Are your pets like family members, and do you spoil them with all of the latest special treats and accessories? You’re far from alone – Americans treat their pets like human members of their family, and it’s shaping the demand for quality pet products and foods. If a career that focuses on your love of pets sounds ideal, then opening a pet store could be an exciting business venture. As a store owner, you’ll have the chance to help pet owners discover those new must-have items and choose foods and treats that prioritize their pets’ health.

Business Overview

Pet stores provide pet owners with convenient locations to stock up on pet supplies, food, and other items. While online retailers create plenty of competition for pet stores, today’s stores can stand out by offering other services, like dog training and pet grooming. Many customers go to stores because they’re a source of information about their pet’s health and nutrition, and a knowledgeable store owner can create a valuable experience that online retailers can’t provide to customers. 

Many pet stores offer a comprehensive inventory for cats, dogs, and small animals, while some stores may specialize in reptiles or birds. Boutique pet stores offer high-quality items that may carry higher prices, but that also give pet owners the opportunity to truly pamper their pets. It’s common for stores to allow owners to bring their leashed pets in, adding to the shopping experience and sense of community and engagement that these stores work to create. 

Industry Summary

According to IBIS World, pet stores experienced significant growth from 2015 to 2020 that was spurred on by improving household finances and an increase in pet ownership, particularly among millennials. With pet owners turning to premium foods and designer accessories, product sales expanded. By 2020, the pet store industry reached a $21 billion market size. A total of 18,595 businesses employed 129,113 staff. 

IBIS World predicts that the industry will continue to grow from 2020 to 2025. Improved economic conditions will allow families to spend more on their pets. There is steep competition in this industry, though, and brick-and-mortar stores will have to compete against mass merchandisers and online retailers. Still, with careful branding and strategic program offerings, these businesses can stay relevant and competitive. PetSmart Inc., Petco Animal Supplies Inc., Pet Retail Brands, and Pet Supplies Plus currently hold the largest share of the pet store market.

Industry Trends

Many trends are shaping the pet store industry. Pet Food Experts reports that pet brands are increasingly using storytelling to sell, telling the stories behind their businesses and building connections with customers. This trend appeals to a customer’s emotions and uses that to build customer loyalty. 

Technology is also shaping up to be a major trend that will influence the pet industry. Smart leashes, pet cameras, and automatic toys and feeders are already gaining popularity, and it’s likely that more of these technology-driven products will continue to be released. Stores can strategically position these products in windows and near entrances to catch customers’ eyes and build excitement. 

Pet stores are also starting to offer customers multiple ways to shop. While customers can always come into a brick-and-mortar store to browse and shop, many of these stores are also creating websites for shopping. Customers can opt to purchase products online and then have those products shipped to them, or pick them up at the store to save on shipping. 

According to Pet Food Industry, health and wellness benefits of pet foods are a high priority for many pet owners. Pet food manufacturers are responding to those demands and are increasingly producing foods with healthier ingredients and formulas designed for pets with certain health conditions. Limited ingredient diets, foods with ancient grains, foods with high protein contents, and foods made with superfoods are all becoming more popular. 

Consumers are increasingly aware of how foods are produced, and they’re seeking out foods that are well-sourced and carefully manufactured. This has resulted in an increased demand for foods that are made in the U.S.A., as well as for foods that use ethically sourced ingredients. 

Target Market

Most pet stores will market to adults who own pets. Depending on a store’s business model, it may adopt a slightly different audience. A store specializing in top-quality foods will market to pet owners who are highly concerned about their pets’ health and who have the disposable income to be able to afford higher-priced foods. Stores may also offer certain services, like grooming and training, that appeal to different audiences. 

Skills, Experience, and Education

Starting a pet store doesn’t require a business degree, but certain experiences and skills can be helpful. 

Pet ownership experience. Previous pet ownership experience is a major asset for a pet store owner. This experience gives a business owner an understanding of pet care basics, an awareness of the products available, and the ability to empathize with and understand the store’s customers.

Knowledge of pet nutrition. Pet nutrition is a hot topic right now. A store owner with a background in pet nutrition will not only be able to select quality products that meet customer needs, but also serve as a resource to customers, helping them to choose the right foods for their pets.

Awareness of pet industry trends. An awareness of the trends shaping the pet industry will help a store owner to choose inventory that will meet customer needs.

Customer service skills. Great customer service skills are a must. A store owner should be able to answer customer questions, solve problems, and ensure that every visit to the store is a great experience.

Management experience. Previous experience hiring, training, and managing staff will help a store owner to assemble a team of quality employees who represent the store well.

Costs to Start a Pet Store

Starting a pet store can require a significant initial investment. Even a smaller store can cost $60,000 or more to start, while a larger, more comprehensive store can cost $100,000 and up. These expenses are largely due to the cost of inventory, which is a major investment. 

Common startup costs for a pet store include:

  • Store renovation costs
  • Shelving and display units
  • Inventory
  • Supplies, including shipping supplies
  • Website development
  • Signage

Steps to Starting a Pet store

Step 1. Write your Business Plan

After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a business plan.  Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.

How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

Step 2. Form a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and LLC.  Each type of entity has its own pros and cons such as liability exposure, costs and administrative requirements. 

Related: Comparison of Business Entities

Step 3. Select your Location

Location costs will vary depending on the store’s size, location, and amenities. A store in a prime retail location will carry a higher rent, but it can also bring in valuable walk-in traffic and boost general public awareness of the business. 

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 4. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

A pet store owner will need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. These permits and licenses can vary based on the state and town where the business is located.

If a store plans to sell animals, it may be required to obtain an additional license. This varies depending on the state where the store is located; the Humane Society of the United States has a list of pet store laws by state.

Some of the common local, state, and federal registrations a pet store will need include a sales tax permit and Employer Identification Number

Related: Common business licenses, permits and registrations by state

Step 5. Find Financing 

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a pet store is another.  In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs. 

Related: Finding the money to start a business  

Step 6. Get your Marketing Plan in Place

Pet stores can explore a variety of marketing activities to generate new and returning customers. Common marketing activities include social media marketing, online advertising, print advertising, radio advertising, event sponsorship, and more. Some stores establish customer loyalty programs or referral programs for services like grooming and training. Marketing costs will vary depending on the type of activity that’s performed. 

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Step 7. Get Insurance

A pet store will need several types of insurance for full coverage: 

  • General liability insurance helps to protect the business in case a customer is ever injured while on the property. It can help to cover expenses like medical bills and legal fees. 
  • Commercial property insurance helps to cover losses the business might face if its store or inventory are damaged in an event like a fire. 
  • Workmans comp insurance helps to cover expenses like medical bills that the business might face if an employee were ever injured while on the job.

Insurance policy cost varies from provider to provider. Other factors, like the value of the business’ inventory and the number of staff on payroll, can also affect policy cost. To get the best idea of what to budget for insurance, request quotes from multiple providers. When comparing the quotes, consider not only the differences in the premiums, but also the differences in the deductibles, policy exclusions, and coverage limits.

Related: Common types of insurance a business may need

Step 8. Hiring Employees

Any pet store will need multiple employees. According to PayScale, the following are common hourly pay rates for pet store employees:

  • Cashier/sales associate – $10 per hour
  • Store manager – $15 per hour
  • Dog trainer – $11 per hour
  • Dog groomer – $11 per hour

These are just some of the expenses that come with hiring staff. A store’s budget will also need to include workman’s comp insurance, unemployment insurance, and paid time off. 

Related: Hiring your first employee

How much can you potentially make owning a pet store?

Pet store profits will vary depending on factors like the store’s size, specialty, profit margins, and years in business. Stores that offer not only products but also services like grooming and dog training can increase their profits and encourage repeat customers. Expanding to offer online sales, too, can help to increase profits.  

Looking at expenditures on pet food and treats, the National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Product Association, found that dog and cat owners spend approximately $250 annually on pet food and $70 on treats. 

Things to consider before starting a pet store

When planning to start a pet store, do plenty of market research. Look into competitors, including big box stores that offer pet products, and make sure that there’s local need for a pet store. Research the pet owners in the area. What types of pets do they have? Where are they currently buying their pet products? Is there a shortage of grooming and training services? What products do these pet owners want to buy, but can’t find locally? 

A brick-and-mortar store will face competition from online retailers, so focus on ways that you can provide value to your customers. Special events, pet owner groups, and other social opportunities can create a sense of community that customers won’t find online. Work to become highly knowledgeable about pet nutrition and health, and use that knowledge to help customers find products that meet their needs. This can be a great way to establish a relationship and connection with customers, encouraging them to return to your store in the future. 

American Pet Products Association
Independent Pet Retailer Association
Pet Industry Distributors Association
World Pet Association