When the Discover Boating national campaign unveiled its TV commercial “Dogs Need Weekends, Too” I must admit I was skeptical. “Dogs on boats just don’t have an appealing advertising message,” I commented. Boy was I wrong. What I failed to understand is that America’s love of pets is roaring on! For example, we’re now a nation of 75 million pet dogs.
Check this out: Two of every three American households now include a pet. That’s 71 million homes. The number of pet owners is growing and the money spent is growing even faster. Americans are spending $41 billion annually on their pets. According to BusinessWeek, pet spending has doubled in the last 10 years and is projected to reach $52 billion annually in two years. It means we’re now spending more on pets than on watching movies, playing video games, and listening to recorded music combined. In fact, pet care is the second-fastest-growing sector in retail, behind electronics.
Pampering pets is off the charts. Owners want to treat them as humans. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), 42 percent of dogs share their owner’s beds; 30 percent of dogs get birthday gifts; and 31 million dogs get Christmas presents. There are all-terrain strollers that sell for $210, so dogs don’t have to walk; designer collars by Hermes for $1200; and raincoats for $225.
PetSmart has installed “pet hotels” in its stores where dogs can stay for $31 a night in suites, complete with TV’s and phones so their owners can call them while traveling. There are now exclusive pet resorts like Happy Tails Ranch in Illinois. Air Animal will fly the pets there. Pet medical and hospitalization insurance is rapidly growing and pet hospices include grief counseling. Then there are pet marriages complete with minister, two- piece orchestra and reception. And, the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota offers a dog massage for just $130 an hour.
Clearly the creative team for the Discover Boating campaign recognized the impact of dog ownership. Unmistakably there are such strong emotions involved in pet ownership today. For example, BusinessWeek reported that a New Jersey resident, Steve Zane, spent $3,700 to treat his cat’s liver failure. “Well, he’s family,” Zane justified.
Accordingly, it seems probable that two of every three prospects walking into your dealership will be pet owners, likely a dog. While I’m not certain what influence, if any, a dog could have on the boat-buying process, don’t dismiss the idea that a “pet-friendly” model might just be a good selling point. After all, according to APPMA, studies have confirmed that when pet owners buy cars, a whopping 50 percent of them choose models that they believe will be comfortable for their dogs. One thing seems certain: if selling boats today calls for developing a relationship with the prospective customer, learning about their pet may be one good way.