Leo and Maggi don’t like baths. The pair of German Shepherds, owned and loved by 37-year-old Abhishek Sharan, a resident of Jaipur’s Narayan Vihar, kick up such a huge fuss over water-washes that they sometimes end up looking worse for wear. Sharan found a way out. He now hauls them every fortnight to Paws2Think, a pet salon, and shells out ₹700-1,000 on each of them for medicated baths with imported shampoos and leave-in conditioners. They still don’t like it but Sharan laughs, “They do feel great at the end, especially with their paws and nails cleaned.” The indulgent pet lover also spends ₹2,500-3,000 on prepared pet food every month. Clearly, for those at the receiving end, pets are good business.
Lapping it up
Have you been to a pet store lately? Gone are the days when they stacked bags of pet food by dusty windows. Now, shoppers pick from colourful cushions for cats, cute toothbrushes for dogs and mini scuba divers for fish tanks. There’s even vegetarian dog food for owners who would rather not have carnivorous pets. This niche market also has oddball niceties like the Mumbai-based The Spoilt Brat Barkery, which offers muffins, biscuits and treats baked especially for canines, and even doggie birthday cakes.
Easier still are online pet portals like DogSpot, Tupples, Indian Pet Stores and PetShopIndia, which stock everything from sweaters to kennels. When 40-year-old Rajesh Chauhan started PetShopIndia in 2003, it was a new concept that wasn’t received well. “Earlier, people were skeptical about buying things online but not anymore,” reasons Chauhan.
Pets used to be fed dal, roti or pieces of chicken leftover from lunch or dinner before, “And that habit still remains the biggest competitor for prepared pet foods,” admits Nitin Kulkarni of Mars India. Its pet food brands have been in India since 2001 and have seen a double-digit growth since then. It’s easy to see why home-cooked food scores big — prepared dog food costs anywhere from ₹200-350 per kilo, and a large dog like a Golden Retriever needs 400-525 gm of pet food for a meal. A Euromonitor report says that prepared pet food does and will continue to dominate the industry. The pet food segment, which accounts for 75%-80% of the pet care industry, stood at ₹563 crore in 2011.
The services side to things is not lagging behind. Pet care chains like Cho Chweet and Scoopy Scrubs are giving standalone salons a run for their money. Childhood friends Sudhakar C and Suresh Chandra founded Cho Chweet in September 2010 because, “We wanted to focus on how grooming pets is not only about styling, it’s about following a healthy and hygienic lifestyle,” says Sudhakar.
The response was very good, so they expanded to a second branch in Chennai, and Cho Chweet had six branches within two years of operations — four in Chennai, and one each in Cochin and Coimbatore, set up at an average cost of ₹12-15 lakh each. Sudhakar and Chandra aim to open 3-4 branches every year, and are exploring franchises as a means to expand. Each salon started off grooming 40-80 pets a month, is now patronised by 140-150 in the same time, and currently generates approximately ₹2.5-3.5 lakh in sales every month, a growth of 50% from 2010.
Delhi-headquartered Scoopy Scrubs was founded in 2005 with two outlets by banker-turned-entrepreneur, Sanjeev Kumar, and his wife Preeti, both passionate animal-lovers. They started with two branches of Scoopy Scrubs and now have seven self-owned grooming salons in Delhi, plus 13 franchisees across the country in cities such as Jaipur (Paws2think), Hyderabad (Nails N Tails) and Pune (SmaartPetsz), with a policy of adding standalone existing businesses to the chain. “Though grooming is a necessity, it is much more visible now because of the attached glamour element,” says Kumar. The duo plans to expand by another 15-20 franchise branches by the end of the year; the franchisee puts in ₹3-4 lakh and Kumar provides the staff and the equipment. A basic cleaning of ear or nails at Scoopy Scrubs only costs ₹50, whereas a ‘complete makeover’ from a bath to an aromatherapy massage is a ₹1,200-2,500 indulgence, depending on the breed. Other verticals at Scoopy Scrubs include a pet-friendly taxi service and a bakery called Licious in Delhi.
For now, dogs are still a man’s best friend and the Euromonitor report says 85% of the pets in 2011 were dogs. “We have also been educating vets, breeders and pet parents on the health and social benefits of owning pets,” says Kulkarni. Meanwhile, the market is growing, slowly but steadily, as owners like Sharan go shopping for pets, “who are like members of the family.”