Pet care business still booming

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The economy may be struggling, but many Americans won’t skimp when it comes to the care of their pets.

Many non-veterinary pet care companies in the St. Louis area report booming demand for such services as grooming and pet sitting, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/pGHgOw ).

“People care about their pets like family and don’t like the idea of their pet being home alone all day or, if boarded, locked up,” said Carol Mees, owner and operator of St. Louis Pet Sitters, whose business is increasing by 35 to 40 pets per year.

The American Pet Products Association reports that U.S. households will likely spend more than $50 billion on pets in 2011, up 23 percent from $41.2 billion in 2007. About $4 billion of that total is expected to be spent this year on services like boarding and grooming.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of non-veterinary pet care firms that opened in the St. Louis area rose from 84 in 1999 to 152 in 2009. That didn’t include home-based businesses or sole proprietors.

Pet service work has traditionally been done by family friends, neighbors and their children. That has changed recently as franchises have grown rapidly in the industry.

Randy Ring began a Fetch! Pet Care franchise in St. Louis in 2005. Revenue has increased by 10 percent in each of the past two years. Fetch!, based in California, has more than 150 franchisees who work as sort of a broker for pet sitters and owners, pairing them up to provide in-home care for pets.

At first Ring was his own employee and had only a handful of clients, but he now has 15 part-time contractors — students, stay-at-home parents and retirees who have been vetted by the company — and serves more than 700 clients in the St. Louis area.

Pet care isn’t entirely impervious to the tough economic climate. Janet McCann, owner of Pet Sitters Inc. in St. Louis, said that in nearly 30 years of business, last summer was the worst. Bookings are up this year, though still not to pre-recession levels.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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