Business: The sharing economy-2: Airbnb for canines
Putting a wolf over their heads.
The majority of Americans see their pets as family members, surveys show.
Those with dogs are more likely to call themselves pet “parents” than canine “owners”.
There are more of these parents than ever.
In big cities such as San Francisco and Seattle, (owned) dogs outnumber children.
The ways in which companies are profiting from the trend are also multiplying.
Not only is there organic dog food on offer, but packaged, raw food for dogs so they can follow a “paleo” diet reminiscent of what their ancestors ate in the wild.
A different sort of indulgence is orthopaedic pet mattresses.
This year Americans spent more than $400m on Halloween costumes for pets.
Overall, annual spending on pet food and products in America has risen by around 40% over the past ten years, to $43bn—a remarkable rate of growth for an already large industry, says Jared Koerten of Euromonitor, a research firm.
Now a pack of startups has sniffed a fresh opportunity.
Much as Airbnb has offered travellers an alternative to staying in a hotel, two firms, Rover and DogVacay, want to give pet owners an alternative to kennels when away from home.
Customers search for a nearby sitter and pay for their dog to stay in that person’s home.
The cost is around $30 a night, with the majority of that going to the sitter and around a fifth to the company—much less than you would spend to check your dog into a kennel.
The other big selling-point is that pets by and large receive better treatment.
There are ways, apparently, to vet dog hosts to find the real pet lovers: only around 15% of those who apply to serve as sitters are approved.
Besides offering pooches more attention and room to roam, the platforms try to offer extra add-ons that appeal to helicopter parents.
Rover has launched a feature that enables customers to see how far their dog has been walked via the GPS in the host’s phone.
Like Airbnb, both DogVacay and Rover insure stays against accidents.
Another advantage of the model is that, unlike other platforms that match consumers with workers, like handymen or masseuses, for one-off visits, consumers often use dog-sitting services many times a year, and they tend to be loyal.
That has helped DogVacay and Rover attract a lot of venture-capital money—around $140m between them.
But firms that connect pets with hosts will face daunting competition as they try to go global.
Companies offering home-stays for dogs are now cropping up in many different countries, including Australia, Brazil and Britain.
And unlike Airbnb, which pulls in customers thanks to its presence in lots of markets that people want to travel to, the network effect for services like DogVacay is local.
Despite having anticipated the trend early, such firms may never achieve the same scale as an Airbnb.
But then no one ever said it was easy to be top dog.