It’s a sad time for dogs as their owners schlep back to the office in growing numbers and dare to travel again. But for the pet care industry, business is booming.
A Place for Rover Inc said its business connecting pet owners to walkers and groomers is growing rapidly, closely tracking the rebound in airline trips. It’s one of myriad of real-time indicators of which places are opening up first and also shows some changes in behaviour that may stick long after the last coronavirus rules are lifted.
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Rover found a bigger reluctance to leave pets at alone for long hours, suggesting people tightened bonds with their pets during lockdown. That may both add to the financial cost and emotional reluctance of workers to return to offices.
“Prior to the pandemic, people may have felt perfectly comfortable leaving their pets alone for eight hours,” Rover’s Chief Executive Officer Aaron Easterly said in an interview. “But with people spending 24 hours a day around their pets, we think there’s some signs people don’t feel comfortable leaving them alone for eight or 10 hours.”
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Rover is the biggest of a handful of pet service apps, which also include Pets4Homes and BorrowMyDoggy. Easterly said Rover’s data are “a pretty good predictor of the return to normalcy,” and in the U.S. “the correlation with travel is almost mind-boggling.”
The gains are relief for Rover, which is based in Seattle, after its annual revenue dropped by almost half last year when the virus hit to $48 million.
The pandemic wasn’t all bad news for Easterly. To profit from the wave of “pandemic puppies” adopted during lockdowns, in February, Rover agreed to a blank-check “SPAC” deal with Nebula Caravel Acquisition Corp. that valued the platform at $1.63 billion. Easterly is seeing more requests for dog walking at what once were off-peak times. More bookings come in between 12 pm and 3 pm or from 4 pm to 8 pm.
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This to him indicates that people are working from home at least part of the time. They may have realised they “may not love doing multiple jobs simultaneously, none of them well.”
The company’s U.K. arm, set up in 2018, has recovered faster than other European markets. Easterly attributes that to the success of the British vaccine rollout. Gross bookings value rose 230% from January to June, to 10% higher than June 2019 levels—before the pandemic.
Rover surged even faster in the U.S., partly because it’s on home turf, but also because the country is less dominated by urban centres. Easterly speculates life can return to normal sooner in places with lower population density and less exposure to airborne viruses.
The biggest risk to Rover—and so to the revival of economies—is vaccine hesitancy and the potential resistance of new variants to vaccines. Nonetheless, Easterly says he isn’t worried that more companies allowing dogs at work will threaten his business.
“It’d mean pet adoptions would go up because pets were accepted in more places,” he said. “Our mission is to make it possible for everyone to experience the unconditional love of pets in their lives.”