Pet-Focused Retailers in Canada See Sales Gains During Pandemic Amid Work-from-Home

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There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on certain segments of the retail industry.

But in some sectors, such as sporting goods and home decor, sales are growing.

One sector of retail also experiencing that positive trend is the pet industry.

As more people spend more time at home with Fido and Felix, they’re also spending more money for their pets and the expectation is that they’ll also be buying more pets to keep them company at home.

Scott Arsenault

“There’s two things that have happened. There’s been an increase in pet ownership and then people now having the time — the interactions have been heavier or more concentrated or more involved,” said Scott Arsenault, President of Ren’s Pets, a Canadian specialty retailer with its head office in Guelph, Ontario.

“It’s been intentional because people are home. So they’re walking. They’re training more. Treats more. For current pet ownership, they seem to be really invested in their pets because it’s something you can do. You can walk them. You can play with them. Growth within the industry has been outstanding. The year for pets has been fantastic.”

The company was founded in 1975 in Oakville. Currently it has 32 locations and it will be opening seven more locations this year. The company has 29 locations in Ontario, from Sudbury to Windsor, and three in the Maritimes (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia). Of the new locations to be opened this year, one will be in the Maritimes and six in Ontario.

The pet retailer is primarily focused on dogs and cats and they don’t have any live animals in their stores, which have a typical footprint of about 7,500 square feet.

“The fact that we’re solely dog and cat with some small animals really makes us kind of a powerhouse within the dog and cat category. We would have as much as a PetSmart would have in a sense,” said Arsenault. “And we don’t do the services. We don’t groom in store. We don’t train. We don’t board. We don’t sell live animals. From that standpoint, we’re very fixated on dogs and cats.”

Arsenault said two categories have really grown in the pet industry. The raw food category is one of them.

“More than 75 percent of our stores have walk-in freezers and a lot of people haven’t really understood the transition to raw pet food and how big it is. That category has really boomed,” he said.

“And then grooming. Grooming has been fantastic. Ren’s is the number one supplier of pet products to groomers in Canada. So to the professional. We don’t groom. That’s intentional. We don’t compete with the people we sell to. Also grooming for the retail consumer has been off the charts. Our retail business in grooming, in selling the products, has been probably the biggest surprise.

“That’s a good thing to do with your pets. Spend time with them in grooming them because they really like it. It’s a form of bonding with them. People are educating themselves and they’re grooming their pets. And that was one category that we didn’t see would boom the way it did.”

Arsenault said he sees the trend in pet ownership and people spending money on their pets to continue for a number of reasons. More people are working from home now and will continue to work from home even when the pandemic is gone. Also less people are travelling.

“I’ve seen people who I never thought would have gotten a pet because it might compromise their lifestyle and they’re now just flooding social media with the love this pet is giving them and they’re getting,” said Arsenault.

“It’s just a great connection that people are getting to have now. And pausing in their life. People have changed. They’re going to walk a little bit more. They’re going to spend more time with their pets. It’s an interesting vertical.”

Sales of fish tanks and other small pet enclosures have also seen a rise since the start of the pandemic.

Arsenault said the company has had record numbers both online and in-store for sales. With the online component, sales are across Canada.

“It’s phenomenal the growth that’s happened within our online but our stores are just as robust. From the retail standpoint, this is a good story because bricks and mortar is relevant as well as the online that is growing like crazy. We’re still going to expand stores when a lot of people are thinking contraction,” he added.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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