'Petpreneurs' barking up right tree
Pet care is an $8 billion industry and many operators are earning a fortune, writes Christine D'Mello.
Australia's increasing preoccupation with household pets has spawned a robust small-business industry.
From dog cafes and gourmet treats to animal shampoos and house and pet sitters, enterprising "petpreneurs" are catering to a vast range of creature comforts.
Australians own 25 million pets (2 million more than the human population), creating a flourishing industry worth an estimated $8 billion a year.
One venture taking a bite out of the market is the Gourmet Dog Barkery in Newcastle, a cafe plus bakery that specialises in dog treats.
Cafe owner Lisa Haynes started making biscuits for her dog four years ago because there were only a few preservative-free treats on the market.
"We started selling them online and at markets and soon realised there was a demand," she says.
Haynes had always wanted to open a dog cafe, but she was busy raising three small children and had no funds. However, as demand rose for her biscuits, she was able to realise her dream, and Gourmet Dog Barkery opened in March.
All products are handmade and preservative-free. "We have customers whose dogs might have a protein allergy and it's very hard these days to get dog treats that don't have protein in them," Haynes says.
She makes more than 35 varieties of dog biscuit, wheat-free doggy snack bars, plus a range of fresh cakes, sausage rolls, birthday cakes and birthday bones. Prices start at $1 for a yoghurt-dipped peanut butter and banana mini-doughnut, rising to $40 for a 1 kilogram bag of treats.
Haynes hopes to open five more shops in the next five years, with the central coast and Sydney in her sights.
Another petpreneur, Katrina Thomson in Melbourne, is the founder of idpet.com.au. Thomson, who has been making personalised clothing for children for eight years (idtee.com.au), realised there was a market for personalised dog products.
"I realised that people are willing to spend money on their pets even more so than on their kids," she says. "Max, my dog, is like a family member to us."
However, when she decided to personalise Max's things she could not find anything online to reflect his personality, so she started idpet.com.au in May.
Thomson set up her business with a bit less than $50,000. Husband Bill looks after the technical side of things, and the website was up and running in 12 weeks.
"We produce and print and do all the design work locally. Where we can source things and get them made locally we will, so we don't have to have huge amounts of stock," she says.
The range of personalised products includes collars, ID tags, tops, beds, placemats and ceramic bowls with the pet's name on it.
"We cater to the personality of the people and the pets, so they can have the whole range made up just for them," she says. Prices range from $12.95 for a personalised ID tag up to $154 for a bed.
Pet minding is another lucrative trade. Sue Coombs and Mel Hogan began mindahome.com.au in 2008.
Whenever Coombs went on holiday, she disliked boarding her pets in kennels. After house sitting for a holidaying pet owner, she came up with her business idea.
"I looked around to see what was available; there wasn't much about. So we came up with the idea of starting our own site," Coombs says.
The house sitter pays an annual fee of $49. If they do not get a job within 12 months, the fee is refunded. "Very few people ask for their money back because most find something that suits them," Coombs says.
A boarding kennel can cost a pet owner $100 a day; a house-sitter is free. Coombs and Hogan have about 1400 house sitters and about 250 homes listed on their books.
They are eyeing the overseas market, especially Britain and the US.
Before that, they plan to develop the domestic business by introducing some new features.
In the meantime, Australians' passion for their pets is helping make cash registers positively purr with satisfaction.