By Maria Cestero and Erika Peters
Over 12,000 Long Islanders gathered at the Suffolk Community College Health and Exposition Center in Brentwood March 2 and 3 for the Long Island Pet Expo.
The exhibit featured some 100 vendors, part of a growing business of an estimated $72.13 billion that owners spend on their pets nationally, according to data from the American Pet Products Association in 2018.
“No one was doing what we were doing [ten years ago], bringing all kinds of pet professionals together, realizing if they work together they’ll grow together,” Nancy Hassel, owner of American Pet Professionals, said. “We have a few hundred members and have added 60-70 new members just in the last six months, across the country and here in New York.”
Businesses offering pet-related services are among those expanding on Long Island, Hassel said.
Hounds Town USA, a Ronkonkoma-based chain of doggie daycares, started its franchising concept in 2012, and today has seven locations, including Farmingdale, Ronkonkoma, Deer Park, Island Park and Port Jefferson Station. Ten others are currently in development, and they will be opening soon in Garden City, Hicksville, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Nashville, Tenn., Samantha Valentin, part of the franchising team and manager at Ronkonkoma location, said.
“I think that now the work drive of everyone — it’s such a hustle,” Valentin said. “People want the joy of having a dog, but have the problem of not being able to take care of the dog.”
The Babylon-based business Royal Paws Inc., which provides boarding, grooming, daycare and training for dogs, has gone through three expansions since opening in 2017, including a facility dedicated to grooming in West Babylon, Taylor Chiacchere, vice president of Royal Paws Inc., said.
“We’ve done three expansions and we’re not even open two years,” Chiacchere said. “The clientele is there, based on how many people on Long Island have dogs. You’re not seeing families with one dog anymore, you’re seeing families with two three dogs, and everybody wants to go away and work these long hours at their job, and that’s where we come in.”
About half of the booths at the expo were non-service related, showcasing pet-related products and even apps.
“Technology is skyrocketing, and the pet industry has been behind for years with technology,” Jason Hanny, co-founder and COO of Pet Connect, a free mobile app that has found success connecting pet owners to pet-friendly resources through a mobile experience, said. The app also gives a sales and marketing platform to help pet businesses promote their brands and sell their service. “So you have large companies scrambling to buy up small companies that are in the technology field, and this year is a big, big push for technology and we’re way ahead of the game.”
Experiences that bond pet and owner, such as Janice Costa’s Bethpage-based unique dog vacation concept, are seeing an uptick in interest as well. Costa’s Canine Camp Getaway is a 300-acre, 1970s style dude ranch she rents out in Lake George where owners bring their dogs for a fun respite away from home. The idea started out 10 years ago with one camp session upstate that attracted 26 guests and their dogs, and now she is considering expanding to another location.
“I’m close to selling out my June event, and I don’t think I’ve ever been close to selling that out this early,” Costa said. “I had 27 people the first year, now I max out at about 100. People will spend more than they did years ago on their dogs, whether on pet insurance or vet bills. I think the way families are has changed. Now we all go places, families spread apart, and dogs fill a need missing there.”