If you believe everything a pet owner could ever want or need has already been dreamed up, think again.
Americans shell out more than $40 billion a year to make their beloved pets happy. And if they can’t find just the right product to do the trick? Well, some entrepreneurial pet owners roll up their sleeves and create the product themselves.
The result is a crop of small businesses that has sprung up around these products, and others that have expanded their offerings to meet pet-related interests.
We asked the owners of innovative and quirky pet products about their inspiration, and the growing appeal of their products.
By Lisa Flam, special to CNBC.com
Posted 16 Feb 2012
Updated 17 Feb 2012
Price: Starts at $15
Place: Santa Monica, Calif.
http://www.fitdogsportsclub.com/If walking on a treadmill can improve muscle strength, help prevent obesity and strengthen your cardiovascular system, why not have it do the same thing for your dog?
Working one-on-one with a handler, pooches at Fitdog Sports Club are trained to run or walk on the treadmill. The class has been growing since it began in September, with about 10 doggy clients so far.
Fitdog co-founder Andrea Servadio says the treadmill workout is a good option for owners short on time to exercise their dogs, for hyperactive dogs that need extra exercise, and for dogs with pent-up energy that can cause behavior problems.
The dog care facility was founded in 2010 by two former investment bankers who traded Wall Street for sunny California but couldn’t find dog care they liked. “We built a day care that our dog would enjoy – so we knew many other dogs would enjoy it as well,” says Servadio.
http://www.americandigs.com/When Erica Beaudry moved from Arizona to Indiana for business school, her terrier mix came along for the ride. But her pup, Murphy, who had cancer, couldn’t take the Midwestern cold.
And Beaudry couldn't find the kind of dog coat she wanted: a good looking, high-quality American-made model. “There are a lot of kitschy dog coats with paw print designs. But nothing cool, clean and classically designed,” she said.
She fashioned the puffer coat to keep Murphy warm, and co-founded American Digs while still in school. The Denver-based company, which launched last year, also offers dogwear like seersucker shirts and knit sweaters. But it’s the preppy puffer coat that’s become the best-seller, with orders from across the nation.
“We've been really happy with the puffer coat sales,” she said. “We’ve even had people from Miami ordering a coat.”
Price: Starts at $34.95
http://www.pooppac.com/index.html(Also at Amazon and Wag.com)
Walking along the dog beach in Santa Barbara, Calif., Susan Davidson was disgusted by what she saw: People carrying plastic bags full of waste as they drank their morning coffee or stopped to chat with friends.
“It’s absolutely gross and totally unhygienic,” Davidson says. “I thought, there has to be a better way.”
To keep the bag out of sight (and out of mind), she created the PoopPac, a rigid, zippered case with a charcoal filter in one compartment that holds used bags, another to hold small personal items, and a bag dispenser on the outside.
She’s sold about 2,000 since she started her business in April 2010. It’s one of those things that people don’t know they need until they own it. And once they do? “People absolutely love it,” said Davidson.
Price: Starts at $19.99
http://www.hugspetproducts.com/products/Pugz-Boots.htmlThe name says it all. Yes, they’re Ugg-like boots for dogs.
Pugz, made by Hugs Pets Products of Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., are fashioned from faux fur and leather to keep paws dry and warm. They hit the market in 2010 and have become one of Hugs’ best-selling products.
The boots, first created for the owners’ dogs, were a hit this past Christmas, says Hugs Pets spokeswoman Kristie Vossler. Many pet owners captured their boot-wearing doggies on video and posted the clips online.
“The first time a dog wears them, they’re not used to them, so they walk funny,”she said. “People are very, very into seeing their dogs in Pugz.”
Price: Starts at $125
When Michelle Lessing’s dog bed wore out, she put her 20 years of experience making custom window treatments to work, using leftover fabric to fashion a new bed for her pooches.
Friends who saw the bed – made from black floral fabric and trimmed it with green piping -- loved it. Their reaction inspired her to found Lilly & Abbie — named after her black labs — and offers custom-made dog beds.
With polka dots, stripes and florals in a range of hues, customers can choose from 225 fabrics, and use up to three per bed. The beds come in three shapes and three sizes.
Business started slow in mid-2010 but has been growing. Lessing, who works from home in Melrose, Mass., says dog owners are seeking alternatives to the standard gray or khaki beds and want a look to match their decor.
“A lot of people have fun trying to design their own bed,” Lessing says.
Price: Starts at $18.95
http://www.Softclaws.comSoft Claws were invented by a veterinarian as an alternative to declawing cats. The vinyl nail caps, which are glued to a cat’s nails to prevent them from doing damage from scratching, also add a little zing to the cat’s look.
The caps come in 15 colors, including glitter and others themed to holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras.
The caps have grown increasingly popular in the 20 years that Smart Health of Phoenix has been their worldwide distributor. And sales are back up to pre-recession levels, due in large part to some communities, especially in California, outlawing the practice of declawing.
Controversy aside, the mostly female customers are loving the colorful caps.
“It’s a fashion statement,” said director of marketing Bruce Muller. “The new sparkle colors have been a big hit.”
Although you can easily find jewelry featuring your dog’s breed, here’s one necklace that will capture his essence - right down to his sniffer.
Jackie Kaufman makes personalized, hand-cast sterling silver jewelry, using impressions from human fingerprints. In 2009, a woman whose dog was dying asked Kaufman to capture his nose on a pendant.
Kaufman was inspired. She began offering the dog nose necklace to other clients, later added paws, then extended the line to cat noses and paws. Sales of the pet-themed jewelry took off, and last year they accounted for more than half of the 1,500 pieces she sold through her Etsy site.
The dog nose necklace is “extremely realistic,” Kaufman notes, and is an especially meaningful keepsake for her many customers whose pets are aging or ill.
“The nose, it’s almost like a fingerprint,” Kaufman says. “A lot of people can see their whole dog in that nose.”
Price: $2 a pupcake in the bakery; $25 a dozen online
The cupcake craze has hit the four-legged set.
The three women who own Icing Cupcakes, who also happen to be dog owners, thought it would be fun to bake dog-friendly cupcakes to give away to customers who came in with their pooches.
Made with bananas, honey, eggs, whole wheat flour and topped with all-natural peanut butter icing and a dog treat, the pupcakes proved so popular that they’re now a regular for-sale item, says co-owner Reyne Hirsch.
“For something we never planned to carry as a product for sale, we’ve watched our sales growing exponentially” since they came up with the idea in the summer of 2011 in their Katy, Texas-based shop.
Dog owners love being able to give their dog an all-natural treat, she says.
“It makes them smile the minute they see them,” Hirsch says. “They can’t believe something so pretty can be for a dog.”
Love thy neighbor? Sure. Love thy neighbor’s cats sneaking into your home and causing a ruckus? Well, that’s another story.
Nick Hill, a British physicist, was frustrated that neighborhood cats were entering through his cat door and fighting with his feline, Flipper, and eating Flipper’s food. The break-ins left Flipper uneasy, said Hill.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and so Hill invented SureFlap, a cat door that only opens if it recognizes the microchip ID implanted in your cat. SureFlap can store the identities of up to 32 cats.
Based in Cambridge, England, SureFlap had global sales of $4.2 million last year, with U.S. sales making up 5 percent of that. But sales are increasing as word gets around. The door is popular among suburban pet owners, especially in California, Texas, Washington and Oregon, where pet owners also encounter other intruders.
“Common offenders in the U.S. are raccoons, but we have also heard of skunks, possums and even foxes coming into the house through regular cat doors,” Hill said.
Price: Starts at $1,000
Moving is stressful enough, but when there’s a pet in the mix, owners have an extra level of worry.
To help reduce the stress on pet owners, PetRelocation.com was founded in 2004 to offer door-to-door worldwide moving services. The company handles all details of a move, including tasks such as booking flights, veterinarian visits, buying travel crates and making quarantine arrangements. Pet owners can reach the company any time of day to check on their pet.
The Austin, Texas,-based company has seen sales growth of 110 percent since 2009, as more people are moving with their pets, said company spokeswoman Caitlin Moore. The company has moved 6,000 pets, with 70 percent heading overseas.
Pet owners are nervous when they have to put their pet on a plane, often out of sight. “We try to take the fear out of the whole process,” Moore said.
Price: Starts at $12.95
When software engineer Tom Arnold relocated to India for several months, his two cats were home in Seattle. He employed pet sitters, and his cell phone number was imprinted on the cats’ tags. But his phone didn’t work overseas, and he was worried his cats could get lost.
That unease led to the creation of PetHub digital ID tag. The tag has a QR code that can be scanned to display stored information, like the owner’s name and phone number, pet allergies, medication and insurance and vet info. It also has a web address that provides the same information if someone finds the pet and doesn’t have a smartphone.
Since the tag was launched in March 2011, the owners of 10,000 pets have created online profiles with PetHub. He says he’s selling peace of mind as much as a product.
“We heard from one customer who had gotten an alert on her Blackberry that her dog had been found, and she didn’t even know the dog had gotten loose,” says Arnold. And one of his employees who travels regularly is able to change the emergency contact information on her dog’s tag with just a few clicks. “In less than a minute,” he says, “she can update her tag to her pet sitter's information when she is out of town,” ensuring that someone always has her dog’s back.
Price: Starts at $15
You may not be racing your dog across the cold, snowy terrain of Alaska, but that doesn’t mean your pooch’s paws don’t need a little pampering.
Montreal manufacturer Dilmont created Musher’s Secret for sled dogs that raced the Iditarod. The all-natural wax conditions dogs’ paws to help them withstand elements such as snow, ice, hot sand and pavement.
The product became widely available in the U.S. in 1997, when Treadwell Pet Products of Haddam, Conn., became its worldwide distributor.
Musher’s has grown popular through word of mouth and nods from high-profile dog lovers like Oprah and Martha. Sales started at about $10,000 a year and have grown 20 to 40 percent every year since, says Treadwell president Steven Karpf.
“There’s nothing in here that will hurt the dog,” says Karpf. “So many of these animals will lick their paws. But this is made with all plant-based waxes, no petroleum products, no chemicals.”