Orlando pet-supply stores fetch big business
Yvette Marie Silen Gallo admits that Peluche, her 8-year-old white Pomeranian, is spoiled.
So she stops at her favorite pet supply store in Oviedo whenever she gets the chance to buy dog toys, food and fresh treats.
“And sometimes when he isn’t feeling well, I’ll get him the refrigerated dog foods, too,” said Silen, a project engineer.
While many traditional retailers struggle to keep up with online competitors, brick and mortar pet-supply stores in Central Florida are growing.
The expansion comes even as Lake and Seminole counties have recently banned the retail sale of puppies. In fact, few pet supply stores sell dogs and cats any longer. Instead, consumers are seeking from them specialty foods and fresh-baked treats, as well as grooming services.
From downtown Orlando to Lake Nona, pet supply stores are building or taking the spot of defunct retailers that fell out of fashion or closed with Internet competition. The American Pet Products Association expects U.S. pet sales to hit $72 billion this year, a 67 percent increase over the past decade.
Entrepreneurs such as Hugh and Christine Calvin, who moved from Indiana to open a Pet Supply Plus store in Winter Park in March, say sales are hot, especially for specialty dog foods.
Their store on Aloma Avenue carries hundreds of varieties of premium dog food tailored for certain breeds and ages. Some have special flavors and ingredients ranging from turkey to wild boar. There are three refrigerated cases for fresh dog foods. Traditional, general diet dog foods have their own space — but it’s a fraction of the overall store.
“People are realizing that the better you take care of your pet, the better its life will be, just like humans,” said Calvin, 61, who retired from a career in sales for the printing industry before moving to Central Florida. “I can’t even count how many types of dog foods we have, and there are still people who want us to special order more.”
In the Orlando metro area, the growing population is helping to drive growth in both national and local pet supply chains. Wallet Hub in 2017 called Orlando the fifth most pet-friendly city in the country and said it has the most pet-friendly restaurants per capita of all major metropolitan areas.
Dog food, and particularly premium dog food and treats, are the fastest growing part of the industry, according to the American Pet Products Association. Pet food sales are estimated at $29.88 billion for 2018.
“Just like with human food, healthier products are proving to be in higher demand, because we as a society are more educated on what it takes to best fuel our bodies, and we want that for our pets, too, closing the gap between human food and pet food,” said Tierra Bonaldi, a spokeswoman for the trade group.
The Federal Trade Commission has expressed skepticism that specialty dog foods can help dogs live longer. It sued the maker of Eukanuba-brand dog food for false advertising in 2015. The case settled when Eukanuba agreed to drop making such claims.
Online sales have taken their own cut of pet supply sales, though. Amazon logged about $2 billion in pet supply sales last year, according to retail tracker Package Facts, and the Seattle-based company launched its own specialty house brand Wag in March.
But store owners say “pet parents” still want a place to take their pet and browse for food, supplies and toys. Orlando-based Woof Gang Bakery recently opened its 100th store nationwide and has shifted focus from baked treats to premium foods and grooming services, said founder Paul Allen.
By adding grooming services, Woof Gang has filled a need that can’t be done through online retailers, Allen said. In 2018, the chain expects to groom do about 600,000 groomings. And while their animals are cut and fluffed, owners often shop, he said.
“We’ve been trying to position ourselves as the neighborhood pet store because people want to come in and be spoken to like a local,” Allen said. “And people realize that if they buy a better dog food, they will spend less at the vet.”
Oviedo-based Magic Pet is preparing to open a new store at Orange Avenue and Colonial Drive surrounded by new apartment buildings.
Owner Janaien Rabah, who has three other locations, said specialty foods and grooming are a growing need in dense neighborhoods such as downtown Orlando and Baldwin Park.
“Everybody has pets and everybody loves their pets,” Rabah said.
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