In its ‘Pet Food and Pet Care Retailing’ report, published in August 2018, Mintel announced that the UK’s pet sector is set to grow by 25%, with the value of pet care products and services expected to reach £2.1 billion by 2023.

Today the average UK dog owner spends £1,200 per year on their ‘adopted family members’ and the new research from Mintel goes as far as to suggest that 51% of pet care buyers would rather cut back spending money on themselves than on their pets, with Millennials (aged 19-38) being the most prepared to put their pets’ financial needs before their own.

Overall, 59% of British consumers now own a pet, and with full-time workers the most likely to fall in to this category (66%) there is currently a surging demand in practical pet care services, such as pet sitters, dog walkers and day care, with 10% of dog owners having paid for dog walkers and over 7% for pet sitting services.

“The humanisation of pets and the concept that they are part of the family has really developed over the past decade,” said Bruce Casalis, founder of Bruce’s Doggy Day Care. “Millennials are particularly devoted to their furry friends as the age of having children increases. Many young people, particularly settled couples with high disposable incomes, want something to love and care for, but don’t want the responsibility of a child, so are instead opting to get a pet and treat them as a family member. With this in mind, it is easy to understand why owners are so willing to spend on pet products and services and this is driving exponential growth in the sector.”

What does this mean for farmers and landowners?

For those actively looking for alternative ways to generate income from the land, a new sort of tenant has been born – Bruce’s Doggy Day Care.

Established in 2008, by Bruce Casalis, a professional dog walker frustrated with the lack of control over other animals and people in public parks, Bruce’s Doggy Day Care is a large, private open space where four-legged friends can run free to their hearts’ content, while still being safe and under supervision.

“I initially rented a five-acre field from a local farmer,” said Bruce. “Their land had been spilt by the M25 and this plot of low-grade farmland had been left unused for years. The farmer decided to take a punt on me and my idea and I am hugely grateful because we have been able to develop the services and prove that there is high demand for this previously unheard of concept.”

Bruce’s Doggy Day Care has followed a children’s nursery model to successfully create an alternative to dog walking and sitting services. At each of the two current sites, dogs are split into ‘classrooms’ (groups of up to 35 dogs based on age, size, and personalities), have access to field shelters, a grooming salon and play equipment such as paddling pools, trampolines and agility apparatus, and are looked after throughout the day by dedicated carers.

Over the last decade, the concept has created a huge demand among a range of dog owners, and today the business has 60 members of staff looking after over 300 dogs per day across two sites in Surrey. With an extensive waiting list for doggy day care places, Bruce is now looking for more land to rent.

“There is no doubt that the entire pet care sector is growing and there are plenty of opportunities for landowners to take advantage of this without needing to be involved directly,” said Bruce. “We are offering a long-term opportunity for farmers and landowners to add a diverse stream of reliable, non-seasonal income to their business. There is no one this would not suit; you don’t even have to like dogs. We are a great tenant and are simply looking for a landlord-tenant relationship with those who have suitable sites.”

While many landowners and farmers will be thinking about the year ahead, the potential tribulations of a post-Brexit landscape, and the long-term uncertainty surrounding agricultural subsidies, the growth potential and rising demand for pet care makes services such as dog day care a very appealing, viable tenant option.

“Since our editorial in the October edition of South East Farmer a number of different landowners, private landlords, farmers and large country estates have expressed an interest in renting land to us under long-term tenancy agreements,” said Ed Daniell, who joined Bruce’s Doggy Day Care as head of property last year to help find new sites which will enable the business to grow responsibly and offer its award-winning dog day care services in new locations. “Initially curious about the ‘quirky’ dog day care concept, many have come to realise that we are at the forefront of a rapidly expanding sector and that we are a promising proposition for an alternative use of land.”

With no set formula for what makes ideal dog day care land, Ed is keen to speak to anyone interested in the concept and will then follow up with a site visit to determine if there are any suitable parcels of land.
“We don’t want to be too prescriptive and I would far rather meet and look at what the estate, landowner or farmer has in person,” said Ed. “We don’t want people to rule out the opportunity by looking through a check list and thinking they may not be suitable because they don’t meet one of the stated requirements.”

As well as land, Bruce is also looking to acquire established dog day care businesses and kennels.

Leading a professional sector

On 1 October 2018 DEFRA introduced a national licencing scheme for animal related services, including dog day care facilities. The implementation of which has successfully professionalised this niche sector, with all UK day care businesses now going through the licencing process.

“There are now guidelines on how to assess dog day care operators which is excellent for everyone involved, including landowners,” said Bruce. “Those renting land to a day care facility such as ourselves know that they are dealing with a reputable, regulated and proven industry.”

Having advised DEFRA throughout the drafting process, Bruce’s Doggy Day Care’s landlords can be confident that they are dealing with someone who knows these regulations inside and out and is a genuine, expert operator. Larger estates with portfolios of high-profile tenants can also rest assured that they are working with the recognised market leader in the sector.

With farmers and landowners continuously looking for new, innovative ways to diversify and secure lucrative income streams, Bruce’s Doggy Day Care is offering a unique approach to create an alternative income stream.