Pet Boutiques: Boom or Bust?

By Emily LambertMarch 2008–Is the “trend” of luxury pet items on the decline? Certainly if you’ve been reading industry trade magazines you might be under the impression that pet boutiques are doomed and consumers are going “back to basics.” Most industry experts agree that the space for high-end pet items was at it’s high around 2005-2006. But in 2007 it did “seem” to cool off a little…Or did it?
The APPMA 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey says pet ownership and spending on pets are at an all time high, an estimated $40.8 billion in 2007.

Increased Competition
So why then does it seem that luxury products for pets are cooling off? One theory is increased competition. Since 2005 every category of high end pet products (bedding, spa, apparel etc) has at least doubled the number of manufacturers. Retail outlets are also popping up everywhere.

In 2004 there were only two high end “pet boutiques” in West Los Angeles (depending on your definition of pet boutique.) Now there are at least eight, said Lorna Paxton co-owner of Happytails. “And there were maybe 2 or 3 “spa” lines out there. Now I’ve lost count!”

So although consumers are continuing to spend, the dollars are being spread thin. Manufacturers may receive smaller orders from more stores. Why? It could be because those same stores who used to place larger orders now have competition on every corner vying for the same dollars. On the other hand, a January Pet Age article states that based on a survey they conducted, pet boutiques may be on the decline.

Economic Woes
The number of pet boutiques represented in Pet Age magazine’s “2007-2008 Retailer Report,” survey were half of what they were in their previous survey (in 2005), dropping from 18% to 9%. Pet Age also reports the gift/boutique category fell from the list of the fastest-growing product categories. The article cites reasons, such as, “customers responding to general economic woes by going back to basics” and “too much out there,” regarding products in the marketplace.

 In a March 2008 article Pet Product News says that pet owners indicated that if financial constraints led them to reduce spending, they would cut back on pet luxuries, such as toys, pet fashion and professional pet care such as day care and walkers, grooming and name brand pet food. This was according to an online survey of 665 respondants on But we wanted to know more. So we conducted our own research.

The forecast
After interviewing boutique owners around the country we found out the forecast is anything but glum. In fact, many retailers say their boutiques are thriving despite our slow economy. Tina Musselwhite, owner of Gourmutt’s Bakery in Raleigh, NC says “We moved into a larger building last September and expanded more into boutique things. We are seeing growth constantly,” she says. “We’re hearing ‘recession, recession, recession’ but we don’t see it.”

Sandra Caldwell, owner of Three Dog Bakery in Phoenix, AZ, has owned her boutique for over 10 years, and says the same thing: “My business has progressively increased.”The increase in consumer spending shows that dogs have taken on an elevated status in our society.

“It used to be normal for us to wash our dogs in the back yard with a hose, and feed them the cheapest food you could find. Nowadays it’s much more main stream to care for our dogs with products that have better, more natural ingredients,” says Kevin Fisher, co-founder of happytails Canine Spa Line in Los Angeles, CA.

Perhaps boutique products are becoming less of a fad and more of a way of life. Fisher added, “this is like the internet bust in the late ‘90s. But even after the big bust the internet is still here and stronger than ever. The internet is no longer a trend or fad, but a normal part of everyday life.”He says the same thing is happening with high end pet products. “Store owners are worried that consumers are going back to basics but what’s happening is the hype is settling down and the entire level of pet care has risen.”  

Pet food ingredients have become especially important since the food recall. “I think when the food thing happened, it pushed people to go to boutiques,” says Chris Price, owner of D.O.G. Pet Boutique in West Hollywood, CA, “because boutiques cater to the individual dog versus the masses, with their one size (or brand) fits all approach.” A blog on the Small Business Trends website on December 20th, 2007, from a National Pet Press writer, voiced pet owners are no longer willing to trust large corporations that produce pet products. “Instead of being spoon fed by advertising, pet people are doing a little research.” Back to Basics
While there is much good news to be had, some boutiques are reporting the “frou-frou” is on the way out and basic items are taking over. Daisy’s Delights Barkery &  Boutique sells two sets of collars, a faux-leather, classic style from Bark Avenue and a “bling” line. The classic style is selling much better, says owner Gina Newman. “People are still relating to their dogs like kids, but it’s less posh. I’ll sell a leash and a collar before a carrier,” she adds. While Caldwell says her spa line and grooming tool selection are selling well, clothing is a trend she sees going out.

In a February 2008 Pet Business article Maggie Marchese, VP at UPG Companion Animals predicts that while economic woes may cause a downturn in some “trendy” categories such as pet apparel, sales of everyday necessities should remain strong. However, Bob Vetere, president of the APPMA thinks that retailers shouldn’t count out the luxury-products segment just yet. “I think eventually this segment will start to level off, just because there’s only so many things that you can come out with,” he says “But because you still have such a large chunk of baby boomers reaching the point where their children are leaving home and they’re looking for something else to dote on, this will continue to feed the boutique and high-end segment for at least another three to five years, I think”

So, what should a boutique owner do with all of this information? Synthesized down, it means that products that have a purpose, solve a problem or fulfill a need are keepers. And luckily there are lots of high-end products available that look cute and trendy and also solve a problem—these are the products you want to buy. And there is so much available that you don’t have to carry the same brands that Petco or Pet Smart offer. Be different.

“When we develop a new product we always ask ourselves what problem this product going to solve” says Lorna Paxton of happytails. “We know that our upscale packaging may get the first purchase but it’s the stuff inside the bottle that will get the repeat purchase.” When selecting merchandise for your store, this is what you should be looking for- products that have style and function. So as for “boom or bust,” many pet boutiques are still seeing “boom.” And even if we fall into a deep recession, as Caldwell says, “People love their dogs. Even when they’re tightening their belt.”

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  1. The pet food business is so huge, that is why I added it to my grooming spa and I am always looking for people that want to earn an income from it.


  2. This article gave me a bit of hope. I have been wanting to open a brick and mortar for years and was considering opening up one this year in my wealthy town of 40,000. Still trying to decide but this helped.


  3. The fact that so many blogs focus on pet shows once again that they are indeed man’s best friend. It’s great to see so many people now looking more seriously at dog’s health issues, whether it’s dog food or pet insurance.
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  4. We opened up A Doggie’s Bag Boutique in New Iberia Louisiana in June 2007. The response has been awesome. I’m now trying to reach customers in near by areas. Our Boutique is unique with it’s own dog bar inside serving Monsters Voo Doo Brew non alcoholic beer for dogs and fresh treats baked in the kitchen located in the back of the boutique. We offer Spa items, Great tees, Ezy Dog collars, Planet Dog Toys, and much much more. It’s been a year of learning. We’ve gotten involved with our local humane society and rescuers. Awesome people! We are still placing pets from Katrina in our area. We’ve also adopted 2 more dogs from rescuers! The more the merrier!! My gang of 4 get along great and often work with me!! It’s an awesome job!!!!!Dogs are the closest thing to God! Dog spelled backwards…….


  5. I have to agree with the other owners on here. I, too, see an increase in sales even in a down economy. When it comes to the doggie of the house, they and we are all spending on them like there is no tomorrow.


  6. I have been trying to decide to open a Dog Boutique as well. I just moved from Canada to Dover Delaware and need a job so why not create one for myself. I currently breed Chihuahuas but would like to get out of this and focus on the Boutique idea. If anyone can offer up some advice as to what was needed to start up, how much did it cost, how it was started, personal money or loans, how long was it before you made money, how successful are you and how long have you been in business, is it still rewarding as the day you started. I am thinking of going retail unique gifts for dogs, and their owners clothes, beds, leashes, etc….no dog food, but a small area for a bakery. Thank you for any advice in advance.


  7. I know some really good people who do consulting for the pet industry, specifically retail. If you are interested let me know.



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