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Pet Economy Flourishes In Eugene And Portland

“Business has been booming,” says Jody Maddox, who owns Wags Dog Emporium off Coburg Road. This is no surprise, based on the $58.51 billion the American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates Americans spent on their pets in 2014. 

Oregon happens to be near the top of the list for pet-owning states and ranks fourth overall, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation’s 2012 survey numbers, and those high ownership numbers seems to have translated to good business for pet-related industries operating in Eugene and Oregon in general.

Rachael King, head of communications at DogVacay, an online service connecting dog owners with dog sitters across all 50 states as well as Canada, writes that “Oregon loves dogs.” This is evidenced by Oregon having the “sixth highest per person spend out of all the states on DogVacay,” King writes. 

According to King, the biggest cities for DogVacay in Oregon are Portland, Beaverton, Eugene, Hillsboro and Bend, in that order. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Eugene has the lowest per-capita income of the group, so despite a discrepancy in income, Eugene residents appear to have no problem shelling out money for their pets or buying supplies from pet specialty stores.

Opened in 2005, Wags Dog Emporium has become a staple in the local dog supply industry and is “doing great,” Maddox says. The store opened just a few years before the recession struck, when most people began to tighten their purse strings. “I really thought we would be the first to close,” Maddox says. 

But, she says, she found it to be “quite the opposite,” and Wags experienced “growth every year.” According to Forbes, pet-related industries are “recession proof,” a label with which Maddox agrees. 

“In bad years people stop going on vacation and start nesting and staying at home” and they might end up getting a puppy, she says. When that happens, the owners then buy all manner of items to keep their pet alive and well, and Wags offers a diverse amount of dog supplies, from dog clothing to water bottles.

Maddox also notes how diverse the pet supply industry is in particular. She cites chicken treats, hot items due to the increasing popularity of urban farming, seen at industry trade shows as evidence of the industry’s diversity. 

Another local business plugging right along is Nature’s Pet Market in south Eugene. The business “is doing OK and holding [its] own,” owner Mark Dunn says. Business is only “OK” because three years ago a PetSmart moved in about 75 feet away. 

“I was here first, and they moved in,” Dunn says. This Nature’s Pet location opened five years ago and is store number nine of the Portland-based franchise. 

The allure of Nature’s Pet Market is that it has specialty foods, including certain kinds of frozen raw pet foods that aren’t available in big box stores (à la PetSmart). Nature’s Pet sources from smaller manufacturers that only work with independent companies. 

“If you go to a bigger store, you have to increase production, and when you increase production, the quality goes down,” Dunn says. “Companies I work with try to source from within 75 miles, and two-thirds of the pet food comes from those kinds of sources.” 

This higher quality pet food might be more expensive, but it’s worth it because in the long run you end up saving money due to the higher quality food helping reduce your pet’s visits to the veterinarian, Dunn says.

Dunn notes that the pet supply industry is a “growth industry,” and unless you are really bad at business, you’ll have a relatively easy time. Dunn attributes this to the fact that some people “treat pets better than they treat their kids,” adding that it’s “amazing the appeal pets have for humans” and that pets have the ability to “become a major part of the family.”