Bark to The Future

Pet supply retailers and services are beginning to bloom in Vietnam

One must put things in prospective in regards to the evolution of pet ownership and a supporting pet supply retail industry in Vietnam. The first documented, commercial “small companion animal” veterinarian clinic opened in Hanoi in 2003 and  the first licensed commercial pet supply shop opened in 2006 in Ho Chi Minh City. And five years later there were still only a handful of quality pet supply shops in the major urban centers of Saigon and Hanoi who were only selling a limited range of products, mostly from international companies, priced in the economy to mid range. The exteriors and interiors of these pet supply shops were utilitarian, offering the most basic of pet care services, but times are changin’.

There are still barriers and challenges to investing and operating a pet supply shop in Vietnam. From high rent in urban centers, limited range of inexpensive, local products, supply chain and warehousing issues, a restrictive legal and business environment to difficulties in obtaining investment and operating capital from financial institutions—most existing shops are “family financed.” This is a retail sector that’s new, largely unheard until recently and not taken seriously by many pragmatic business-minded locals. Although wages for personnel are low, with many shops staffing three to five people, the real problem lies in poor sales training on awareness and proper use of pet products. Profit margins are slim as Vietnamese pet owners buy based on price, usually lacking a deeper understanding of the pet food they are buying. However,
this is about to change because there is a growing trend for the demand of premium products and services, allowing pet supply retailers to increase their margins.

The average pet supply shop is usually packed on a busy street with similar types of buildings (it is rare to have it as a stand-alone building or located in a mall because leasing price prohibits it). Most, if not all, new
pet supply retailers have to renovate and refurbish existing buildings at a considerate cost and time, and shelving space is limited therefore inventories are kept low. Although limited by space restraints, many shop owners are overcoming this problem by becoming creative with their space: maximizing the multiple levels of their building, adding colorful, lively interiors and product presentation, and even allowing their own dogs and cats to wander around and make themselves “at home”—adding to a better shopping experience for customers.

Market Value
It is difficult to provide an accurate market value of the pet supply retail industry in terms of dollars because many businesses are privately owned and there is no assigned association in Vietnam that can gather this data, so I can only provide a quantitative survey in the major urban centers that offer the following services: veterinary care, pet supply stores, grooming salons/spas, pet accommodations, live animal sales, dog training, pet relocation services and pet cafés (dog and cat).

It is estimated that there are 49 veterinary clinics, 61 supply stores, 5 grooming salons, 4 pet accommodations, 5 dog trainers and 6 pet cafés in Saigon (metropolitan population, including urban and rural districts, is approximately 8.76 million as of 2017). In Hanoi (metropolitan population is approximately 7.58 million as of 2017) there are 15 veterinary clinics, 36 supply stores, 5 grooming salons, 5 pet accommodations and 4 pet cafés.

Dog Walking

Now, these figures represent businesses where their major source of revenue comes from a single service segment. They also represent the most popular and largest businesses in a particular segment. However, a new trend emerged recently where many pet supply stores began offering a wider range of pet products, grooming services, relocation services, accommodations and live animal sales, hence the development of the full service pet care retail shop in Vietnam.

In secondary urban, and rural, cities like Hai Phong (population approximately 1.9 million as of 2017), Can Tho (population of 1.24 million as of 2017 and the largest city in the Mekong Delta) and Danang (metropolitan population is approximately 1.07 million as of 2017) there is a dramatic increase in the amount of vet clinics and supply stores. Originating from the concept of a veterinary center providing medical care to farm animals and livestock because most veterinary universities in Vietnam still cater their curriculum to livestock. The emergence of these modern pet supply shops are being developed by young, pet loving entrepreneurs seeing the need to offer care products and services for small companion animals (dogs, cats, birds, fish, reptiles and small furry pets).

Offline and Online
The first pet supply retail franchise in Vietnam, by definition owning and operating pet supply stores under one brand with central management and having locations in various urban centers across the country, was developed by The Spring Group, formerly known as the VeeGroup. The Spring Group was officially established in 2006 by the name of Veesano Joint Stock Company (VeeGroup). In the beginning of 2018, the company changed their name to Spring Group. Spring Group owns a number of Vietnamese consumer retail brands in various business sectors including childcare, homes/interiors and specialty food markets. They  are also a major distributor of consumer retail products in Vietnam.

In 2013, Spring Group launched retailer PetCity with 5 shops in Hanoi, 1 in Hai Phong, 3 in Ho Chi Minh City and 1 Danang. The PetCity supermarkets provide a wide range of products, accessories and services including grooming and accommodations. PetCity is also very active in the local pet-owner community, providing education and awareness on how to be a socially responsible pet owner. They also support local animal rescue centers with fundraising and campaigning on behalf of abandoned dogs and cats in Vietnam.

Although not considered franchises, there are a number of companies in Hanoi and Saigon that own and operate more than one pet supply shops in one particular city. Most notable and probably the first modern pet supply store, opened in 1999 in Vietnam, is CityZoo with a store in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

In 2017 the first international pet supply franchise retailer entered the market. Pet Lovers Centre, based in Singapore, opened two shops in Ho Chi Minh City, with plans of expanding nationally. Pet Lovers Centre has over 90 shops in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei and now Vietnam. According to their spokesperson, they see the development of the pet market in Vietnam as a pivotal point for investment, backed by a young population with a growing fondness of pet ownership and are ready to buy the best of the best for their new four-legged family members.

Oi Vietnam-May2017_saiga_DSC9865_NT

According to EuroMoniter International, although e-commerce pet supply retailers in Vietnam are increasing in popularity the sector is producing low sales overall. However, an emerging class of tech-savvy wired young pet owners (with increasing disposable incomes who prefer shopping online for apparel, electronics, food and music) are now considering buying pet care products online as well.

A major factor slowing a robust growth in e-commerce in Vietnam is buyers’ overall lack of trust in this retail channel and in questionable sellers. Other issues include unclear seller’s policies on buyer-seller contracts, not addressing customer complaints, non-protection of personal data, lack of clarity in product description, and purchases not delivered or taking weeks to arrive.

A word of caution to pet supply retailers in Vietnam: Tread carefully with online retail because your reputation is “on the line” and any bad e-commerce shopping experience will be reviewed under intense scrutiny in social media. So, pet supply retailers, try to advance the cause of e-commerce and accommodate the buyer, hence more earned trust in the retailer. Since most pet owners believe their pets are family, a retailer must realize they could be insulting their ‘family’ if they do not provide a positive online shopping experience. Family is everything in Vietnam.

Finally, Facebook is becoming a key player in the e-commerce gray are because most sellers are not registered by law with the Vietnam E-Commerce and Digital Economy Agency (VECITA) and most do not pay taxes, so buyer beware.

Images by Ngoc Tran

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