A Step-By-Step Guide to Starting a Pet Business

Woman with her dog shopping in pet store
••• What to Know If You're Starting a Pet Shop. Yellow Dog Productions/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Animal lovers who possess a creative, entrepreneurial spirit may be barking up the right tree by starting a pet store business. Here are some basics to help you get started.

Pet Store Spending is Booming

In addition to the fun and personal satisfaction of working with a clientele of furry, finned and feathered creatures, a pet store can be a very lucrative enterprise.

According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $55.72 billion on their pets during 2013, a 4.5 percent increase over the previous year.

For more info about this, see my article Pet Spending Figures for 2013. That's highly impressive, especially when you consider that we are in the throes of a seemingly never-ending recession.

Pet spending is expected to continue to increase exponentially in the coming years. So here is some important information for those who are considering getting into the pet industry.

Before You Start a Pet Business

Test the waters. It’s a great idea to work or volunteer at a pet store. That’s a good, no-cost, no-risk way to begin to learn the business and to determine if you’re cut out for this undertaking.

Aside from that, learn as much as you can about different pets, their specific characteristics, and needs. If you do open your own pet store, you will be in a better position to relate to and serve your clients. Now let’s look at some pros and cons of owning a pet store.

The Pros

  • You have the freedom to choose your own products and supplies
  • You have the ability to offer more personalized service
  • You are in a position to establish greater rapport with members of your community
  • You can forge your own unique niche, apart from the big franchises

Establishing a Distinct Niche

Offering products and services not readily available at the big pet stores will give you an edge.

For example, because I feed my cat premium natural foods, I patronize a small pet boutique precisely because this store exclusively sells holistic pet products, many of which cannot be found at the franchise outlets.

Being Thoroughly Educated Attracts Customers

Pet parents are becoming more sophisticated and discriminating about the products they purchase and services they seek. Thus, they’re increasingly likely to frequent pet stores where the staff has a lot more knowledge about pets than employees at the big outlets, the majority of whom are merely sales and stock clerks with little or no training in animal care.

In addition to offering holistic foods not available elsewhere in my region, the pet boutique I frequent has a manager who has an encyclopedic knowledge of cats. That’s why I go there, and another example of why the privately owned pet shops may have a leg up.

The Cons

On the downside, starting a business such as this can be quite an expensive undertaking. If you’re like the average small business launcher, you probably don’t have tons of start up capital at your disposal.

The good news is, there are plenty of avenues to obtain small business financing. So do your homework about what you'll need, and the best ways to go about getting it.

Competition from the Big Box Stores

PETCO isn’t the only place the pets go. Large general merchandise stores such as Walmart and Target are expanding their pet product selections, due to their wise recognition of the current market boom. While this may be a challenge for the small pet stores, the good news is the big box stores that exclusively sell pet products are feeling this pressure. Some are experiencing slowed growth as a result.

You can turn this scenario to your advantage by uniquely positioning yourself within your market. As mentioned in the Pros section of this article, you can offer products not found elsewhere, and establish yourself as a go-to expert on certain types of pet foods. (Walmart and Target don’t have such experts!)

Plus, there's one area in which smaller, more personalized retailers can really excel: customer service!

So learning everything you can about this will further help you to compete.

Limited Advertising and Marketing Resources

Realistically, the big boys have huge advertising and marketing budgets. That’s why it’s important to find low cost, yet clever ways to promote your business. One way is a business blog.

The great part of a blog is that it’s easy to use and maintain; you can update it as often as you’d like, and it’s very inexpensive. Meanwhile, there are any number of low- or even no-cost advertising options available. All it takes is some creativity.

Marketing Tips

As for marketing a small business, you actually may have an edge over the big fish because owners of small pet stores have the opportunity to get really creative. You’re also in a great position to forge a deeper, more personal connection with your core audience, the better to set yourself apart and establish your own unique brand. Above all, evaluate what might help distinguish your business from others in your area, and come up with ways to capitalize on that.

Establishing a Brand

When starting a business, it’s especially important to establish a brand. One of the first rules is to come up with a memorable business name. So it’s a good idea to put a lot of thought into your pet store’s name. With this kind of business, you can have a lot of fun doing so.

Getting a Lease

One advantage to this soft economy is that there’s been a steady decline in business leasing. So it’s now generally easier to get a lease at a pet store. You may even opt to buy your space. Here of some pros and cons of buying or leasing small business space. You may also consider buying an existing store. Meanwhile, remember to check your area’s zoning laws.

Once you’ve done your homework, you can go on to the fun part…starting a business! Be sure to stay tuned to and surf this site, which is updated on a regular basis, for more helpful hints and tips.