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Opportunity Knocks

Posted: July 27, 2011, 12:30 p.m., EDT

An interview with Bob Vetere, president of APPA

By Carol Frank

Bob Vetere has been with the American Pet Products Association (APPA) for nearly 10 years and was named president of the association a few years back. I caught up with him to get his views on where the pet industry is heading.

Carol: The pet industry has been hot, hot, hot during the last several years. Do you see that growth continuing? What areas are you seeing the strongest growth potential?

Bob: I honestly do see the growth continuing because the segment that is feeding it is baby boomers whose kids have left home. Helicopter parents who are looking for something to hover over are turning to pets. Now that they are empty nesters with some discretionary income to spend, they are looking for convenience-based products and services such as feeders, doors, pet sitters and pet walkers that are designed to make their life easier. According to statistics, the largest chunks of boomers become empty nesters in three to five years which should continue to fuel the growth of the pet segment.

The other products that are going to see some growth are niche, higher end boutique products. Although people have turned to their pets in a huge way, for the last several years folks haven’t been able to take as good care of them as they used to because of the recession. Now they are feeling guilty. So as the recovery continues, expect people to "reward” their pet in human terms.

Carol: Why do you think the pet industry has been the focus of so much attention by investors?

Bob: I have been getting more and more calls over the last six to nine months from investors. Folks are fed up with other consumer segments and they continue to see the recession resistance of the pet industry. However, the challenge for investors is the industry is so fragmented, so it gets a little bit tricky and difficult to navigate.

Just recently I did a teleconference for Wells Fargo Securities and we had the highest number of participants for a teleconference that I can remember. 75 people were on the call. So there is more interest than ever by investors. I tell people that they need to focus on specific segments i.e. dogs, collars, housing, etc. and that the industry is not an easy retail segment to invest in. It requires a lot of studying and the more you drill down on the industry, the more you realize you are trying to grab a handful of Jello.

Carol: Any war stories/lessons learned that you can share with the readers?

Bob: I don’t have a war story, but I do have a story about just how this industry can provide an incredible opportunity for a creative thinker who knows how to execute:

A few years ago, a kid and his father came up with the idea of coating one side of a giant mitt so you can ‘pet’ your dog clean. It was very creative. Within the first two hours at Global Pet Expo, they had sold their annual production potential. They were even spotlighted on the Today Show. The guy excitedly called me eight months later to let me know that he had just sold his company for $8 million. That’s the kind of opportunity available in this industry.

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