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Make room for pets. Are you kidding?

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.


9 comments on “Make room for pets. Are you kidding?

  1. Ron Hirshberg

    You would be surprised at the number of boaters that have pet dogs. They are truly family to their owners. I have had people not buy a particular boat because their dog could not climb the fly bridge ladder for example. Some even have two or more dogs that boat with them. I make it a point to ask each of my customers about their pets. You would be surprised how they open up and talk about their pet children..Yes I am a pet person to. I have two Maltese, a Parrot and a cat.


  2. Shelly Eriksen

    One of my selling points when selling our Scout Boats is the low maintenance for dog owners. No carpet, wash down systems, very dog friendly boat. Visit our web-site and you’ll see our two technicans are Golden Retrievers. Stocking you Ship Store with Dog Life Jackets and Sun Glasses also makes for a good opener for Boat Shopping Dog Owners.

  3. Jack Dozier


    Whew! We feel better after reading this. My wife and I were afraid we were as weird as our children say we are. We’re slaves to our dogs, a point the kids tried but never quite got us to. Besides choosing the boat that worked best for them (naturally the more expensive model), our dogs determine where we cruise, where we dock, what time we dock, who we have treats with, where we eat, what time we go ashore in the morning, where we walk, and give us barking orders all day. We use the boat more because it’s something the dogs can do with us (family time). We know it’s rediculous but we love it, and we’re not alone!

    Dog owners (doggers), like boat owners (boaters), have a common bond, and the combination makes boating that much more fun. We see it everyday at the marinas we own and during our own time on the water. Catering to the needs and wants of pet owners makes doggone good business sense. Discover Boating was “Right On” with that one.

    Jack Dozier, Publisher
    Waterway Guide Publications

    PS: Because we see so many others experiencing a role model change like us our next publication in the works is “Cruising With Pets”. Don’t let your children see this one, they’ll really be jealous.

  4. Ed Sargent

    Not for the dollars, but for the good will, I have an enployee who collects good conditioned but no longer used bed quilts, and takes a part of her sewing time each week, to cut and sew them into doggie bed sized pads. These she donates to the humane society at nearly fifty(50) per month !

  5. Jim

    Pets are fine. And yes, I go out of my way to make nice with dogs when customers have them along during the boat buying process. But here is another thought–last Sept, my wife and I booked a room for two nights in upstate NY for a getaway. We stayed at a good brand name hotel on the water and all was well; until we found out there was a dog show at the hotel and dogs were staying in the rooms! They were in the lobby, the hallways—and we were given a partial refund because noone ever told us about the show when we booked.
    Some dealers have dogs of their own in the showroom that greet people by jumping all over them when they walk in the door, thus many times driving business away.
    Sorry Norm, I have to cater to the wife, the kids, the brother-in-law and the buddy that is the boat expert. Animal friendly boat presentations will not soon be in my repertoire.

  6. robert nelems

    When selling pontoon boats,I always push for a ride in my personal demo. And I always apoligize for the dog hair,explaining that I cannot keep our dogs out of the boat. Seems like every prospect says that’s ok,we have dogs too. And that forms a bond with the prospect that is genuine.

  7. David Tingle

    Back in the day….when my wife and I were running charter (sailing) yachts between the Caribbean, East Coast, and Europe, we were in the most competetive segment of the market-55-60′ boats taking up to 6 passengers. After sailing together for a year we realized we needed something other than the boat to come between us or one if us would end up in great pain. With the owner’s OK we got a Schipperke-a small, agile dog bred to work the canal barges in Belgium in the 1500s. We had one charter group threaten to cancel unless we boarded the dog, which we reluctantly did. In retrospect we wished we had canceled the charter. The people were a pain. On the flip side, we had a banner year and for the next 4 seasons. The reasoning? “All the boats looked great in the brochure, but you guys were the only ones who featured a dog so we figured you must be normal!” Dogs and boating are still very much a part of our lives. I can certainly understand the marketing aspect of getting to know your client’s pets. As GM at a full service yard I regularly ask after customer’s animals and nearly always get a “than you for asking” reply. Almost as good as remembering the spouse’s birthday……

  8. Brad

    We’ve always had the owners dogs here in the store. They’re trained not to jump and people always ask about them if they don’t see them. Customers and dockers are welcome to bring their dogs in. We see alot of boaters travel with dogs. Their presence has never chased buisness away and it’s more pleasant to deal with dog people than non-dog people.

  9. CB

    A customer sent me a brochure of an onboard dog toilet. Cool invention. A bit of training is required but 10 miles out you don’t head for shore for Phideaux. The dog walks on to it, uses it, walks off in the same direction, the trap floor slides forward removing the waste and closes ready for the 3:00 walk. Takes a large space and a bit of planing in construction but could sell a boat.

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