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March 1, 2016

By Carol Bryant

The pet industry is ripe for disruption and women are cracking the glass ceiling, which is now peppered with paw prints.

According to overall pet industry statistics, an average of 70 to 80 percent of purchases related to pets are made by women. On the other hand, upper management within the corporate pet space is generally dominated by men—but change is in the air.

“The pet space seems to be divided into three factions,” said Shawna Schuh, president and chief pet wrangler at the Women in the Pet Industry Network. “On one side, we have passionate pet parents; on the other side, we have corporate big guys who have been the backbone of the industry forever. Innovation is occurring in the middle part: the pet professionals that are represented by women.”

By the Numbers

According to the 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 65 percent of U.S. households (about 79.7 million families) own a pet. This is up from 56 percent of U.S. households in 1988, which was the first year the survey was conducted.

Women are making the purchases, so why aren’t there more female influencers at the top? In a study reported by CNNMoney, slightly over 14 percent of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women. Out of the 500 companies, only 24 have female CEOs.

“I see more and more women stepping up to start their own companies in true entrepreneurial spirit,” said Carol Frank, founder of three multi-million dollar pet companies and the current managing director with MHT Midspan, a leading middle-market investment bank advising pet companies in the areas of mergers and acquisitions.

Frank feels that, in general, men tend to take more risks with big loans and raising equity, though she sees that beginning to change in recent years. She cites

In her area of Boulder, Colorado, a hot bed in the natural pet food space is emerging. The Boulder Daily Camera cites Boulder as the number one place for women entrepreneurs to start companies.

Setting the Bar High

Shawna Schuh knows the potential of the woman business leader and lends her support with the Women in the Pet Industry Network.

Schuh said that many women entering the pet space are doing so as a second career after having moved on from something else, which is why they are successful. Of her growing network, the largest portion of members are entrepreneurs.

“Female members ask me all the time how to get involved in the pet industry,” Schuh admitted. “Start playing with your brain and not with your emotions; ask yourself not ‘who can help me’ but rather, ‘what do I need to learn?’”

Cases in Point

Yvonne DiVita founded her first company, Windsor Media Enterprises, LLC, in 2002 to help other aspiring authors get published. That led to blogging, which led to the pet world and the founding of BlogPaws, a pet blogging and social media company recently acquired by PetSmart.

DiVita is a leader in the social media space that serves pets and the men and women who love them. She is also the current Women in the Pet Industry Woman of the Year. This award recognizes Yvonne DiVita for her career achievements but also for her impact on the lives of women overall.

According to DiVita, women are a commanding presence in the pet industry. She explained that women truly love animals and they see the value these creatures bring to the family. Her advice for any woman who wants to go into business in the pet space is to connect with other women, learn from their experiences and be open to the lessons our own pets teach us every day.

Chloe DiVita, daughter of Yvonne DeVita, is one of Pet Age’s Forty Under 40 and is emerging as a leader blazing her own trail. In her role as director of events and programs for BlogPaws, she assists in building and executing marketing and sales packages in the pet blogger and advertising sales space.

With over 10 years in the accounting sphere and a small business owner herself, Chloe DiVita’s background lent itself well to her current position. She is presently overseeing blogger recruitment at BlogPaws, blogger communications, brand management and budgeting, along with integrating the programs into a family of sites.

“In the accounting firm, our clients covered many different industries from retail to consulting to newspaper to nonprofits to realtors,” Chloe DeVita said.

Drawing on more than 25 years of experience in the business world, Kelly Ison founded Einstein Pets with her husband Robert in 2012.

Kelly draws on more than 30 years of business experience, having previously held global leader positions in business transformation for companies, managing million dollar improvements for restaurants and retail, legal, sales and service businesses.

“Women are leading the pack—especially among small businesses,” Ison said. “Where I have seen this most pronounced with women is probably within the pet food and treats segment, where healthier fare with limited, single ingredients has become a must for the industry’s shifting customer base.” 

Ison said that the consumer demand for new, innovative products is driving women to start their own businesses, citing the need for higher quality, heart-healthy natural food and treats as examples. Consumers are certainly driven to provide the best for their pets, and companies that have delivered on this need are often led or owned by women.

Making a Mark

There is indication that the gender-diversity balance is getting better in the pet industry. If moving forward as an executive in the pet space is on your 2016 “Must Do” list, here are four action steps:

1. Network and then network some more: Be savvy about the conferences and expos you attend and determine up front if you are going for the relationships and education. If not, there are plenty of mixers to socialize and have fun. Get to know a wide range of people, both in the pet space and outside of it.

2. Know your goal: Do you want to follow the corporate leader to climb the corporate ladder or set a path all your own? Female entrepreneurs are on the rise, but that is not the only path to success. Get focused and get to learning. A solid education and business plan to make it happen are keys.

3. Have it both ways: You can have a family and a career, as this isn’t the Mad Men generation. The same skills that make a business leader excel are the same ones that go along with raising a family. Once you make a decision, stick with it. You can have both and be successful. It’s all about balance.

4. Don’t go it alone: Aside from networking, enlist the assistance of those in the know. From mentoring to joining the right business-related organizations, do your research and buddy up.
The pet industry is indeed ripe for disruption; those who take the risks with proper execution will reap the rewards of their labor.

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