Southern California boasts about 1,200 of the country's 9,200 independent retail pet stores, according to the Western World Pet Supply Assn., a regional industry group based in Los Angeles. And the typical Californian spends about twice as much in pet stores each year as the average American, making the state's pet stores a $350-million-a-year business, said Tom McLaughlin, association executive vice president.
Tropical fish, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians are particularly popular in Southern California, experts say. About one in four Southern California pet stores sells mostly aquariums and tropical fish, McLaughlin said. Nationally, the ratio of aquarium stores to general pet stores is 1 in 12, according to industry estimates.
Western states represented the country's largest market last year for pet store sales. According to a March survey by Pet Supply Marketing magazine, the average Western pet store in 1986 sold $8,600 worth of hamsters, gerbils, ferrets, food pellets, plastic cages with tubular connecting passages, running wheels and other small mammal species and products. Average spending on reptiles and amphibians in Western pet stores runs at close to triple the levels of pet stores in the Midwest, South and East.
Nationwide sales of all pet-related products, including not only pet stores but also supermarkets and department stores, total between $6 billion and $8 billion a year, said Alan Richman, editor of Elizabeth, N.J.-based Pet Dealer magazine.