000 dogs. Bark Busters has nearly 300 franchises in 8 countries worldwide, and Bark Busters USA has expanded into more than 38 states and 180 franchises.

Food is love--at least for many people, especially when it comes to their beloved Annual U.S. sales of and treats for cats and dogs are about $15 billion.

Pet Supplies Plus (PSP) opened its first store in 1988 in Michigan, selling toys, and treats for cats, dogs, and smaller animals. PSP, with more than 215 stores in 21 states, offers franchise opportunities for single-unit owners or area developers.

Just Dogs! Gourmet, a dog treat franchise, started in a Pennsylvania mall in 1998. The brand specializes in hand-cut, all-natural dog treats made in its own Products include all-natural peanut butter treats, bones, Parmesan cheese twists, and "healthy hearts" made with real vegetables.

If you live in the Southeast (or want to), consider an Animal Supply House franchise. Started in 1992, the brand has 12 stores in the region and is offering a limited number of in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

Always wanted your own pet shop? If you want to sell not only supplies, but actual animals and have between $250,000 and $500,000 to invest, Pet Depot is offering single-unit and area development agreements. Founded in Santa Monica, Calif., in 1991, the brand offers franchisees a chance to cash in on an "evergreen" industry growing at about 5 to 6 percent a year (American Pet Products Manufacturers Association).

Petland, founded in 1967 and based in Ohio, began franchising in the early 1970s. Petland has nearly 200 locations worldwide, and is expanding internationally through master franchise agreements. Each location sells fish, birds, cats, dogs, small animals, reptiles, and the food and accessories needed to care for them.

Aquarium Adventure, a wholly owned subsidiary of Petland, opened its first store in 1996, outside of Cleveland. Three more have opened since then, specializing in tropical and marine fish, as well as "aquascaping" (combining ponds, and pond fish). These 9,000- to 12,000-square foot superstores are an attraction in themselves. Franchises are being offered nationwide.

For pet owners reluctant to board their pets while traveling, there are franchised pet sitters and dog walkers.

Fetch! Pet Care, based in Berkeley, Calif., and franchising since 2004, has more than 60 franchisees in about 25 states. In addition to pet walking and sitting (even overnight), franchisees also will bathe the animals and clean up yards.

In Home Pet Services, based in New York, provides dog walkers and pet sitters for dogs, cats, fish, reptiles, birds, and other small animals and exotics. They'll even trim feathers and clip nails. Startup costs for these two concepts range from about $5,000 to $30,000.

Cleaning up
Finally, after training, bathing, feeding, and walking, there's cleanup. Pet Butler and Doody Calls answer nature's call--as well as that of enterprising entrepreneurs looking to clean up. Pet Butler, started in 1988, counts more than 36 million poops scooped on its "Turdometer." The company not only cleans up, but also deodorizes back yards, parks, and multi-family communities with its network of franchisees, providing a "coast-to-coast scooping service" for nearly 7,000 dogs and cats each week across North America.

DoodyCalls, based in Virginia, started in 2000 and began franchising in 2004. As of early 2007, the company operated one unit in the Greater Washington, D.C., area and had sold nine franchises.

Don't forget the feathers!
While dogs are clearly the pet franchising animal of choice (sorry, cat lovers), birds also offer opportunities in this sector. Whether caring for their pet birds or feeding free birds in the great outdoors, Americans spend plenty on their feathered friends. The most recent statistics have consumers spending nearly $4.3 billion annually on bird feeding and watching wildlife. Of that, they spend $3.1 billion on birdseed and wildlife food; $732 million on birdfeeders, birdbaths and nesting boxes; and $507 million on binoculars and spotting scopes.

Two franchise brands dominate birdland. Wild Birds Unlimited, founded in 1981 by Jim Carpenter, opened its first franchise in 1983 and has more than 300 stores in the U.S. and Canada. Wild Bird Centers of America was founded in 1985 by George Petrides, Sr., and awarded its first franchise in 1988; multiple store ownership is encouraged. Total capital investment for either of these franchises ranges from $100,000 to $150,000.

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