Ruhell Amin, sector lead for global retail at Playa Vista-based independent advisory firm William O’Neil and Co., attributes the industry’s growth to premiumization and humanization.
Premiumization is the concept of brands appealing to consumers by emphasizing quality and exclusivity, according to Amin, while humanization is the idea that many pet owners have begun thinking of their pets as family members.
“Both of these trends are leading to higher spending per pet,” Amin said. “The pet care industry is projected to continue growing. It’s obviously quite a resilient category.”
In the United States, the pet care market reached $96 billion in sales in 2020, up from $74 billion in 2014, according to Santa Ana-based ecommerce growth agency Common Thread Collective.
That growth has given rise to a wave of pet care-focused startups in L.A. in recent years, with businesses that are dialed into areas such as veterinary services, grooming, products and training.
The popularity of pet care startups even led to the creation of Leap Venture Studio. The Mid-City-based accelerator — founded by animal welfare nonprofit Michelson Found Animals Foundation Inc., pet technology company Kinship and investment firm R/GA Ventures — has funded more than 25 startups since launching in 2018.
“At the end of each year’s cohort, we look at each other and try to figure out if we’re going to do (Leap Venture Studio) again the following year,” said Brett Yates, chief executive of Michelson Found Animals Foundation. “There was zero doubt from any of us this year about it. The space is really rich.”
Many L.A.-based pet care companies are technology-centered or direct-to-consumer merchants, categories that Amin said has helped drive the pet industry’s boom.
According to Amin, pet care ecommerce sales grew from 4% of the industry’s revenue in 2014 to 27% of its revenue in 2020.
The pandemic increased the use of online shopping in the space even further, he said, adding that ecommerce is expected to account for 35% of the pet care market by 2024.
“I think if there are going to be new entrants into the space, invariably they’re going to have to have some sort of online presence because that’s where the growth really is in the industry,” Amin said.
Though the U.S. economy shrank 4% during the pandemic, spending on pet care products and services has surged. According to Common Thread Collective, pet product revenue grew 63% amid the pandemic.
This mirrors the recession of 2008, Amin said, when spending on pet products rose 12% despite decreased consumer spending overall.
Pet care products are considered a necessity, making the industry resilient because of regular and frequent consumer purchases, Amin said.
“The pet industry is generally one of the most resilient categories during an economic downturn because of the nature of the pet-parent relationship,” Amin said.
Pet adoptions in Los Angeles skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic. In March 2020, the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services found homes or foster homes for 2,232 pets, which is more than a quarter of all animals that were adopted in the first half of 2020, according to the department’s mid-year report. Amin said this trend could “positively affect” the industry.
Leap Venture’s Yates said Los Angeles is an “incubator area” for companies in the pet care space, which is why Leap Venture Studio moved from Portland, Ore., to Los Angeles after its first year.
“Of all the cities where we’re starting to see the startups come through the pet space, Los Angeles is the strongest of them,” Yates said.
Here’s a look at just some of the Los Angeles pet care startups that are attracting attention and building up their business.
HEADQUARTERS: Beverly Hills
CEO: Brandon Werber
BUSINESS: Veterinary service
FUNDING TO DATE: $14 million
ABOUT THE COMPANY: Brandon Werber came up with the concept for AirVet after one of his French bulldogs ate a possibly poisonous house plant. Though he was able to get help for his pup in time, he realized pet owners needed a better way to get aid in emergency situations.
Enter AirVet, a Beverly Hills-based on-demand pet telemedicine startup.
The company was created in 2018 and launched its app for customers at the end of 2019. AirVet said it has helped more than 100,000 pet owners to date.
“We were trying to develop a first-of-its-kind, Uber-like platform where vets could sign on when they had a break from their own practices and handle calls from pet owners facing a care crisis,” Werber told the Business Journal in February.
The pandemic gave AirVet a boost in popularity. The company closed a $14 million Series A funding round in June from Portola Valley-based Canvas Ventures and San Francisco-based E.ventures, which enabled AirVet to build its hospital platform and expand its direct-to-consumer marketplace
TOP EXECUTIVES: Terri Rockovich, Michael Kim and Sameer Mehta
BUSINESS: Dog food
FUNDING TO DATE: $5.65 million
ABOUT THE COMPANY: When Terri Rockovich, Michael Kim and Sameer Mehta were dissatisfied with the kibble options available for their dogs, they decided to do something about it. The trio, who met while working at New York-based mattress startup Casper Sleep Inc., launched in January 2020 Jinx, a clean dog food startup based in Hollywood.
Jinx offers subscriptions for dry dog foods made without corn, soy or gluten. Its recipes are made to boost heart health and digestion and to help with skin and coats.
Jinx closed its first funding round of $5.65 million in November 2019 to prepare for its launch. The round, led by San Francisco-based Initialized Capital, attracted celebrity investors, including actor Will Smith, rapper Nas and singer Halsey.
As an online retailer, the company got a boost when it launched from the pandemic-driven surge in ecommerce. Jinx said it has been able to convert two-thirds of its one-time buyers to subscribers, with the majority of the company’s revenue coming from repeat customers.
In April, the company branched out to selling dental chews and freeze-dried meal toppers.
“We’ve kind of taken a modern approach, offering modern nutrition with a modern experience,” Rockovich told the Business Journal in January.
Zoom Room Inc.
HEADQUARTERS: Culver City
CEO: Mark Van Wye
BUSINESS: Dog training
ANNUAL REVENUE: $4.2 million
ABOUT THE COMPANY: When the pandemic hit, pet training company Zoom Room Inc. had to shift its business model. The Culver City-based company, which owns a chain of indoor dog training centers, started offering classes online, trading in its pet gyms for living rooms.
Through remote training, Zoom Room was able to stay on its feet. But the company is currently focused on reopening its in-person training centers to provide better care to its clients.
Zoom Room teaches pet parents how to exercise with their dog, offers training tips and tricks, and teaches how to manage separation anxiety. Customers can book half-hour, one-on-one remote video sessions for $35 each or a four-pack for $125.
“(Zoom Room has) transformed this unique concept into a lifelong shared experience between pet and pet parents and with other like-minded dog owners in a convivial, active space, and this has led to an increase in client retention, lifetime revenue, loyalty and community impact,” the company said in a statement.
The pandemic provided such a boom that the company has been able to expand, with pet training centers under construction in Santa Clarita; Bellevue, Wash.; Reno, Nev.; McKinney, Texas; and Colorado Springs, Colo. The new facilities will give Zoom Room a total of 17 training centers.
HEADQUARTERS: Century City
CEO: Daniel Rotman
BUSINESS: Cat litter
EMPLOYEES: About 20
ANNUAL REVENUE: $1.5 million
ABOUT THE COMPANY: After Daniel Rotman’s cat Gingi was diagnosed with a terminal illness,he realized cat owners needed a way to be proactive about their pet’s health. So, he created PrettyLitter Inc., a lightweight, odor-absorbing cat litter made from silica gel that can monitor health by changing color.
PrettyLitter can detect a range of diseases, including kidney disease, bladder cancer and urinary tract infections. Rotman launched the Century City-based online retail company in 2015. PrettyLitter subscriptions cost an average of $22 a month.
“Our goal is to get your cat care before urgent medical attention is needed, saving you money, stress and potentially your fur baby’s life,” Rotman said on the company’s website.
In February, PrettyLitter announced a partnership with Martha Stewart to feature her in an ad campaign and make her the brand spokesman.
CEO: Ana Skaya
BUSINESS: Pet DNA testing and monitoring
FUNDING TO DATE: $250,000
ABOUT THE COMPANY: Basepaws wants to take the mystery out of cat ownership. Founded in 2017, the Torrance-based company offers genetic testing kits for owners to discover their cat’s breed, as well as monitor health markers that could affect the cat later in life. Tests start at $129.99.
“Your cats won’t tell you when they’re sick,” the company says on its website. “We test for genetic markers, reporting on mutation carrier status and predisposition to different diseases.”
In April 2019, founder Ana Skaya went on investment reality show “Shark Tank,” earning deals with Canadian investors Robert Herjavec and Kevin O’Leary, as well as $250,000 in funding, enabling the company to upgrade its DNA testing kits over the past few years and expand its offerings to sell dental health testing kits, which launched in February.
HEADQUARTERS: Woodland Hills
CEO: Jeff Safenowitz
BUSINESS: Dog grooming
ABOUT THE COMPANY: Jeff Safenowitz calls trips to the groomer “traumatic” for dogs, as cages and other dogs can cause stress, he said. With this in mind, he created Barkbus, a Woodland Hills-based company that brings the groomer to customers’ doorsteps.
Barkbus, which launched in 2017, increased its mobile capabilities amid the pandemic. With its fleet of 12 fully equipped grooming buses, the company services Los Angeles County and will branch into Orange County in the next few months.
Safenowitz, chief executive of Barkbus, said the company groomed more than 1,000 dogs in April alone.
“We’ve always been a contact-free business,” Safenowitz said. “Consumers want things now. They want things at their doorstep. So, we’ve always been this kind of premium, at-your-door service, which the world is transitioning to more and more.”
By next year, Safenowitz hopes to expand into other states in the United States.