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Holly and Dennis Ensor sell roughly 100 pounds a day of chicken and rice formula dog food at Pet Wants, which opened a few months ago.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
Holly and Dennis Ensor sell roughly 100 pounds a day of chicken and rice formula dog food at Pet Wants, which opened a few months ago.

Pet Investments: Local companies make moves in $225B industry

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Some might say the pet care services industry is making money hand over paw.

Locally, several businesses are working to grab their piece of the $225 billion national pie. A trio of companies – Pet Wants, Four Paws Salon LLC and Precious K9s LLC – has made recent moves in the industry as the demand grows for premium pet food products, grooming and training services.

Each business is part of an exploding industry in which roughly 67% of U.S. households own a pet, up from 56% 30 years ago, according to the American Pet Products Association. That ownership rate translates to big spending, according to market research firm Edge by Ascential, pointing to North American expenditures on pet care in 2018 reaching $225 billion.

That total is projected to leap to $281 billion by 2023, an average of nearly 5% compound annual growth.

On the move
Four Paws Salon co-owner Ashley Collins said her 3-year-old dog grooming business grew about 20% in 2019 and now serves around 300 clients. Declining to disclose revenues, she said the key is connecting with the pet and the owner.

“Starting out, you make a relationship with the dogs and their owner,” she said. “Just like with a doctor or hairstylist, they tend to stick with one groomer.”

Her company’s Jan. 21 move to the south side from the Plaza Shopping Center wasn’t originally planned. It became a necessity after Meek Chiropractic in October announced an expansion plan to take over Four Paws Salon’s space at 1940 S. Glenstone Ave.

“The move allowed us to expand our business, too,” Collins said, noting her 1,600-square-foot new space at 1235 E. Republic Road is nearly a third larger than the old shop. “It worked out for the better.”

Expanding space was very much the target for dog training company Precious K9s, said owner Carrie Galvan. The business, which started in 2015, has been operating at 3543 S. Lone Pine Ave. since 2017. However, its small footprint of 875 square feet is about to grow exponentially. 

Galvan said she’s set to open by mid-March in a roughly 6,000-square-foot training building at 4854 S. State Highway FF in Battlefield. The structure at the intersection of Highway FF and Weaver Road is owned by Kelly Burk of steel building erection company Burk Erectors Inc.

“I like more what it will do for the community,” Galvan said of Precious K9s’ new home that will feature agility equipment and AstroTurf. “People just don’t have this kind of space to train in. They usually have to go to St. Louis or Kansas City.”

She estimates a $20,000 investment at the new training center, with around $8,000 budgeted for the equipment, which includes hoops, A-frames and weave poles. The equipment will allow for additional training options, such as agility, Frisbee and nose work, referring to dogs learning to identify different scents.

Food focused
When dogs aren’t being trained or groomed, they love to eat. That’s where a place like Pet Wants comes in.

Springfield franchisees Dennis and Holly Ensor had health and wellness on their minds when first getting involved with the pet food franchise in 2016.

The husband and wife discovered Pet Wants first as customers, when their dogs needed special diets. That led them to pursue the franchise opportunity, investing around $35,000 four years ago, Holly Ensor said. 

The Ensors operated as a delivery service only for the food before opening a brick-and-mortar store three months ago at 1342 E. Battlefield Road in the Fremont Center. Holly Ensor said Pet Wants’ food is sold fresh with natural ingredients, using no animal byproducts, wheat, sugar, soy, corn or dyes. Dog food ingredient combinations include lamb and brown rice, grain-free chicken and turkey, and grain-free whitefish and duck, according to its website. Dry dog and cat food prices are $2.50-$3.25 per pound, while canned food is priced $1-$4.

According to its website, Pet Wants has around 90 franchisees in 27 states. 

By the time the Springfield store opened, Ensor said they were delivering to over 300 customers in Springfield, Ozark and Nixa. Deliveries were being offered five days a week in November but have been scaled back to three days per week. 

“We just have so many people coming into the store and purchasing instead,” she said, estimating over 60% of customers are new. “We believe in try before you buy. We offer free samples and ask them to let us know how their pet liked it. A lot of those people end up buying food from us.”

The average pet food order is around $30, Ensor said, adding people can purchase food by the pound. That allows them to buy in smaller quantities, ensuring the food stays fresh, rather than losing nutrients over time.

Pet food spending is on the rise nationally, according to the American Pet Products Association. In 2019, consumers spent 4.3% more on pet food to roughly $31.6 billion. Premium dog food accounts for the most frequent type of food purchased.

“People love their pets and they are becoming more aware that what they feed them makes a difference in their health,” Ensor said.

“People are looking to different alternatives to the big brands out there. Supporting a local business is important to some people as well.”

Finding support
The support Collins received from her clientele when employed for nine years as a groomer for Pet Warehouse, later Petsway, gave her confidence to go solo four years ago. Today, she operates Four Paws Salon with three other groomers who rent out space for $150 per week.

“It really just helps to pay rent so we all have lower costs,” she said. 

When she started the shop, Collins was grooming 40-45 pets a week. That number has swelled to about 60.

“I call them my adopted dogs,” she said. “I get to see them every few weeks and then send them on their way. I get attached to them.”

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