China's pet market will grow annually at an average 20.5 per cent to exceed 200 billion yuan ($29.5 billion) in sales by the end of 2020, according to an industry report from Guangzhou Yourpet Network Technology Inc.
The growing number of pet owners in China are more willing now than in the past to spend on their furry friends, spawning an industry chain covering products and services. The focus is no longer on just animal breeds and veterinary services.
Branded food, imported medicine, and a plethora of lifestyle-related products like pet cages, shampoos, showers, beauty items and garments are prominent pet products.
Services comprise food and nutrition clinics, photography, beauty parlours, insurance, styling, nail painting, grooming, pet walks, healthcare, training and pet hotels.
The last-mentioned business line has taken off in a big way in China. For instance, Banlv Vet, a pet hotel in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, is equipped with a sanitized surgery room, a secure access system, a centralized temperature and humidity control system and closed circuit TV cameras that monitor every room.
It is now upgrading its facility to make sure every furry little guest has a wonderful stay while its owners are away.
"Last year, we invested quite a lot in upgrading to the modern system, including the cage made of better material," said Xu Shanshan, a vet and the owner of Banlv Vet.
"Pet owners are becoming picky about services like pet hotels. They would love to pay more for better services like branded food, imported medicine and pet shampoo."
Banlv started as a small vet shop outside a residential compound five years ago. Back then, it used to have only one retired vet on its staff. It also had simple foldable pet cages and an open surgery table. Banlv is beefing up its staff with more veterinary graduates and pet nurses.
"It used to cost 20 yuan for a small-sized dog shower. Now it costs 50 yuan, and hundreds (of yuan more) for styling, nail painting and grooming," said Wang Yunya, a regular customer of Banlv. "During Spring Festival, I spent 2,000 yuan for my three little dogs to stay here for a week."
According to the National Statistics Bureau, China is on its way to becoming the third-largest pet market after the United States and Japan. From 2010 to 2016, the local market has been growing annually at almost 50 per cent on average.
Neil Wang, president of the China unit of Frost& Sullivan, a global consulting firm, said per-capita GDP in China has reached $8,576, laying the foundation for a boom in the pet market. Higher incomes, he said, spur consumption upgrades and people are more willing to pay for better food, healthcare, beauty products and training for their pets.
But the market is some distance from producing its first unicorn startup. Companies in the pet market are still busy building their brands.
Wang Tiange, who owns five Chihuahua dogs, said, "Sometimes, I don't know which Chinese dog food to buy because there are so many of them and none of them is a dominating brand. And I don't think there is a recognizable brand in dog clothes or other daily products. So I usually buy imported brands."
Neil Wang said China has too many small companies in the pet market, more so because of insufficient regulation.
However, with more investors entering the market, it will hopefully see some big companies leading the way in future, he said.