Pet supply retailers see boost from pandemic

Stuck at home, consumers are spending more on their four-legged family members

While the coronavirus crisis has kept people cooped up at home, it's also meant more time with their pets — and more opportunities for pet supply retailers.

The $95 billion pet supply industry has been hailed as one of those that never sees a downturn in business, since pet owners see their charges as family members with necessary expenses. That was true during the recessions of 2001 and 2009, when pet spending grew by double digits. And, so far at least, pet outlets are among retailers with positive news to report.

“We saw an initial surge at our stores, as consumers began to buy supplies in anticipation of the shelter-in-place [order], but since then we've seen a lot of activity through our online channel,” says Sara Ranson, director of ecommerce at Michigan-based Pet Supplies Plus, which has 490 outlets nationwide. “That's been the story for us, as more of our neighbors have begun interacting with us digitally.”

Stocking up on essentials

As consumers stocked up on staples like canned goods and toilet paper in early March, they also did a lot of buying for their four-legged friends. “The large initial pantry load did drive March sales as consumers stocked up,” says Don McIntyre, CEO of wholesaler Animal Supply Company. “As consumers worked down the pet food they had stocked up on, sales slowed in late March and April.”

“Since people have more time with their pets than usual, they're pampering and looking for things like better collars and harnesses, toys, treats and beds.”


Allison Rynne, Muttropolis

The prospect of weeks spent at home might have sparked a surge in pet adoptions and fostering across the United States, though 24 Pet’s weekly COVID-19 impact report from May 8 showed pet adoptions across the United States are down 30 percent compared with the same period in 2019, likely due to shelters being closed to the public.

“We're seeing a lot of customers, both new and regular, who are bringing new pets home during this time,” says Allison Rynne, general manager of Muttropolis, a specialty pet supplier with two stores in the San Diego area. “They're excited to buy the supplies needed for a new member of the family.”

Besides providing for new pets, Rynne sees customers spending more time on their current pets' well-being. “Since people have more time with their pets than usual, they're pampering and looking for things like better collars and harnesses, toys, treats and beds. We're seeing more online sales from customers all over the U.S. because we've curated some unique pet products.”

“It’s really interesting what we are finding in shoppers’ baskets,” says Tricia Nichols, chief marketing officer for New York-based Independent Pet Partners, parent company of brands Loyal Companion, Chuck & Don’s Pet Food & Supplies, Kriser’s Natural Pet and Natural Pawz. “In addition to the demand for food, we are seeing other items like treats, leashes, beds and CBD products.”

Adapting operations

Kriser's Natural Pet
Kriser's Natural Pet, a chain owned by Independent Pet Partners, is among retailers that have seen a boost since March.

Although the pandemic and ensuing lockdown have disrupted operations for many companies, with a significant portion of the workforce stationed at home and stores balancing customer needs with social distancing and hygiene requirements, it has allowed for some imaginative thinking.

“We’re seeing local, small pet businesses get incredibly creative retaining and attracting their customers,” McIntyre says. “From curbside pickup and same-day delivery to contests with prizes and discounts, local independent pet stores are going above and beyond to meet their customers’ needs at this difficult time.”

Muttropolis, which traditionally gives new “pet parents” a gift when they visit the store, has begun delivering welcome baskets with a selection of pet products to its customers when they get a new pet. “We're careful and we do it safely and people really appreciate it,” Rynne says. “They're excited to get a new pet and we want them to know we share their excitement.”

“This situation has shown us how well in-store and ecommerce can work together.”

Sara Ranson, Pet Supplies Plus

At Pet Supplies Plus the lockdown has allowed the company to see where to best focus their operations. “We've always had strong in-store teams and now we're really seeing the investment in omnichannel come through,” Ranson says. “This situation has shown us how well in-store and ecommerce can work together.”

The company has offered curbside pickup for a while, but it wasn't used regularly. Now numerous Pet Supplies Plus customers are ordering online, driving to the store and having their products brought to their cars. “This contactless experience has resonated with our neighbors and our in-store teams have really perfected the process,” Ranson says. “When this is over, I think curbside pickup will continue to be a popular option.”

Owners doting on their pets might find themselves more attuned to trying new pet items. “Given the times we are in, it makes sense that products that focus on comfort, play and companionship are at the forefront,” Nichols says. “The new quarantine lifestyle has definitely motivated pet families to engage in more playtime with their pets, plus more treats to get them through this time together.”

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