Laura Bennett, CEO of Embrace Pet Insurance , knows more about pet food, pet accessories and pet healthcare than the average person. While her business is pet health insurance, she tries to care about other niches in the same industry as a way to be successful with her business: “Know more than your small segment,” she suggests.
We interviewed Laura to find out what makes her niche market, pet insurance, tick, as well as to get her advice as a seasoned entrepreneur.
Laura, what is pet insurance and how does it work for the consumer?
First off, let’s specify that it’s pet health insurance. It doesn’t cover death benefits for your pet. Primarily, pet health insurance covers dogs and cats, though there are policies for other types of animals. Pet owners pay for their services at the veterinarian’s office, then submit the claim to the pet insurance company for reimbursement.
What type of growth are you seeing in this industry?
In America, 65 percent of households have dogs or cats, yet only 1 percent of those pets have pet insurance. Across the ocean, 25 percent of cats and dogs carry pet health insurance in the U.K.
British people don’t mind insurance very much. In the U.K., when pet health insurance came out 35 years ago, it delivered upon its promise, creating a positive experience, which is now backed by lots of advertising. In the U.S., early on, pet insurance didn’t pay what people expected it to, and the relationship with insurance in general is a bit rocky here. But it is slowly turning around.
Are there any new pet insurance industry trends that you see taking place?
Right now, we’re not seeing ads for dog or cat pet insurance, and most pet owners only hear about it through their vets. But with some big companies, like the ASPCA , coming on board to offer white-labeled pet insurance, the awareness level may increase. More non-pet insurance brands are becoming interested in offering it.
Has the economic climate affected pet insurance trends or pet insurance industry growth at all?
In the U.S., we’ve seen 15 to 20 percent growth over the past few years (it was better before the economic downturn), and people who still have disposable income are still spending on pets. Pet parents are buying pet insurance right now. These are people without children who dote on their pets, as opposed to pet owners, who may not be willing to spend more on the animal members of the household.
What type of veterinary services does pet insurance cover?
Pet insurance policies cover unexpected accidents and illnesses, as well as vet visits, diagnostic tests, cancer treatment, hip replacement and surgery. Some pet insurance policies  cover dental and wellness visits as well. The only thing no brand of pet insurance covers is pre-existing conditions.
What type of increased interest have you seen in veterinary pet insurance? Is this becoming mainstream for consumers?
Right now there are just 11 companies offering pet health insurance in the U.S. It’s a very niche market. Pet owners are learning about it through their vets, but as big brands start to offer it, the exposure will be much greater.
You’ve been a pioneer in this industry. What advice do you have to other entrepreneurs or small business owners about being an early player in an industry?
I like being early to the market, but not the earliest. Not being the first to market has its advantages, as it gives you the chance to watch those who came before you and learn from their mistakes. Don’t just copy what they did; learn from the problems and fix them.
Our business stands apart because we talk to people as if they are human beings, and we care about them. It sounds simple, but it doesn’t always happen.
Any advice for those wanting to get into the booming pet industry in general? Any particularly hot industry segments, or tips for how to be successful?
Know the wider industry you work in, whether that’s the pet industry or any other. Care about other niches in the same industry. I don’t have to care about pet food and pet accessories, but I do, because it’s part of my industry. And networking, both in your industry and outside, is key for success.
There’s not a lot of sophistication online in the pet industry, so there’s room for improvement there. The pet industry is still considered “fluffy,” pun intended. Stand out. Do it differently. Get a great pitch.
For more information on pet health insurance, visit Embrace Pet Insurance.