YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Katie Costello, owner of Canine Campus Training & Wellness Center in Hubbard, is shooting for an April opening of a second location.
The expansion reflects the continuous rise in household spending on pets in the Valley and the nation.
Canine Campus, a dog day care and training center, purchased the former Howland Pet Resort and planned to reopen it in March 2021. But the construction issues that have affected other projects during the pandemic delayed that.
Business at the Hubbard location is going well, Costello reports.
“Our doggie daycare is sold out constantly,” she says.
In addition to day care services for dogs, Canine Campus offers 75 different training classes, ranging from obedience and manners to teaching tricks and addressing behavioral issues such as aggression or fear. While the pandemic didn’t affect the day care business much, class levels declined.
“Every month gets a little bit better,” Costello says.
“When vaccines started coming out, we had a pretty big surge from all of those puppies that had no socialization” and people were bringing visitors into their houses, Costello says.
When the Howland location opens, it will offer pet boarding, she notes.
Services such as Canine Campus offers represent just a portion of the millions of dollars pet owners spend each year on their animals.
The American Pet Products Association estimates that pet ownership has increased to 70% of U.S. households, with many individuals and families bringing in additional dogs, cats and other animals during the pandemic.
Pet owners spent $103.6 billion on their pets in 2020, up from $97.1 billion in 2019 and $90.5 billion in 2018, according to the trade group. In its March 2021 report, APPA projected that sales of pet-related products would reach $109.6 billion in 2021.
Of the money spent on pets in 2020, just over 40% – or $42 billion – was spent on pet food and treats and an estimated $44.1 billion was projected for 2021.
BrightPet Nutrition Group in Lisbon manufactures all-natural pet kibble for its own brands as well as private-label and co-manufacturing customers. Its baked kibble business grew 20% in 2021 and is projected to grow another 40% this year, reports Cecilia Carerra, director of channel marketing. Customers now are less interested in value brands, she says.
“We’re definitely seeing a lot more interest in baked treats for pets,” she says. “It’s very healthy. It’s a form of cooking that people can understand.”
The company is also experiencing “dramatic growth” in its treat products, which are manufactured in Dayton, and freeze-dried products made in Wisconsin. “Freeze dried is seeing a ton of growth. It’s probably one of the biggest drivers,” Carerra says.
Buyers are looking for products that employ sustainable processes. she continues. “We are highly focused on transforming into a more sustainable company,” and are in the process of transitioning all branded packaging to a fully sustainable option and enhancing company sustainability practices, she says.
Carerra acknowledges BrightPet is coping with the kinds of supply chain and staffing issues that are affecting other companies. Ingredient costs are rising, which will affect different parts of the business.
“The biggest struggle is staffing. Everybody is feeling that,” she says.
BrightPet has advertised openings for a “significant amount of time” companywide. Once people see the benefits of working at the company – which is in its third generation of being operated by the same family – they tend to stay because of the foundation and work culture. “They make it a point to invest in our team members,” she says.
Justin Forgac, owner of Balto Raw, a North Lima company that manufactures raw pet food products, has seen business increase every year since he acquired it in 2019.
Supply chain limitations haven’t greatly affected Balto Raw because most of the ingredients he uses are locally sourced, Forgac says. He raises his own turkeys and chickens; most of his meat comes from Chamberlain Farms in Columbiana. Rabbit and duck meat comes from Pennsylvania.
Forgac retails his products at his Bo’s Pet Shoppe in Columbiana where sales are up considerably. “Last year was our busiest summer,” he says.
Now manufacturing out of his garage, Forgac wants to expand capacity. “Nothing is set in stone but I have things in the works,” he says.
SNACKS AND TREATS
Food spending on pets isn’t confined to mealtime. Owners also are buying snacks and treats for their pets.
Barktastic K9 Cupboard in Lowellville, which owner Chrissy King started in 2015, makes cakes and other treats for dogs – “everything you make in a normal bakery, but for dogs,” King says.
Business was steady during the pandemic, King says. “I did sell a lot of birthday cakes,” she says.
Barktastic now distributes out of five retail locations, as well as online and at events such as the Youngstown Flea.
Retail is “a little slow” but business is beginning to pick up and stores are beginning to contact King to restock.
“A lot of stores want to wait until they get low” on her products, she says.
But the bulk of her sales – about 80% – comes from direct outreach, she says. “I have a lot of people texting me and messaging me,” she says.
The founders of One Hot Cookie and OH Donut Co., Bergen Giordani and Morgen Chretien, last year launched Mabel & Bren, a line of homemade dog treats along with pet apparel and toys.
“Business is going strong,” with strong sales particularly during the holiday season, says Giordani.
Though the brand has an online channel, most sales are through the display at One Hot Cookie in Boardman, she says.
The Mabel & Bren brand also is focusing on seasonal items. This year, Giordani and Chretien plan to get involved in more community events that will bring wider exposure to the brand. And they will stage the Mahoning Valley Pug Fest in the fall.
Another pet entrepreneur is Sullivan Resnick, a seventh-grader in Canfield. He launched his Mookie’s Cookies brand of peanut butter and pumpkin dog treats, which he sells at events like the Youngstown Flea.
Resnick started by baking treats for the dogs in his neighborhood, he says. “It was really fun,” he says.
Though he keeps a portion of what he makes, at least half of the profits go to Animal Charity of Ohio. He has plans to build on the brand, he says.
Spending in 2020 in other pet-care categories included $22.1 billion for supplies, live animals and over-the-counter medicine; $31.4 billion for veterinary care and product sales; and $8.1 billion for other services, including boarding, grooming, insurance, training, pet sitting and walking.
“It’s unreal the money people spend on their pets,” says George Ritchie of Poo Squad North East Ohio in Salem.
Poo Squad, which Ritchie’s wife opened in 2019, offers dog waste pickup and cat litter box services. The company also provides a yard deodorizer for areas the dog tends to hit the hardest.
“A lot of people just don’t want to deal with it,” says Ritchie.
The main thing Ritchie emphasizes is that not wanting to deal with dog waste doesn’t mean that the pet owner is lazy. People have a lot going on in their lives.
“This is no different to me than having somebody come to your house to cut your grass or clean your windows,” he says. “A lot of people tell us that they really appreciate the service because the don’t have to deal with it. They don’t even have to think about it. It just gets done.”
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the pet boarding industry “pretty hard” as people stayed home because they couldn’t travel. Now, with vaccines and boosters becoming more prevalent, business is picking up, says Julia Gunger, general manager at Come Stay and Play Pet Resort in Austintown.
The pet-boarding business is normally quiet in the early months of the year, but that isn’t the case now, she says. Business in January was up about a third from two years ago, before the various shutdowns caused by the pandemic.
Operating just over 14 years, Come Stay and Play offers day and overnight boarding for dogs and cats, full-service grooming and two self-service pet-washing bays. Appointments for groomings are being booked ahead four or more weeks.
“People are just ready to get out and about. They stayed home a lot more than normal due to COVID and people are just starting to travel more,” she says.
Plus, more people have more pets. As people stayed home because they could work remotely, were laid off or otherwise were sheltering, many took in additional pets or became pet owners for the first time.
APPA, in its biennial pet owners survey, found 14% of total respondents reported obtaining a new pet during the pandemic. At least one in four new pet owners acknowledged their recent acquisitions were influenced by the pandemic.
“It’s a very happy thing. We’ve seen a lot of new puppies,” Gunger says.
Pictured: Katie Costello operates Canine Campus Training & Wellness Center in Hubbard and will soon open a site in Howland. She is holding Nugget, a Goldendoodle.