Pet pampering industry going strong
Michelle Hamilton gives Mimi, a Yorkie, a haircut at Groomingdales. Dogs with long coats, like Mimi, require frequent grooming. FLORIDA WEEKLY PHOTO
The pet service industry is going to the dogs and some local business owners couldn’t be happier. Despite a weak economy, pet spas and bakeries are doing considerably well.
The dog-doting industry counts on pet owners who often cut back on personal luxuries in order to take care of their pets.
“I think they’ll go without something for themselves. It makes them happy knowing their pets will be happy,” said Pam Borrosove. She and her husband opened Woof Gang Bakery Estero three months ago. The pet-loving couple researched different types of businesses and after seeing good numbers in the billion dollar pet industry, decided to go for it.
“We’re doing fantastic,” Ms. Borrosove said. “The pet industry, instead of decreasing, is increasing like crazy.”
She said the gourmet pet bakery franchise has undergone “lots of growth” during its short existence. About 20 customers a day come to the pastel-hued store located in the Grande Oak Shoppes in Estero.
The bakery specializes in healthy, natural pet foods and treats, including hypoallergenic, wheat-free and grain-free products, food, treats and supplements created for hip and joint issues. The shop also features a variety of novelty toys, pet fashions, collars and leads, and a wide range of pet grooming supplies.
Well-established pet service businesses in the area are also experiencing growth while maintaining their clienteles.
Gourmet pet bakeries — or barkeries as they are known — are sprinkled along the Tamiami Trail throughout Naples. Recently, one dog bakery had an employee dressed in a kitschy chef outfit holding a tray of treats and greeting drivers along the road.
Above: Ford and Edison, a pair of Skye terriers, await their weekly session at Groomingdales in Fort Myers.
Punta Gorda has about eight pet-related businesses.
“My feel is that they are doing well, given the hard economic situation since Punta Gorda is so pet-friendly with dog-friendly parks, doggie dining and a monthly ‘It’s a Dog Walk Night,’” said John Wright, president of the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce.
Caroline Damask, owner of Adorable Dogs, a grooming and boarding facility in Punta Gorda, is seeing more dogs come through her door.
“In spite of the economy, grooming has increased,” she said.
Ms. Damask, a nationally certified master groomer, tends to about 100 pets a week. “We’re growing,” she said. “You have to always be growing your client base.”
Right: Tracie DelBrocco brushes Dino, a schnauzer, at Groomingdales. The family-run business grooms about 90 dogs every week. FLORIDA WEEKLY PHOTOS
Although Ms. Damask notes kennel use is down at her facility, people are still bringing their dogs in for grooming and care.
She and other folks in the pet business sector say that people consider their pets’ needs more than ever before.
“Pets have become a very central part of the family,” Ms. Damask said.
Tricia Fox, who owns Groomingdales in Fort Myers, said the more than twodecades old business is doing well and has not experienced much client loss — except for a few people who worked in real estate and left the area.
“The season’s really busy,” she said.
Groomingdales customer Dave Copham said he and his wife dote on their two Skye terriers, Edison and Ford. The terriers go to the salon weekly to have their lush coats cared for.
“They’re good dogs for us,” Mr. Copham said. “They travel with us everywhere.”
The sentiment of dogs being part of the family seems to represent a shift in society regarding the value placed on pets, according to local pet-related business owners.
At the Naples Dog Center, people will pay to have their pets indulge in spa and salon services. J.C. Nall, co-owner of the business, said the store sees about 100 dogs a week.
“It seems to be getting busier,” he said above the din of hairdryers and woofs. He said many of his clients are widows, widowers or empty nesters with grown children. They replace the void with a pet that often becomes the baby and center of their world.
“They live to see their pets pampered,” Mr. Nall said.
Cerissa Dillow, owner of Salty Paws pet boutique in Punta Gorda, said she has seen the pampering and indulgence of pets become more mainstream in the past five years. Where several years ago it might have seemed a bit bizarre to dress up a pet in pricey chic fashion, now it has become commonplace.
Ms. Dillow attributes her business success to staying involved in the community. She supports local shelter fundraisers and draws pet lovers to her boutique with the monthly Muttini Mingle social and Yappy Hour. “We try to stay public,” she said of the more than 15-year-old boutique.
The company also markets via a Web site and is present on social networking sites such as Facebook.
Mary Hermes has spent 38 years working at the Poodle Boutique & Bakery in Fort Myers.
“I haven’t slowed down,” she said. “If anything, I’m busier than ever.”
Ms. Hermes noted that more people are home now due to the economy and getting puppies to keep them company. This shift also helps bring work to local pet businesses.
“These dogs have to be professionally groomed,” she said.
Ms. Hermes said that 99 percent of people who own a pet consider it part of the family and therefore should be treated to baths, haircuts and all of the other grooming needs people consider important.
The shift in people’s values about pets has created a market that is relatively recession-proof. “They bring us so much joy,” Ms. Fox said as she groomed a bouncy schnauzer in her Groomingdales salon. The animals also unwittingly bring in cash, another cause for joy in itself. ¦