Another place to spend your pet dollar

Who says an old dog can't learn new tricks?

According to the Arizona Republic, the giant pet store chain, PetSmart, which is headquartered in Phoenix and has 1,000 stores throughout North America, among others in Europe, is offering some new services in their stores. The stores have been unrolling a "doggy day camp," where you can drop off their dog for the day while you go to work guilt-free, or if you're taking a vacation, you can board them overnight at the PetsHotel, which according to the newspaper article, "includes dessert and a belly rub."

I have to say, reading about the belly-rub stopped me in my tracks at first. All I could think was, "a belly rub isn't free? And just one?" But I'll give PetSmart the benefit of the doubt that that "belly rub" is just a minimum guarantee that at the very least, your dog will get that. I'm sure if a staff member starts to rub a beagle's belly, a manager isn't going to say, "Hey, Stan, that dog has had its TLC quota. You're giving him an unsanctioned belly rub."Certainly the video that they have at their web site makes it look like dogs will be lavished attention by animal lovers, when they aren't in their cages and rooms, some of which have television sets, presumably set to Animal Planet.

In any case, this is a nice thing for dog-lovers and for PetSmart itself. Every business expert will tell you that if you can expand your stream of revenue in a way that adds more value for the customer, that's the ideal thing. Of course, you have to expand your revenue channels in a way that makes sense. If PetSmart suddenly decided to open a taco stand in their stores, that might bring in more money, but it would confuse customers, and stockholders would probably seek psychiatric help for its CEO.

But the doggie daycare and hotel services is certainly a smart idea. After all, more and more people think of their pets as members of the family. The economy may be shaky, but many dog lovers who work or travel will still pony up some money for their pets to get better care. And PetSmart, obviously, has a solid reputation for knowing something about man and woman's best friend.

In fact, you're even allowed to make a phone call to your pet, where the staff member will hold your dog's ear up to the receiver, so you can tell your beleaguered beagle or Labrador retriever how your vacation is going, and how you wish Sadie or Muffin were here, but, alas, the mean old owners of the human hotel you're staying at simply won't allow it.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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