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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Another look at the pet industry

July 27. 2014 7:27PM

In the past two weeks, I have written about the pet industry, which doesn’t seem to have experienced even a slight decline in revenue in the past 20 years. In fact, the growth has been about 6.6 percent a year since 1994, with revenue reaching nearly $60 billion this year. In 2015, revenue is expected to hit $67 billion-plus.

So your question is: “Where does $67 billion come from?” A company billing at $67 billion gross is a large enterprise. You 99 percent inventors must admire and study this industry if you are motivated to invent solutions to problems and make some profit. I strongly recommend that you do.

Look at shelves of supermarkets’ pet sections and visit various pet supply discount stores. (Discount? I haven’t experienced any significant discount at so-called discount houses, to tell you the truth.)

The pet industry’s health and sanitation standards for food items have to be far less stringent than those of food providers for human consumption, and I do not see any display print of ingredients or an expiration date on product packaging. The existence of those regulations alone must reduce profit margins in the manufacture and sale of people food, and it stands to reason that pet foods would enjoy larger margins because such regulations don’t have to be observed.

Now let’s take at detailed look at one item — a common can of people food compared with a can of dog food. From a few trips I made to supermarkets, it’s apparent that basic item prices of people food and dog food aren’t that much different. From that observation, I deduced that dog food has a higher profit margin than people food.

If you 99 percent inventors are interested in developing a product or two for the thriving pet industry, I suggest you make several visits to pet stores to observe the activities there. While going through the statistics of the pet industry, I was intrigued by the sales of vitamins and other food supplement products, whose growth rates are significant. It is true that people consider their pet to be a part of their family. They spend significant amounts on pet health care, and this shows up in a substantial increase in pet life span. This is coupled with pet owners’ desire for their pets to live longer, and thus vitamins/supplement products will continue to grow.

As for the life expectancy of dogs and cats, my opinion is that their requirements cannot be that different from those of humans. There are hundreds of holistic remedies available in many forms. By studying carefully what works for what type of health issue, you 99 percent inventors must be able to develop a health maintenance supplement.

There are other areas of the pet industry that may be easier to enter with your invention. The toy sector is the one where entry cost might be the lowest. However, unless the product is covered by a strong patent, I am afraid the profit margin may be less than desirable.

One area that needs a good invention is related to dealing with animal waste, especially dog poop. Dog fouling has rapidly become a serious problem for many municipalities. Municipalities have been combating this problem by rewriting their regulations and ordinances. Most of these attempts simply prohibit dogs from entering certain areas. This in turn causes significant friction between municipal officials and residents.

The crux of the issue is that there is always that 1 percent of pet owners who do not follow the regulations and end up ruining things for the 99 percent of well-meaning, disciplined, law-abiding citizens.

I would like to get you 99 percent inventors to help with this. A few months ago, I mentioned Paris’ solution of vacuuming dog waste in the early morning. The name of the vacuum cleaner was Motocrotte or Caninette, and it was a modified Yamaha motorcycle with a built-in vacuum cleaner. This solution was used for many years, but in the end, it was suspended as not fully effective.

If you Google dog waste cleaner (or pickup), you will see many similar products. Almost all of them are shaped like a stick with a mechanical pickup tool at the end. My criticism for these types is that it isn’t light to carry around and is cumbersome when walking your dog. The majority of dog walkers use small plastic bags, and the only part that people dislike is the reaching down to pick up the waste.

Dog waste is a concern worldwide, as you know. It causes many complex municipality governance issues. The No. 1 problem is how to pick up the waste. The No. 2 problem is how to deal with it afterward.

Then there is the problem associated with dogs that are free to roam even though there is an owner watching. Dogs may poop where the owner cannot reach or doesn’t notice. Feces left in the park or streets contain E. coli bacteria, and that is harmful to humans.

Some municipalities have banned dog walkers from public parks, prompting complaints from residents. In fact, dogs are good for human health, and they help people as they age.

Therefore, walking dogs is a necessary activity for aging people.

So, 99 percent inventors, would you like to respond to my challenge? Email me with your ideas.

Shintaro “Sam” Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who’s improved our life. He is a businessman and inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, and is credited as the original inventor of the portable fax machine. He developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at

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