Loyalty to Pets Trumps the Recession

When the economy is down in the dumps, what is an enterprising young person to do if jobs are hard to find? One Texas newspaper offers the example of a 21-year-old single mother who channeled her entrepreneurial energy into what some might consider an unusual business: a clothing store for dogs. Named “Haute Dog Bowtique,” the store serves Chihuahuas, Daschunds and other canines with clothes lines such as Cha-Cha Couture, Pet Flys and Dogo. Samantha Bass, the owner, also sells a line of doggie clothes for weddings called Pupped Paris. So far, it looks like Bass is barking up the right tree, as it were. “Some of the customers have dogs that get cold,” she told the newspaper. “And people are still buying clothes. The economy hasn’t had an effect.”

Recession-proof it might be, but could this business trend be just a local phenomenon? Not exactly, according to market researchers, who estimate pet supplies – including clothing – to be a $7 billion business in the U.S.; and it keeps growing, despite the downturn. The reason is that haute dogs are hardly alone in their quest for couture. Scores of stores – online and otherwise — cater to so-called fashion-conscious felines. Even a cursory Google search for pet clothing turns up stores such as meowhoo.com – which claims to be a “beeline for everything feline.” A Canadian supplier called MissGlamourPuss.com offers not just clothes but also cat chocolates and “kitty bling” – the latter being touted as “the most important jewelry your cat will ever have, but luckily for you it won’t cost two months’ salary.”

That last phrase just might hold the key to launching a start-up during a downturn: If you are in a business that doesn’t cost your customers an arm and a leg, you might have a winner. Moreover, even during a slowdown, people are incredibly loyal to their pets. That was probably what the judges of Wharton’s business plan competition had in mind back in 2003 when they recognized a start-up offering pet insurance as one of the finalists.

In other words, even when the economy has gone to the dogs, the pet service business still could be the cat’s meow.