When Patricia Tweed first dropped Betsy off at day care in Singapore, it was a struggle to get her through the door. The three-year-old cried pitifully as the staff pried her from Tweed's arms and carried her in.
But the daily morning swim in the pool, frisbee games and unfettered access to the playground soon won the miniature schnauzer over. Today, Betsy can’t wait to spend the day in the company of the other dogs. Her day is documented in a diary on a daily basis - from who she plays with to what meals she has had - much to Tweed's delight.
“Betsy is like a third child for me,” says Tweed, who runs a public relations firm. “We work such long hours in Singapore, she gets bored at home.” She decided that Betsy needed company, and enrolled her at K9 Kulture- a day care for pets. At about S$300 a month for two or three days of care a week, Tweed says it is money well spent. “They’ve got a whole schedule of activities for the dogs and provide all this great stimulation. She just loves it there now.”
High-end services for pets - dogs in particular - have seen a surge in demand in Asia, in tandem with growing middle class with bigger disposable income. From day care to dog cafes to pet spas, pooches from Singapore to Japan to China are having it good.
Like Tweed, more people are treating their pets like family, according to Raye Tan, owner of Urban Pooch, a restaurant in Singapore that serves both people and dog food. “They see it as a necessity; they treat them as their children, not so much as pets,” says Tan, who also caters to birthday parties for dogs. Specials on the menu include shepherds pie, lamb meatballs and grilled dory fish. She doesn't advertise, yet has built a roster of regular clients strictly on word of mouth.
The steady rise in dog ownership in the region is expected to boost the business of pet pampering. Euromonitor estimates that number of pet dogs in China grew 8.8 percent to 27 million between 2004 and 2009; 7.6 percent to 194,000 in Hong Kong over the same period; and in Thailand, 39 percent to 5.3 million. The pet product and services market in Asia is currently worth $8.1 billion; and projected to grow another 21 percent in the next 15 years, according to Euromonitor.
Asia’s small apartments, lack of green space and long working hours will also feed demand, says founder and owner of K9 Kelture, Josiah Gan. About half of his clientele are expats, mostly from China, Japan and Western countries; and the other half are from Singapore.
It's a business that appears to be recession-proof, according to some players in the industry. Despite being in the thick of the global financial crisis, K9 Kulture’s revenues grew 40 percent in 2008 and 50 percent in 2009. The five-year old company, whose turnover already breached $1 million so far this year, is now looking to franchise his business to expand into Hong Kong, Japan and China.
"A lot of customer who moved to Hong Kong were pestering us to go there. That's why we've decided to set up a franchise model. We've built up a brand and it's quite well known to people who've moved to some of these markets," says Gan.
The company also invests heavily in external training to bone staff up on the latest techniques in dog training and activities like free style frisbee. Next year, Gan is flying in an expert from the U.S. to teach staff the Tellington touch technique, a massage designed to reduce tension and change behaviour in dogs. "We treat each dog like a kid, and owners appreciate that."
For Tweed, it boils down to a having good day out, especially on weekends when the family and Betsy head down to K9 Kulture to meet other pet owners.
“It’s a great place to connect with other dog lovers," she says. "We’ve formed a lot of friendships there.”