Ornate, gold-gilded beds, sparkly diamond accessories and custom-made haute garbs, spoiling spa resorts. Welcome to the burgeoning market for luxury pet care, which garners tens of billions in annual sales. Here is how it all began and where it is today
By: Shannon Heggem, Pet Luxury Expert
Posted on: November 4, 2016
Dogs and cats have been helpers and companions to humans for centuries. However, a societal shift commenced in the early 1990s, when the role of pets within families first really started to change. A trend towards humanizing pets emerged, as many people began to view them more as actual family members. Pet retailers and service providers soon noticed, and the entire pet marketplace was forever altered.
Even though the beginning of luxury pet care is somewhat easy to pinpoint in time, the factors that sprouted the haute trend are harder to define. The 80s was the decade of decadence, marked by a booming economy and so much excess, and yet we really did not see an emergence of luxury for pets. Perhaps, indulgence – and, not for oneself but for an animal – was still a foreign endeavor. The 1990s, however, rolled in to upend some staunch societal mores. It finally became more "acceptable" to choose purposely not to have human children. Many of these Generation X couples opted for "furkids" instead. It seems that, with that shift, it then became more common to spoil these hairy children.
Prior to that time, pet owners who needed to board their dogs and cats had no other choice than to drop them off either at crowded vet clinics or stark, concrete and chain link facilities. As a result, owners were seeking a higher level of services for their beloved pets while they were away, and they were willing to pay top-dollar. The boarding industry responded, and more upscale facilities began to emerge. Rather than cold and depressing pet prisons, industry trendsetters began designing and building more high-end, comfort-centric pet resorts. The grooming industry soon followed by experimenting with pampering spa services, in addition to regular grooming offerings. It was an instant hit. Pet owners then wanted to bring this new level of care into their homes, thereby introducing the segment for luxury pet supplies and accessories. Thus the high-end pet niche market was born, and has continued to grow and expand in the decades that followed.
Now that luxury pet treatment has taken a foothold in modern society, high-end products, care facilities, and services are commonplace. And, like the human luxury market, these have all become more specialized, more targeted, and, of course, more over-the-top. The luxury pet industry is a big business. The American Pet Product Association expects the pet segment’s revenue to spike by 4% over its 2015 figure and top almost $63 billion by the end of 2016 A recent Packaged Facts report identifies upper-income households as a dominant force in the pet industry, estimating that three-fifths of pet market spending this year will come from this group. However, it isn't just high-income households who are purchasing luxury products and services. Middle-income families are also a force in the market. Therefore, a large portion of that $63 billion comes from spoils on the high end. Luxury-centric companies now cater to pet owners who will stop at nothing to have only the finest for their best friends.
Let's consider for a moment that you have a pampered Papillon named Penelope. The only limiting factor to what is available for your precious Penelope is budget. If that isn't a concern, then the sky is the limit.
Perhaps the first purchase should be a custom-built 18th century-styled ornate dog bed, with a price tag of just over $24,000. It is important to note that the gold-threaded mattress will be an additional $3,000. This bed would be a great addition to Penelope's luxury pet room, which has been custom-built in your home to specifically showcase Penelope's unique personality, starting at a design cost of $100,000, in addition to construction, furniture, and décor fees.
Penelope would also surely appreciate some pampering services, such as weekly treatments at the grooming spa, where she will enjoy relaxing massage therapy, whirlpool baths, and conditioning facials, all with transportation to and from via limousine. And, because Penelope is a fashionista, she will also need to be dressed in the latest canine couture for these outings, all of which has been custom-made for your little companion. If you are seeking the "ultimutt" fashion accessory, consider a $1.8 million-dollar diamond-encrusted collar, boasting 52-carats-worth of bark-worthy bling.
And, when life dictates that you must leave Penelope behind on your next business trip, she will be able to maintain her indulged lifestyle while she is a guest at a luxury pet resort. She will, of course, insist on staying in the Royale Suite, where she can enjoy her own television, gourmet meals, and housekeeping services, all ending with a great night's sleep on her infrared dog bed. The nightly cost of these accommodations will rival your own last visit to your favorite boutique hotel.
Penelope will have an ongoing need for medical care as well. Veterinary services have come on board and begun catering to the specialized needs of high-end clientele. Focus-specific hospitals are now offering more wellness and rehab-associated services such as acupuncture, hydrotherapy, and even under-water treadmill rehabilitation. With cancer on the rise, even in companion animals, some vet hospitals are now specializing in oncology and radiation therapy. Even sophisticated procedures such as bone-marrow transplants are available, at a cost of around $16,000. Pet dentistry has also become a separate practice. Penelope can visit the dog dentist for teeth cleaning, check-ups, and even orthodontic braces. Overall, the specialty veterinary field is sure to continue a similar expansion in the coming years.
Regardless of the amount of pampering that Penelope receives, the sad truth is that her lifespan will be much shorter than a human's. When that unhappy time arrives, perhaps a stuffed plush toy, customized to look exactly like her, will help with the loss. Or, for a more animated alternative, consider an actual living and breathing genetic clone. A special skin sample is taken while the pet is still living, and stored until it is time for Penelope #2. This controversial operation is currently available at a cost of near $100,000.
In general, the luxury pet market does not show signs of slowing down any time soon. New products and services are making their way to the market every day, and pet owners continue to support the entire concept. Interestingly enough, many people who do not necessarily live a luxury-focused lifestyle themselves often embrace it for their pets. This makes one really ponder the reason why...why are these creatures so important in our lives?
The fact is that these are the only relationships, which are completely without judgment, blame, or expectations. Pets love their humans – no matter what. It is the most simple and rewarding relationship. This is likely why they have taken on human roles in our lives, sometimes substituting for spouses, children, parents, or friends. This constantly positive relationship inspires owners to want to give back somehow, or reward their best friends – these precious little things – for the love and companionship they so generously give. Providing these loving and loyal creatures with the most luxurious accommodations and experiences is a great way to do so.
Shannon Heggem is a pet luxury lifestyle expert; she has been shaking up the pet industry since the early 1990s, with her bold and daring high-end pet spaces. From luxury pet resorts to home-based custom pet spaces, Ms. Heggem continues to accelerate the level of pampering for the most-fortunate four-legged friends. The work of her design firm, Luxury Unleashed, has been featured in magazines and reality television. Shannon Heggem is considered the global authority on pet luxury. She is also the human behind doggie social media starlet @gigglesbygigi, probably the world’s most pampered dog. You might meet them both at one of their many speaking appearances around the globe, and hear first-hand about just how pampered a pup can truly be!