Humans have had a relationship with canines for more than 14,000 years—longer than they’ve practiced agriculture. Today, many people with furry companions consider themselves not just pet owners but pet parents. And those pet parents go above and beyond for their “fur babies,” including when they’re shopping for a new floor.
The pet industry in the United States is large and growing. It was worth $66.75 billion in 2016, according to Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association. That’s up from a little more than $60 billion in 2015. More than two out of three U.S. households have a pet, he adds.
Vetere lists a number of reasons for this growth, including the changing role of pets in the family. He suggests that when dealing with pet parents, subtle changes in language may be necessary that acknowledge pets as family rather than property.
Pet industry growth is also attributed to shifting demographics. Baby boomers, for example, who spent money on college tuition for their children now can spend it elsewhere. “Once their kids leave, they divert their attention and spending habits from their offspring toward their pets,” says John Gibbons, a consultant for pet product sales and marketing.
Generation X’ers, ages 35 to 49, are making the most money—focused on family and career, according to Gibbons. Time and convenience are priorities for them, but as their children start to leave home, they may spend more on their pets.
Says Vetere: “Millennials [ages 18 to 34] are embracing pet ownership more than they have in the past. This bodes well for higher spending trends, thus creating a thriving industry, even as baby boomers begin to age out of pet ownership.”
In addition to changing demographics, the growth of the pet market also comes from changing attitudes. Many consider their pets to be important members of the family, like children.
Gibbons traces the rise of pet parents in his own life. When he was young, his pet was a close companion. “I saw more of my dogs during the summertime than I did of my parents,” he says. “So, as baby boomers, when we got our own homes, it was only natural to welcome who had been your best friend growing up, into your home. I believe that was a big factor in the rise of pet parents.”
Naturally, those enthusiastic pet parents drive a lot of purchasing power. “Pets have become part of our extended families,” Vetere says. “They give us unconditional love and attention, and people are reacting more positively to that than ever before.
“As we understand more completely the beneficial role pets play in improving human health,” Vetere adds, “there will be even more effort at ensuring longer, healthier lives for pets.”
The market for pets is sizable, and many owners consider themselves to be pet parents. So, how can you use these pet industry trends to sell flooring?
Many flooring customers have pets on their mind as they think about flooring. “It’s become really common for people to come in with pet concerns at the top of their lists,” says Angie Ridder, general manager—residential remodeling at Star Flooring in Wichita, Kansas.
Ridder usually starts with a few qualifying questions about lifestyle, pets, kids, and whether the customer lives in the city or country. “Usually you don’t have to ask very much and they open up and tell you what their lifestyle is,” she says. “It really doesn’t take many questions to get to the bottom of what they’re looking for.”
Pet parents could have a number of reasons for wanting new flooring. They could want flooring that works well for children and pets. Or maybe the kids have left the nest and now the parents want to put more effort into accommodating their pets. Often the concern is with an older pet who tends to have a lot of accidents. From Ridder’s experience, stains are the top concern for most pet parents shopping for flooring.
Personal experience can be a powerful tool when talking to customers about flooring. Ridder has dogs and lives in the country, so she can talk about flooring with authority. If personal experience isn’t enough, she advises, tap into the experiences of acquaintances.
A lighthearted approach can also be effective, especially when talking about uncomfortable issues like pet accidents.
“Humor really helps,” Ridder says. She tells customers that problems can ‘come out both ends of your dog, and [with STAINMASTER® PetProtect™] you can clean it up.’ You’re talking about pee and vomit, and it’s really gross. But it’s kind of funny to talk to a stranger about it. That helps lighten the mood.”