Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Looking toward 2006

The large pet specialty retailers took a hit in consumer traffic this summer due to a shift in consumer shopping behavior. High gas prices forced people to consolidate trips around a central shopping destination like the grocery store or home supplies store, resulting in fewer trips to PetSmart, Inc. (NASDAQ:PETM) and Petco Animal Supplies, Inc. (NASDAQ:PETC) and fewer purchases of high margin goods.

No kidding. Over the summer I found a coupon in the mail to visit the new PetSmart across town. It was for $3 off a large sack of premium food. Considering it would cost nearly that much in gasoline to drive there ($3.17 a gallon at the time), this hardly seemed worth an extra trip.

But pet services proved resilient to these changes, growing at over 20% all year. Petco announced in its 3rd Quarter conference call on Nov 22 that services customers also return to the store more often, and spend more per trip, than the average customer. Grooming is the major driver of this trend, according to Bruce Hall, president and COO of Petco.

The industry remains healthy and I believe will see 2005 overall growth above 4 percent. Central Garden and Pet Co. (NASDAQ:CENT), a major creator and supplier of pet supplies, forecasts net sales growth of 5-6 percent for 2006. While Petco and PetSmart's stock prices have declined over the last year, significant gains were seen in health-related pet companies like PetMed Express, Inc. (NASDAQ:PETS), VCA Antech, Inc. (NASDAQ:WOOF) and MWI Veterinary Supply, Inc. (NASDAQ:MWIV) during 2005.

Segments like premium food and health care saw a huge boost in consumer awareness and acceptance in 2005 due to mass-marketing and are poised to continue strong growth next year in a more competitive environment.

For businesses selling pet products and services, check out The Pet Industry Strategic Outlook Report by Dillon Media LLC.

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