Trouble Ahead for Independent Pet Stores?


Even as the pet industry continues to grow by leaps and bounds, there are signs that pet specialty retailers—and independent pet stores, in particular—may have a tough go in the months and years to come. That is bad news for everyone in the industry.

While the American Pet Products Association predicts that pet-related spending will rise above the $75 billion mark in 2019, not everyone is feeling the impact of that increase. As evidence, consider that a recent survey conducted by Pet Business revealed that the percentage of pet specialty retailers experiencing sales increases in 2019 actually declined versus previous year.

Meanwhile, internet outlets like Chewy and Amazon are posting staggering growth in their pet product sales, and major players in the FDM channel continue to make significant inroads in the category with the help of formerly pet-specialty-exclusive brands, such as Blue Buffalo.

Of course, pet stores are doing everything they can to stem and even reverse these trends, but they need help. Adding services and offering home delivery and a buy online and pick up in store option will only go so far in making independents more capable of competing in today’s fast-changing retail environment. Manufacturers must also step up by increasing the rate of innovation in this industry and giving pet stores an opportunity to incubate the trends that will ensure future growth not only for retailers, but for the pet care market as a whole. Let’s remember, for example, that without neighborhood pet shops, there would be no grain-free diet trend, no raw food category—in fact, no super-premium pet food category at all.

That’s not to say that its wrong for pet brands to take an omnichannel approach; even the most sensitive independent retailers understand that this can be an essential element of growth for manufacturers, especially when it comes to more mature brands. Most pet store owners and operators accept that there is a natural cycle in which brands grow up on their shelves, only to eventually strike out into other retail channels. However, the viability of the independent segment of the trade depends on finding new emerging brands and products to replace those that have broadened their availability into the aisles (and onto the websites) of other outlets. Unfortunately, those emerging products and brands are becoming too few and far between.

At the end of the day, there can be no doubt that it has been—and will continue to be—independent pet stores that create the tide that ultimately raises all ships in the pet industry. But that won’t happen if they all end up underwater. PB