Dog Businesses

Posted by  on June 22, 2010

Which of us hasn’t at one time or another wished we could “take this job and shove it”?  It’s often tempting to think about leaving the rat race behind, but given that most of us like to eat and live in a house, there’s the small matter of bringing home the bacon.  They say you should do what you love (and the money will follow).  Have you ever considered a dog-related business?

Dog business is big business

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, Americans spent $45.5 billion on their pets in 2009, up 5% from 2008 in spite of the recession.  And they’re projected to spend $47.7 billion in 2010. It seems most people are unwilling to give up spoiling their pets, even if they have to give up some of their own luxuries to do so.  A previous poll on showed that people were willing to give up eating out and trips to the beauty salon in order to support their dogs if money got tight.

What types of dog businesses are there?

You can probably easily name half a dozen or so products you have to have for your dog – food, grooming equipment, a crate, dishes, etc.  Most of these are out of reach for those of us in the middle class because the market has already been cornered by massive manufacturers who can make things at a much lower cost than any individual can.

So, that leaves the niche markets for the rest of us.  These are things that a large company won’t touch because the overheads are too high for them.  They need to cover their costs for executives, large facilities, employee benefits and the like.  The key advantage you have as an individual entering business is that you may only have to support yourself with what you make or with the service you provide.

The trick then becomes finding a business that you can start with very low up-front expense, but a big upside as you gain customers.  For example, to be a dog-walker, you need very little other than a good pair of shoes.  Your total marketing budget would likely consist of printing flyers and posting them at local grocery stores, Laundromats, health clubs, and any other places that people gather in large numbers.  The same is true of nearly any service-related business.


There are service providers who will walk your dog, babysit while you are away, groom your dog, and even pick up the waste from your back yard.  Of these options, only grooming involves any up-front expense at all.

Are you handy with a camera?  Animal portraiture is a big field.  You can provide cute backgrounds and props, position the dogs in appropriate poses, and snap away.  With the digital technology currently available, you don’t need a terribly expensive camera to take high-quality pictures.  Developing your shots no longer requires a dark room or expensive trips to Fotomat.  Many printers now come with a slot where you can simply insert the disk from your camera, preview your pictures on the screen, and print out the ones you and your customer like.


If your skills run more to working with your hands, there are several niche markets available for small manufacturers.  For example, you might want to make hand-made outfits.  Many people dress their dogs for special occasions or even for every-day outings.  Although large manufacturers are definitely in the dog clothes business, they cannot obtain the profit margins they need by turning out consistent high quality and large variety.  They make their money by mass-producing large quantities of the same thing at very high speed.

Other textile items you might want to consider custom-making are accessories such as bows, leashes, collars, and costumes.

Surprisingly, pet death is becoming a very lucrative field, as well.  Custom-made caskets, cremation urns, memorial stones, paintings, and other remembrance items are selling like hotcakes.   If you have a large empty field and can get the proper zoning from your municipality, a pet cemetery might be just the thing.  You can sell pre-planning for funerals, headstones, and land use rights.  Your labor would consist primarily of digging and filling holes, and keeping the grass mowed.

Marketing Plan

The advantage you would have in making custom-designed clothing or any other item is that you can be innovative in creating a different design for every customer.  The disadvantage you will have is in reaching a large number of potential customers.  At first, this may work to your advantage, as you will not have the capability to make thousands of outfits every day.  However, the very best marketing tool is word of mouth, so if you can reach even one or two customers and have them tell two friends, who tell two friends, who tell two friends, your business can build very quickly.

As far as pricing, people are always willing to pay for top quality.  Remember when you are marketing that you want to target people with money.  Although the Internet provides a very cheap way to get your message out, it is tougher to target those who can afford your goods vs. those who are only dreaming.  You never want to ignore those dreamers because you don’t know if they will eventually have enough money to buy from you, but you definitely want to concentrate on people who can pay you now.

One way to do so is to target your advertisements in places where higher-income people gather – country clubs, wine tastings, top–notch hotels, and luxury suites at sporting events.  If you do advertise on the Internet (and you should) target your ads to appear on sites where people who have money will go.  Luxury vacation sites, pool and spa sites, and high-end retail sites would be good targets.  Of course, you will also want to advertise on animal-related sites, as well.

What else do I need to know about starting a dog business?

Tax considerations:  As long as you plan on keeping your business relatively small, you will likely set it up as a sole proprietorship.  This means that you and the business are one and the same for tax purposes.  If you are in a business where you might cause harm to someone’s animal, you may want to consider incorporating to provide yourself some protection from lawsuits.  Consulting a tax advisor would be a good way to find out what your options are.

Insurance:  There are several kinds of business insurance which you might want to consider as soon as you can afford it.  The most important is general business insurance, which will pay if you suffer a loss due to a natural catastrophe or theft.  If you run your business from your home, you can check with your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance carrier to see if they will cover your business as well.  Next, if you are providing a service where you have physical control of your clients’ dogs, you will want to have some sort of liability insurance that will pay if a dog gets loose, becomes ill, or dies in your care.  Finally, some businesses carry key man insurance, which pays in the event of the death of the principal players in the business, to keep the company from going under due to the loss of an executive.

Borrowing money:  It’s always best if you can start your business without borrowing money from anyone.  However, if you can’t swing your start-up expenses, you have several options.  Using your own credit cards is probably the most expensive way to go, but it allows you to keep total control of your business rather than bowing to the desires of any investors.  Selling stock in your company invites others to become part owners with you, giving them some decision-making authority, which you may or may not want to give up.

Many areas have a Small Business Administration, a branch of the federal government, which can help you obtain a business loan at very favorable terms.  In addition, check to see if you have a chapter of SCORE nearby.  This organization is composed of business executives who help young entrepreneurs get started.  There is no cost to you in working with SCORE, and it can be of great help in locating start-up capital.

Learning how to run a business: There are many sources you can turn to for instruction on running a business.  Again, SCORE can provide a lot of valuable advice for free.  Your local library has books on every aspect of entrepreneurship.  The Internet is filled with helpful articles, which can be accessed for free.  Many organizations provide training and classes for a small fee to entrepreneurs.

Is starting a business for me?

It’s never a good idea to quit your day job before you are well-established in a business, but if you are able to do both at the same time, it provides you with an opportunity to supplement your income to pay for those extra things you want to do.  Once your business begins to expand, you may even be able to give up your company job and rely exclusively on your small business for your support.  And, if you are currently unemployed, starting your own business may be just the way out of welfare you have been looking for.