Coleen Ellis, partial owner of Pet Angel Memorial Center, is so accustomed to serving pet parents just like those who have lost a human family member that she is sometimes surprised by the reaction she gets from traditional funeral directors.

Granted, some of them think she’s a little bit nuts. But judging by the reaction she received from the 193 people who attended her recent educational session at the NFDA convention, titled “How to Effectively Market Your Pet Death Care Business,” many are seeking her advice on how to get into the pet market.

Ellis opened Pet Angel Memorial Center in Carmel, Ind., about three years ago. She sold a portion of the business to two venture capital specialists, and the business recently went into franchise mode.

“We operate just like a human funeral home with immediate removals. Animals are wrapped in blankets and put in caskets just like people,” she said. Before beginning her presentation, Ellis asked the audience how many were already in the pet  business. Only a few hands went up. But when she asked how many are considering going into the pet business, scores of people raised their hands.

Ellis told the audience that she caters to “pet parents.” There is no overall definition for what a “pet parent” is, but if you buy your pets Christmas or birthday presents and spend more on their haircuts than you do on your own, then you probably  qualify.

 She then went on to quote some numbers that make the thought of serving pet parents very appealing. For instance:

 • 63 percent of U.S. households own a pet, which equals 71.1 million homes.

• 45 percent of U.S. households own more than one pet.

• The number of households that own a pet is increasing. In a 1988 survey, 56 percent of U.S. households said they owned a pet, but that number has gone up by 7 percentage points in less than 10 years.

• Ellis’ average sale is running at $450, and she is still pushing her price up to see what the market will bear.

• Dogs and cats account for 96 to 97 percent of the pet funeral business.

• According to a recent issue of BusinessWeek, the pet economy is now an astonishing $41 billion per year. In 1996, it was only $21 billion. That’s a 94 percent spending increase in just 11 years.

Ellis told the audience that the pet death-care market is dramatically underserved. “The grief process in losing a pet is exactly the same as when you lose a human family member,” she said. “There is anger and guilt … guilt especially because of the euthanasia process.”

Next, Ellis detailed the difference between consumer-centric and productcentric and explained how Pet Angel followed the consumer-centric model. She also detailed how her business honors police

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