Crowning achievement: Royal Pets levels up as it takes on big rivals

by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

With a new flagship store in a prime location in Tampa, the pet market, hotel and veterinary clinic isn’t flying under the radar anymore.

Nearly a decade after it was founded, the Palm Harbor-based pet care company recently opened a high-profile, flagship store at Midtown Tampa, the new 22-acre, $500 million mixed-use development that’s home to major brands such as Shake Shack, REI Co-Op, Whole Foods and more.

Courtesy. Royal Pets’ new Midtown Tampa location.

The company already had locations in Carrollwood, Palm Harbor and St. Petersburg, and founder, president and CEO Denise Wolin, a former PetSmart vice president, says several more are in the works — in Naples, Sarasota and The Villages — as she endeavors to beat her ex-employer at its own game and grab a chunk of the $124 billion pet products and services industry.

“I looked for a site for over 10 years south of 275,” Wolin says, “and with Midtown opening, I jumped on it right away. “As Midtown continues to evolve, it’s going to be like a hometown community. People will live there, eat there, take care of their dogs there. I’m excited. I believe our Midtown store, in year three, will end up being our No. 1 store.”

Taking on the big dogs of the pet industry, however, won’t be a walk in the park.

At the time Wolin, 52, left PetSmart, for example, the company had more than 1,200 stores across North America; that number has since risen to nearly 1,700. PetCo, another competitor, has some 1,500 locations, while Pet Supplies Plus and Pet Valu have both grown to more than 500 stores. How will Wolin and her staff of 100 put a dent in the armor of their giant competitors?

Courtesy. Royal Pets Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Bryan McGoldrick with his wife, Kim, and their chocolate lab, Sam.

“Royal Pets is everything for your dog or cat under one castle,” Wolin says, pointing to features such as a luxury pet hotel with 24/7 onsite staff, veterinary care — led by Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Bryan McGoldrick, a partner in the business — with full surgical and dental-care capabilities, a grooming salon and spa, plus a retail market stocked with food, toys, treats and accessories.

“We’re a hotel, not a boarding facility,” says Wolin, who describes herself as a “crazy” pet parent whose four sharpeis — Lila, Ema, Charlotte and Hensley — are her kids, and they’re treated like royalty; hence, the name of the company. “You’d be happy to take a nap in one of our rooms.”

Pet care craze

Wolin is confident a slew of equally crazy pet parents are out there just waiting to become Royal Pets’ loyal subjects — and she’s probably right: The pet care market is projected to grow to $132.4 billion annually by 2027, with pet health insurance and wellness plans as major drivers of recurring revenue growth. Speaking of which, yes, Royal Pets offers wellness plans, for $39.95, $49.95 or $59.95 per month, depending on which options and benefits a customer chooses. The plans include two comprehensive veterinary checkups per year; free vaccines, blood work and health tests; $10 vet visits, and free visits to the hotel and spa.