Home pet parties barking up the right treemutts

Mutts:A mix of news and features for pet lovers

October 07, 2007|By Cynthia Hubert | Cynthia Hubert,McClatchy Tribune

Kristina Andersen sure knows how to bring a party to life.

"Carrot, vanilla or peanut butter?" she shouts, holding up cellophane bags of bone-shaped cookies. Immediately, Andersen is mobbed. A barkfest breaks out. Laughter fills the room.

Andersen, a perky Citrus Heights, Calif., animal lover, is hoping to cash in on America's obsession with its pets. People have long sold cookware and cosmetics in their homes, she reasons. Why not leashes, squeaky toys and doggie breath mints?

The time is right, say industry insiders. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, domestic critters inhabit 63 percent of households in the country, or more than 71 million homes. This year, Americans will spend an estimated $41 billion on their animal companions, nearly double the amount we shelled out a decade ago.

One of the hottest new concepts in Critterland is the home pet party, a gathering of animals and the people who are willing to open their wallets for them. The events are ringing up revenues for companies like Shure Pets, based in Chicago, and, Andersen hopes, for individual sellers like herself.

"The pet economy is on fire," said Andrew Shure, president and founder of Shure Pets. Shure launched his company in 2003 and has seen revenues increase every year, he said. Shure Pets has 1,600 "independent pet consultants" throughout the country, in all 50 states. "We're growing, though we're still a tiny company," he said.

On average, parties ring up about $400 in sales, said Shure, and consultants such as Andersen earn 25 percent commission. Party hosts earn credits toward merchandise.

Andersen is throwing her debut party on a warm Saturday at her sister Sherry Langbein's home in Antelope, Calif. Human guests have been encouraged to bring well-behaved pets, who are allowed to sample some of the wares.

Inside Langbein's living room, guests munch on snacks and sip punch, keeping an eye on their animals while perusing the 2008 Shure Pets Cat-alog. They find shampoo for dogs, cats and even ferrets. Scented spritzers to freshen stinky canine coats. Pet dental kits and "calming elixirs." Signs that announce "It's the Cat's House." Bowls and beds and brushes and chew toys.

"This is the best day of my whole entire life!" Andersen gushes, standing behind a table where she has laid out a sampling of products. "I am so excited!" Though she has never been an Avon lady or sold Amway, Andersen knows how to work a crowd. She tells her audience of a dozen people that many Shure Pets products are organic and all natural, and most are made in the United States. "Let's buy American!" she said.

Her pitch seems to be working. Kristen McCullough, whose Weimaraner, Misty, has enthusiastically devoured several "jerky log dogs" at the gathering, is ordering a sturdy new brush and a container of waterless shampoo.

"It's just what we need," said McCullough, whose family includes a Queensland heeler, Bella, and a cat, Lily.

"We all love our animals," she said, as Lucy the pug zips past her in a blur. "This is a really fun way for everyone to shop for them."

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