Off the Cuff

Leaders in the world of business share their thoughts on the way we work, spend, and prepare for the future.

Pet "parents" are spending more on their furry families these days, says Brian Devine, chairman and CEO of Petco, the largest chain of specialty pet-supply stores in the US.

Petco, founded in 1965, has won praise for forging an innovative alliance with Web-operator Petopia rather than starting its own site.

When Monitor staff writer Eric Evarts caught up with him at a stock-analysts' meeting in Boston recently, Mr. Devine explained that approach and his take on the Internet.

He also talked about which pets are "hot," and described how he stays ahead in a crowded pack that includes a rival company whose TV spokesman is a canine talking-sock puppet.

"I like this business, [because] it's all about love and caring, all the things that make us human. In today's world of conflict in relationships, people putting off relationships, pet owners have become pet parents.

"There are more than twice as many households with pets as there are with children. Nearly 60 percent of US households own at least one pet.

"[Pet parents] spend a lot more money and a lot more time on their pets. They treat the pet just as they would treat themselves, [with] foods, vitamins, and 'nutraceuticals' that are more expensive than traditional [pet supplies.]

"Because of the lifestyles where everyone works, people are looking for low-maintenance pets now. Birds, reptiles, fish, are much more popular. The number of cats in the US went from 50 million to 70 million, while dogs stayed flat.

"We originally were going to start [a Web site] ourselves, but we wanted one totally focused on community and content. We know the commerce part of [the business].

"Other pet sites had merchandise managers and inventory-control managers. But Petopia had not hired [either]. [It] had hired 60 writers. And every one was paid to write 40 stories. They wanted 2,400 stories when they came up.

"More [visitor] time is spent on Petopia's site than any other pet site. Long term, we must bring the same knowledge and accessibility to that knowledge into the retail store.

"I think the ultimate Internet game is going to be delivery - within a half hour or an hour. And it will deliver everything. The cleaning, the pet products, the groceries, the video will be delivered together. [Delivering] just one thing is not practical.

"The dotcom guys who give free delivery all lose a ton of money. So, [a few] years from now we'll see a whole different world. Long term, there has to be a practical model that allows the dotcom guy or the retailer to make money if they deliver to the customer. Or for convenience the customer will pay extra for it."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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