Pet related marketing fascinates me. I've always been one of those animal people (you are one and you get it, or you're not and you don't) and so I've been the subject of it. And it's interesting because it's one of those areas what what is needed for an animal is so simple (strictly speaking: food, water, shelter, attention, health care) but what is desired is so much more. And in many cases, these are things that we do to satisfy ourselves more than our pets, who basically want to eat, play, and sleep.
I did a high-level marketing plan for a doggie day care center in business school (at the time they were not so ominpresent) and what was amazing to me wasn't just that people would want such a thing, but how much they were willing to pay for it.
I have normally had cats, and while there are plenty of ways to spend money on your cat (I had a friend who, when moving from coast to coast, bought his cat a seat on the plane), there are some natural limits. Cats stay home so you don't show them off as much. Most cats don't actually need grooming, and their toy desires are quite simple (string is always good).
But the other night I was pushing a cart along the aisle of the local pet superstore because tomorrow morning, a 10-week old puppy takes up residence in my home, and it really was quite an experience. I have never raised a puppy before (but my partner has, since childhood, so I have good coaching - fear not) and it was interesting to see how much more stuff you really do need, but also how much you could go spend going nuts with it.
For example: puppy shampoo. I said, "Look the puppy kind is yellow, like human baby shampoo," and was told, "That's probably what it is." Fine, whatever, a bottle went into the cart. But of course, there were also the spa varieties of it. I'm not sure that a puppy would really be happier is his shampoo was smelled like bananas.
I passed on the special puppy towel with accompanying mitt ($19.99) because, well, I have old towels.
Then there are the toys. Chew toys are a necessity, because in their absence, your shoes, furniture, remote controls, books, and almost anything else will take their place. (And I fully expect a few of those things will even with the chew toys. But toy selection is interesting. Why the one that looks like a carrot instead of the one that looks like a bug? Why the one that looks like a football instead of a baseball?
Well, because I have to look at them, of course.
It's not just merchandise, of course; as part of the adoption, the rescue league arranges for a day of "Puppy Playschool." This is a good thing; dogs should learn how to interact well with other dogs and with people. But it will be interesting to see what they're charging if you want to come back, get other classes, and so on. (I picked up the flyer for the classes at the big pet superstore, and my eyes nearly popped out when I saw the prices for group classes. No offense to any pet trainers reading this: you have a great skill and do good work, and you should make money at it. And if the market bears the price, go for it. I was just amazed by the prices, that's all, and feel fortunate to have someone experienced to train me and a good supply of friends with well-trained dogs for playtime. Not that I might not be seeking those services if problems develop.)
I skipped the dog clothing aisle. He's a lab mix. They don't need clothes to stay warm, like some miniatures - and this is Houston - and besides, a lab with clothes looks silly. Oh, but his first bandana is waiting. I never said I was immune to this.
I imagine there will be more expenditures. And I admit some of them are going to really be to make me happy - he seems thrilled to roll in the dirt and play with a stick.
It's an industry where the gap between need and desire is amazing, not to mention all that pets-as-surrogate-kids stuff. And that's just interesting.
I just hope that there aren't too many people out there spending all the money but not providing the one thing you can't buy, but you must give a pet: attention and affection.