Ari Meltzer on Tuesday backhandedly confirmed what has long been the secret underlying all those darling pet accessories and performance foods: they are as much or more for the owner than what's in the cage or on the other end of the leash.
While several companies have built LEDs into dog collars, Dog-E-Glow of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has wrapped them in stylish fabrics or sports logos for 20 different universities since coming to market last year.
"As a safety device, you can see them from 1,000 feet away at night and they look good during the day," Metzler said in his booth at the SuperZoo convention. "Also, we can envision some kids drinking and wearing these around their necks to games."
The pet products industry, estimated to generate $42 billion in sales last year, is dominated by food, said Doug Poindexter, president of the World Pet Association, which stages SuperZoo. Despite the name, its exhibitors hurl their sales pitches mainly at owners of pet stores , grooming shops and kennels who come looking over products for their shelves.
At least on the accessory end, it is still an industry with a relatively low barrier to entry for startup companies. Among the 795 exhibitors at SuperZoo, which ends Thursday at Mandalay Bay, close to 200 were new this year, Poindexter said. The convention drew an estimated 13,000 people, about one-fourth more than last year, Pointdexter said. It is closed to the public.
But ideas that appear way over the top to those without pets -- but cause owners to reach for their credit cards because they like the way something looks -- have become has become something of a trademark for pet products.
Seven years ago, Jacqeline Simoni started selling the PupLight, a small pack of LED bulbs that dogs wear with an adjustable collar. Not only does it make dogs more visible to cars at night, she said in her booth at the SuperZoo convention, it also scares skunks before they can get close enough to make curious dogs regret it.
After a while, she came up with a version attached to a lanyard for humans. "I kept getting requests from people because they liked the idea so much, so I did it," Simoni said.
For thousands of years, dogs in the wild have walked around in circles to trample the grass before bedding down for the night, and some still do it in the city out of instinct. But for Dave Ogle, that is not good enough for big dogs or older ones with arthritic joints.
Two years ago, he came up with Paw-Pedic, sold much the way mattresses are at furniture stores with a cut-away covered with clear plastic so customers can see how they are made. The Paw-Pedic has a spring foundation, covered with a thick layer of foam and then a quilted pillowtop, and retails for $150 to $375, depending on the size. The largest is half the width of a queen bed.
"Dogs may have slept on grass in nature, but that doesn't mean it was good for them," said Ogle, the president of Paw-Pedic in Irvine, Calif. "This bed makes it easier on the dog, so they are not as stiff when they wake up in the morning."
But some products actually are aimed at the pet. Thundershirt, a plain gray jacket made of a stretching fabric so that is fits a dog snugly, is designed to calm them during loud storms. Company founder Phil Blizzard said light pressure has a calming effect on dogs, so the jacket can keep them from becoming frazzled without tranquilizers.
PetSafe showed its latest version of the Stay + Play, smaller than the old model with a rechargeable battery and a $295 price. A transmitter set up in a garage or home sends a signal to a special collar. If a dog strays too far in an unfenced yard, the collar first triggers a warning noise and, if the dog keeps going, a small electrical shock to turn it around.
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