Walking the dog: Small businesses can make big money in pet services

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FOCUS: There’s No Business Like Dog Business

 

SCOTT PFEIFFER | CONTRIBUTOR

With more than 70 million pet dogs in the United States — on average, a dog for six of every 10 households — the pet ownership industry is a $60 billion market. Of that market, the pet services channel — pet sitting, walking, training and boarding — accounts for more than $6 billion in annual sales.

Pet services like dog walking, though, are also small businesses. According to IBISWorld, an industry analyst, the 24,553 dog-walking businesses in the U.S. employ just 25,882 people, an average firm size of 1.01. This small-business trend is also the norm in Greenville, where dog-walking businesses average one to two people each.

The reason for this is simple. According to Jason Welch and Steven Nelson of Dogs of Greenville, the pet services business requires a high degree of personal trust.

“It is difficult for some people to leave their dogs,” Welch says. “People are hiring us to come into their houses, and to care for and love their pet.”

“Trust is a must-have,” Nelson says.

Jason Welch and Steven Nelson of Dogs of Greenville

Jason Welch and Steven Nelson of Dogs of Greenville

The two got into the business almost by accident. Friends from Mississippi, they started an online clothing and accessories business called The Good South. Having an online business turned them into work nomads, able to work from anywhere, and they decided to move to a cool Southern city. Then they visited Greenville. “In 90 minutes, we were sold,” Nelson says. “Moving to Greenville was the best decision we could have made.”

The two dog lovers saw that Greenville’s downtown was extraordinarily dog friendly, and started the Instagram site @dogsofgville, which now has more than 7,000 followers. The discussions on Instagram led to people asking them to pet-sit, and what began as a side business has now grown to take up most of their time.

“It allows us to get our dog fix,” Nelson says. “We’ve come to love so many dogs.”

Jan Catlin became a dog walker after she retired from teaching and found herself with time on her hands. People who knew she had always loved animals started asking her to pet-sit.

“So many people were asking, I turned it into a business,” she says.

According to Catlin, the hardest part of the business is remembering how each client wants their pet treated. “You have to be a good listener,” she says. “Every client has very specific ideas and needs.”

People hire dog walkers and pet sitters for many reasons. Some are too busy in the middle of the day working to walk and feed their pets. Others need temporary help walking their dogs because of surgery or illness. Some need help during a long day trip.

“I’m very busy during football season,” Catlin says.

Her business has grown so much that her daughter, Brittany Catlin, has joined her full time. “You can make good money if you work hard,” Catlin says.

Joanna Ramirez, founder of JoDogSitter, and her husband, Alfredo, moved to Greenville after he left the U.S. Navy. A former high school Spanish teacher, Joanna “just wanted to work with dogs all day, so I traded teenagers for dogs.”

Ramirez is not only licensed, bonded and insured, she is a member of PetSitUSA and Pet Sitters International and is trained in pet CPR and first aid. “Paying a little more is worth peace of mind knowing you have hired a professional, reliable, trustworthy person to come into your home and care for your babies,” she says.

canine-cash-sidebarThe pet services industry, including pet sitting and dog walking, is a growing industry. The small size of most firms means that the entry barriers are low. You need a genuine love of animals, the willingness to work hard and work long hours and you need to form a real business — getting licensed, insured and bonded and receiving some training. But once you have done those things, there seems to be plenty of business to go around.

“There are so many pets in Greenville, I don’t feel like I need to compete with other dog-walkers. I refer business to them and they refer business to me,” Ramirez says.

There is a downside, though: “I am always pet sitting on weekends and holidays,” she says. “Sometimes it’s hard to take my own vacations.”


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