A good year for pet business

Natasha Manji, owner of Su-paw Star Pets at her shop in Gigiri on February 22, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

What you need to know:

  • Kenyans welcome more animals as new family members as they socialise less with humans.
  • Property developers are also being forced to evaluate their relationships with pets, with many coming up with homes that will be attractive to pets and their owners.
  • Rescue centres have also reported that demand for dogs rose sharply.

Demand for animal companions has soared in the past few months, pushing up sales of pet food and equipment.

At a time that many businesses are reeling from the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic, reporting losses, those in the pet industry are seeing unprecedented growth, as spending on cats, dogs, ornamental fish, and parrots sky-rocket.

George Kabugi, the proprietor of Petzone Kenya, says the pet industry may have been growing, but longer stays at home and limited social interactions during Covid-19 pushed up demand for animal companions and pet supplies.

“Covid-19 was a silver lining for us. Our sales increased by 15 percent three months into the pandemic,” he says.

When he started the business in 2019, it was supposed to be a side hustle. Two years on, it is a full-time job, with several employees and four physical stores in Nairobi’s Karen and Westlands and Mombasa’s Nyali and Likoni.

It is no different for 23-year-old, Natasha Manji. Her interest in pets began when her graduation gift— a pure-bred Maltese puppy —landed from South Africa.

In November 2020, she launched Su-paw Star Pets “to deliver pet happiness.” What started as an online store on Instagram, with over 2,000 followers, now we have a physical store in Nairobi’s Gigiri Box Park.

“The response has been remarkable because the demand for pets and pet products is very high,” says the marketing graduate who now stocks pet food and accessories.

Pet pregnancy parties

The pet market is a niche and no expense is spared on the furry creatures. Kenyans are spending on pet manicures, pedicures and buying pet sleep worth Sh40,000. Pet pregnancies are celebrated with ‘baby showers’ complete with photography sessions.

Douglas Waliera who has been a dog trainer, breeder and groomer for 11 years says he is amazed at the changes he has witnessed in the lifestyles of pet owners and their animal companions.

Initially, he had a hard time selling his services as the number of pet owners was low and those who had them did not pamper them.

“Most people didn’t wash, train nor care about what the pets ate. Nowadays, people are doing this and more every week. They’re concerned about their pooches’ health and well-being,” he says.

Dog trainer Douglas Waliera on February 24, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

For grooming, he charges Sh5,000 per dog and he says “the business is very good.” He has also noted a change in the pet owners. Before, it was more Caucasians who owned pets. But now 40 percent of his clients are Indians, 35 percent locals and 25 percent Caucasians. Interestingly, he says, what has not changed is that people still prefer dogs to cats.

The most common dog breeds that Kenyans own include German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Huskies, Japanese and Spanish Spitz, Terriers and St. Benedict.

The easiest to live with or that needs less work?

“The Golden Retriever is the friendliest, followed by the Labrador Retriever. However, the ease of living with a dog depends on its training and the behaviour of the owner. Pure breed dogs of any kind are more demanding and high maintenance,” Mr Waliera says.

Rescue centres have also reported that demand for dogs rose sharply.

“People had more free time, they were lonely and they wanted animal companions. Normally, we’d re-home 20 to 30 pets per month but during Covid-19, we re-homed up to 60 percent a month. More dogs than cats were adopted,” says Benson Kyalo, general manager, Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (KSPCA).

Brenda Akoth is among the Kenyans who took home a new dog companion during Covid. She says, previously, she was content with living by herself but it was until the pandemic hit that she found herself alone for long periods.

“I started spending time with friends who had pets and the joy they brought my friends warmed my heart,” she recalls.

A few weeks later, armed with Sh40,000 she got herself a puppy. She named her Skye. Skype is a mixed breed of a Japanese Spitz and a Terrier.

“I work from home on most days and Skye has been a wonderful companion. She makes me laugh and has taught me a lot on patience,” says Ms Akoth.

But why spend so much on a pet?

“Why not?” Ms Akoth says, adding that she has spent an additional Sh40,000 on Skye in the last two months for vaccinations, buying beddings, harnesses, leashes, and food.

Left to roam

Social media, accessibility, and availability of pets, improved purchasing power, and lifestyle choices are some of the factors that have led to the increasing pet spending.

“The relationship between people and pets has changed. The days where cats were left to roam and dogs were for security only are far behind us. Today’s pets are playmates for children and lifelong companions,” says Wanjiku Kamira, a manager at Petzone.

Ms Manji has even developed an acronym on the importance of pets. They are “Priceless and bring Excitement, and Tranquillity and Smiles on our faces.”

Mr Kabugi notes that children are also pushing expenditure on pets. As a result of this mental shift, pets are now treated as family members. The same way pet owners want the best for their children, they also want the same for their pets.

Property developers are also being forced to evaluate their relationships with pets, with many coming up with homes that will be attractive to pets and their owners.

There is also a link between pet ownership and status. Kenyans are buying breeds of dogs costing upward of Sh154,000, with some like the “teacup” Pomeranian going for Sh549,000.

“People are not just looking for a pet. They’re looking for the right pet. Be it a dog or a cat,” Ms Manji says.

More people are importing puppies from Egypt, South Africa, and Europe. Such dogs include Huskies, Chow chows, Shih Tzu, among others, whose pure breeds are hard to find in Kenya.

“Pet owners have no qualms paying for this,” Ms Manji says, adding that her Maltese puppy cost $1,400 (Sh154,000).

And if you are going to spend so much on a pet, then you must feed it appropriately and take very good care of it. This has pushed up demand for feeds from shops such as Petzone and Su-paw Star Pets, which sell organic food going for Sh2,200 and Sh3,000 for a five kg pack.

Wanjiku Kamira, manager Petzone in Nairobi, Karen on February 23, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Purchase of grooming products is also on the rise both locally and globally. A report by Grand View Research estimates that the global grooming products market will be worth $14.5 billion in 2025.

At Petzone’s Karen branch, the shelves are teeming with all manner of grooming products for dogs, pets, birds, and fish. “What a man uses, a dog can use too,” Mr Kabugi says; from shampoos made from tea tree oil, natural honey, and aloe vera, to vitamin paste for cats and dogs, and pet toys.

In addition to cotton-based beddings and clothes, harnesses, and leashes, the items that fly off the shelves at Ms Manji’s store are dog socks, car-shaped mattresses which cost Sh7,000, pee and potty pads, and cooling beds. At any one time, a client who walks into her shop will spend from Sh2,000, with the highest expense being Sh18,000.

“I announced the arrival of pee and potty pads yesterday morning and by 3pm, they were all sold out,” she says.

However, Mr Waliera is concerned about the comforts that people are extending to their pets.

“Let your children be your children and your pets, your pets. Failure to train and manage them can lead to dangerous outcomes,” he warns.

He advocates for pets to be trained on good manners to control aggression and pet owners on how to lead the animal companions instead of being led by them.

“Pets have similar emotions to humans. They are also intelligent and will develop bad habits when bored,” he says

So will spending on pets wane after Covid-19?

“I don’t think pet spending will end even after Covid-19. Working from home is now normal and because one cannot return a pet once they’ve bonded with it, it’s just too hard, they will keep wanting more,” Ms Kamira says.

Many people have discovered a new love and unwavering loyalty from an animal friend.

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