For the Love of Pets
For many, they are best friends and integral members of the family, deserving of special care. And these days, there is no shortage of pet pampering options.
People all around town walk with bags of organic food, boutique-style clothing and accessories, while on the hunt for the best place to get a new hairstyle or scoping out the most fun and comfortable place for an overnight stay.
And that’s just for their pets.
Pet owner or not, it’s hard to miss the signs of the ever-growing pet industry. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans are projected to spend over $60 billion on their pets this year, which continues the upward trend in pet spending (compared to $36 billion in 2005). While a majority of that spending is on general care such as food and veterinary services, a whopping $5 billion of that is for grooming, boarding, training, pet sitting and exercise, and other miscellaneous items.
There is no shortage of providers of pet services. PetSmart and Petco have long been in the pet business game, making the stores a one-stop shop for pet owners. But that hasn’t stopped small business owners and animal lovers from throwing their hat in the ring. These smaller boutique-like stores have resonated with west suburban pet owners looking to pamper their pets and who value businesses that treat them not just as customers, but like family.
The Pet Pampering Phenomenon
The basics used to be enough for pet owners but over the past several years, people are no longer content with providing their furry friends with the bare minimum. What changed? Why do pet owners do it?
Pet owner Tamra Rainone of Streamwood considers her pets to be her kids. “I’ve been entrusted with their care and well-being and they depend on me. They are here for such a short time and just want love and attention. I want them to have a good life. It’s important for my babies to feel as much love as humanly possible because they’ve never done anything to not deserve it,” explains Rainone.
Many local business owners agree with the notion that pets are family. Barbara Breitsameter, owner of Poppy Blue Photography, which specializes in dog photos, believes people are realizing the role pets play in their lives. “Their dog is their companion, their child, their family,” she explains. “Particularly to the people who have lost a dog before. After that, they realize how much those dogs meant to them. When they get the next one, they seem to really indulge their dog.”
Sheila Spitza, owner of Wet Nose, a pet boutique with locations in Geneva and Oak Brook, believes the reason is that pets offer something the rest of the outside world can’t. “Pets give you a love you can’t get any place else. I think that society has become a bit more detached. We’re so caught up in our electronics that we don’t necessarily have the personal connection,” says Spitza. “Whereas when you come home, your pet is right there giving you kisses and love and doesn’t care what kind of day you had. I think people are looking for that emotional connection and attachment.”
Jennifer Waitkus, a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor based in Glen Ellyn, notes that there are medical benefits to owning and pampering pets. “Pets are great stress relievers. Studies show that pets can alleviate depression, lower blood pressure, lessen anxiety and even boost both mental and physical resiliency,” says Waitkus. “It’s no wonder people want to honor and reward their pets with extravagant goodies.”
Keeping Up Appearances: The Art of Grooming
Whether a dog or cat has short hair, long hair, only gets groomed a few times a year or is a frequent flyer, one thing is certain: it is no walk in the park. Fortunately, there are a number of great groomers in the western suburbs who are up to the task. At The Upscale Tail in Naperville, co-owners Jennie Krezel and Kendra Otto are in the business of not only making dogs and cats look their very best, but feel their very best as well. Though the business has only been open for a year, Krezel and Otto have a combined 27 years of experience and have won numerous industry, grooming and customer service awards.
Aside from the standard grooming services, The Upscale Tail offers a number of fun add-ons and spa-like treatments including nail polish, coloring, facials and moisturizing treatments. They even have specialty cuts available for cats, such as the Barbary Lion Trim. Created by Otto, the cut resembles the mane of the extinct Barbary Lion, sure to make any feline feel fancy.
While The Upscale Tail offers cat grooming services, it is often difficult to find someone willing to take on the challenge. Cathy Hartley saw a need for just that and opened Kitty City in Palatine last year. Hartley, a double certified groomer, offers the full spectrum of grooming services including a bath, cut, blow dry, brush and nail cut. She also applies shedding treatments that help with all of the hair cats shed.
Though cats often prove challenging to groom, Hartley has the tools and the know-how to do it right. “The equipment available to groomers is so much better now. Everything used to be made for dogs so it was difficult to groom cats, and now there’s things made specifically for cats, which makes it a lot easier,” says Hartley. “I do appointment only so it’s quiet, there’s no barking or anyone coming and going.”
And even if they don’t show it on their faces, the cats go home happy. “Everyone says that when their cats go home after a grooming, they strut around like they’re the Queen of Sheba. They know they’re beautiful,” says Hartley.
Specialty Shops and Boutiques
All a dog really needs are the basic necessities: somewhere soft to sleep, food, water, a leash and a collar. But when they shower you with unconditional love and flash those classic puppy dog eyes, it’s hard not to spoil them and give them the best of everything.
Inspired by her own learning experience with her dog, Lilly, and with a quest to help educate fellow pet owners about the benefits of natural foods and treats, Spitza opened Wet Nose in 2002. While the store boasts a large assortment of items pets will love including cushiony beds, homemade treats, specialty food, trendy collars and leashes, raw food products are the store’s biggest seller. While natural foods are more mainstream today, Spitza continues to educate her customers just by talking to them.
“A lot of people come in and have a need, but they may not know they have that need,” says Spitza. “I start talking to them and they’ll tell me about their dog’s licking or itching issues. We get to talking and it opens up a conversation as to why they might want to consider a different food.”
AdreAnne Tesene, owner of Two Bostons, which has locations in Naperville and Burr Ridge, also strongly believes in the importance of pet owner education. “It’s really great to see so many people who want to be educated,” she says, “and we are here to empower them with the right knowledge so they can take care of their pets the best way possible.”
Two Bostons, which received top honors at this year’s Global Pet Expo, prides itself in offering high quality products, including its top seller bully sticks and Himalayan Chews, which were featured on the ABC hit TV show, “Shark Tank.” The dog boutique also offers grain-free foods, healthy chews, durable and interactive toys, stylish collars, grooming supplies, wellness products and design-it-yourself beds.
Many dog owners pull out all the stops for their canine friends — and that includes celebrating birthdays. Happy Dog Barkery in Downers Grove sells custom cakes and cookies to help celebrate any special occasion. Beth Staley opened the store 11 years ago with her sister, Cheryl, after realizing she had to bake treats for her dog that had allergies to regular treats.
Happy Dog Barkery has its own line of treats, cakes and stews, made with natural, human-grade ingredients and made in store. The business also carries a full line of natural dog foods “from kibble to raw and everything in between” as well as bones, chews, toys, collars, supplements and other fun, useful items.
Every product offered at Happy Dog Barkery has the customer in mind. “We help recommend the right product for the dog, be it food, treats, chews, supplements or grooming,” says Staley. “The customers trust our knowledge and know if we wouldn’t let our own dogs eat, play with, or chew it, we wouldn’t sell it.”
Home Is Where the Love Is: Day and Overnight Care
While dogs are perfectly happy being “man’s best friend,” they still enjoy having some friends of their own. Doggy daycares have become a favorite hangout spot for dogs to spend their day. And though socialization is important, daycare can be a great place to get some learning done, too. That’s just what The Bellyrub Klub in Addison strives for every day. Founded in 2007 by Sue Aikman, the Klub offers half and full-day daycare, overnight care, training, bathing and retail.
Aikman believes in giving a dog mental and physical stimulation during their day. “We try to balance the playtime with training and focus work to give more of a balanced day for the dog,” she explains.
And while the active dogs romp around and work off all that energy, the mellow, laid back dogs have their own area to kick back and relax, away from all the hubbub.
Incorporating training alongside everyday play can seem daunting, but The Bellyrub Klub has certified staff who are as enthusiastic about creating a good environment and lasting relationships as Aikman is. “Our staff is very well trained on canine body language and dog communication and understanding play styles,” says Aikman. “It is a huge part of what helps us do our job well.”
The staff takes time to learn about each and every dog that walks through the door. “You need to know every dog as well as the owners do. We work really hard on doing that and creating relationships with the dogs and owners,” says Aikman. “Some dogs need to run more than others, some need to work more and some need a balance. It’s our job to understand that. The big winner in all of this is the dog.”
The comfort level customers have with The Bellyrub Klub translates into overnight care as well. The “Klub Houses” are as close to a home atmosphere as possible, which puts both pet and owner at ease. The rooms are decked out with TVs, soothing music, nightlights and curtains; dogs are also welcome to bring their favorite toys or bedding. Dogs from the same home can even stay in the same room together, making their stay all the more comforting. Owners can schedule walks, runs or even cuddle time to help make their time away from home as stress-free as possible.
When taking a pet along on a trip isn’t an option, pet owners can turn to “resorts” like Paradise 4 Paws to assure their pets will have a nice staycation while they are gone. With two Chicago locations, conveniently located near O’Hare and Midway airports, Paradise 4 Paws offers all-suite dog and cat boarding, doggy daycare, spa and grooming services, dog training, massage therapy, fitness, airport parking, and in-suite and play area webcams. Dogs have access to relaxation lounges, indoor and outdoor grass play areas and pools. Cats can hang out in bungalows with window perches
and personal aquariums, or play on the Adventure Jungle and special climbing trees.
Chief “Barketing” Officer Johanna Newcomb recognized pet owners’ need for finding the best care for their animals as well as pampering them and has worked hard to provide just that. “People want to see their pets live long, healthy and happy lives, so they’re trying new things,” says Newcomb. “For example, pet massage therapy may sound silly to some people, but when you see the results, you can’t deny it can benefit your dog as well as it helps you.”
Services and offerings aside, pet owners need to feel like their pets are in good hands. “We’ve learned over the years that trust is the most important component of our service,” says Newcomb. “Our clientele puts their trust in us to care for their fur babies, and we go over and above to gain and maintain that trust.”
Traveling is stressful enough without the additional worries of pet care. Taking this into account, Paradise 4 Paws attempts to ease that stress by staying open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, allowing traveling pet owners to drop off or pick up pets in the middle of the night if a flight is delayed. And for the pet parents that are especially attached to their fur children, Newcomb noted that the resort is doing research into video conferencing, as some clients have requested this option so they can talk to their pets while out of town.
Picture This: Pet Photography Preserves Favorite Memories
Society has become fascinated with photographing every moment, whether it’s a photo of food, nature, friends or family. And taking pictures of pets is no exception. While it’s fun to take a photo of a pet and share it on social media, pet photographers like Breitsameter at Poppy Blue use their skills to create unique, lasting memories by seeking to capture the true personality and character of each pet. Breitsameter does studio and outdoor photographs and spends 10 to 12 hours with each client, getting to know them and their pets and taking photos her clients will cherish forever.
“I do a pre-consult because I want to get to know the dog and the owners so we can start building a relationship,” explains Breitsameter. “I ask a lot of questions, particularly if the dog has any fears, so we can work a certain way with them. Rather than starting a session right away, I wait about 30 minutes to look at their body language, watch for them to start relaxing and look for signs that they’re comfortable.”
We Are Family: The Budding Relationships with Customers
With the pet industry showing no signs of slowing down, new pet-oriented businesses will undoubtedly continue to crop up in the coming years, each catering to what pet owners need — and even offering some things they didn’t know they wanted. But one thing is for sure. Pet owners will do just about anything for their furry friends and the most important thing to them is finding service providers who feel the same way.
“We become part of a pet’s extended family,” explains Stephannie Caliendo, owner of DePAW University, a pet daycare, training, grooming and boarding facility in Geneva. “People know their pets are happy and excited to come visit us, and that gives them a lot of peace of mind.”
For Wet Nose’s Spitza, the relationships she has built with her customers have become her favorite part of the business. “When our dog clients come into the store, they’re smothered with treats and belly scratches, we know them by name, and we talk to them as if they were in our home,” she says. “They’re not just a customer to us. They’re a friend.”Edit Module