LOS ANGELES—Joanna Rein knew there was a way to prevent her rambunctious Labrador-collie mix from tracking in mud, water, and drool from the soggy outdoors.
“The kids thought it was funny. They’d chase the dog,” said Rein, of Larchmont, New York. “I’d run behind them all with towels. Buddy thought it was a game.”
She used her dirty floors to her advantage, creating a line of dog-drying doormats and special towels called Soggy Doggy.
With people putting more money into products for pets—whether for pampering, aiding aging animals, or just keeping the house clean—some entrepreneurial owners invented their own helpful devices and turned them into multimillion-dollar ventures, including Rein.
“Most of the small companies that enter the industry do it because they have a pet and identified a need that wasn’t being addressed,” said Andrew Darmohraj, executive vice president of the American Pet Products Association.
Smaller companies make up more than half of the group’s membership and are the core of the industry expected to account for more than $42 billion in U.S. spending this year, he said.
Here are some popular pet-owner inventions:
Rein started her product line by trying to make her own doormat to soak up the slop when Buddy got drenched in rain or rolled around in the mud.
She paid a tailor to sew hundreds of orange shammy cloths over a thin layer of foam, put it at the back door and waited for her dog.
“He took one look and jumped over it,” she said. “He would not step on it, wouldn’t go near it.”
Then, Rein found microfiber shammies made with parachute nylon, which her dog didn’t mind stopping on for a shake.
Her business got her break when rain and snow started in November 2010 and seemingly didn’t stop until the next June. She sold the mats from her car trunk but ran out of them in weeks, while more orders came in.
Since then, she’s sold hundreds of thousands of mats and created “slopmats,” which sop up slobber and water under dog bowls, and “Slobber Swabbers,” a handled fabric brush that collects drool from pets’s faces or from windows and car seats.
Rikki Mor of Denver converted her hair detangler for kids into a popular pet brush.
Shaped like a dog paw, the Groom Genie works on long or short coats and spreads natural oils through the fur, she said.
“It’s turned my life upside down in ways I never expected,” Mor said. “I love that it’s tested on humans and good enough for pets.”
It emerged from the Knot Genie, a million-dollar online empire started six years ago and inspired by her three long-haired daughters.
Mor promised them to try to end the daily detangling nightmare that always ended with tears. She met with consultants and ran tests.
She eliminated the balls on the end of bristles and reshaped the bristles and base, which eliminated pain.
Mor got appreciative letters from parents, then received notes from pet owners saying the brushes calmed their dogs and cats.
The bright-orange products to make, serve, and store meals for dogs emerged from the pup-centric minds of Kris Rotonda and Denise Fernandez, creators of online dating service YouMustLoveDogsDating.com.
After launching the matchmaking site in 2013, they started the Doggy Cooking Network on YouTube last year.
Their Pup Pot line comes with a 3.8-quart stainless steel cooking pot, a paw-shaped serving base, and two serving and storage bowls that are microwave-safe. As a bonus, there’s an e-book of the couple’s favorite recipes.
Rotonda hopes the first order of 5,000 Pup Pots will go on sale by month’s end.