Real & New Threats

for Your Boarding Business

By Laura Laaman

Let’s start with a bit of good news: the pet industry is on the rise. In 1988, 56% of U.S. households owned a pet. In 2011, 72.9 million or 62% of U.S. households owned a pet; people are getting smarter and realizing the incredible joy a pet can bring into a home. The American Pet Products Association (APPA) expected that pet grooming and boarding would account for $4.11 billion in pet spending in the U.S. by the end of 2012.

If you owned a boarding business ten years ago, you probably lived through the “if you build it, they will come” era, meaning that if a pet owner didn’t have a friend or relative willing to watch their pet, there weren’t a lot of companies to choose from. For the past ten years, however, countless other individuals, companies, and major corporations have decided that this is a great industry to be in.

Inc. Magazine just announced that pet care is one of the hottest businesses. They also share that IBISWorld projects 107,988 established pet care businesses by 2015. Since it’s safe to assume that some of these pet care businesses will be in your backyard, it’s important to do everything you can to survive and thrive in this competitive environment.

Smart business owners understand that just because spending on pets is increasing, that doesn’t mean their business will thrive. The following five threats are real and need to be addressed in order to prosper in this industry: not adapting to the changes in pet ownership, increased competition, poor customer service, ineffective marketing, and insufficient pet care training.

Not Adapting to the Changes in Pet Ownership
Over the past ten years, numerous studies have found that yesteryear’s pet owner has now morphed into a “pet parent.” This preferred term signifies the importance of the pet in today’s American family unit. According to a 2011 petMD study, 90% of pet owners would fight more passionately for their pets than for money in a divorce. Seventy-three percent would choose their pet over a human if they could only have one friend, and 66% of pet owners would not vote for a presidential candidate who is perceived not to like pets.

It’s important to understand the new pet parent, speak their language, and offer services they desire. Offering special services like playtimes, pampering, treats, and pictures with Santa is expected more than just appreciated by pet parents today.

Increased Competition
Competition comes in many forms. Your biggest competitive threat is the reluctance or flat-out unwillingness of pet owners/parents to let their pet go to a “kennel” or “boarding facility.” Concerned pet parents want their pets to go to a loving, trusted environment. Therefore, their first choice is often to ask friends or family to watch Bailey and Tiger. Is this not the craziest concept? A pet parent who loves their pet completely is willing to trust someone untrained to watch their pet, often in a totally insecure and ill-equipped building?

Adding insult to injury are the online companies like and Their concept is that if you’re a pet owner or pet enthusiast, you can sign up and offer to watch someone’s pet. These companies are attacking pet care facilities. They shout messages like “Better than a dog kennel. Why pay to lock your dog in a cage?” Prices range from just $10 to $75. You probably find the concept as crazy as I do.

Anyone willing to use this kind of service is likely trusting an untrained person to watch their pet. They’re also taking their pet to another pet’s home? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that’s a disaster waiting to happen. However, these new services have certainly gotten quiet a jumpstart. In 2012, they received $3.43 million in Series A funding. They’ve received press as a kennel alternative in major publications including The New York Times, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal.

Rather than a “build it and they will come” mentality, smart business owners need to find a voice and let these discerning, doting pet parents know that a quality pet care facility is the best place for their pet to play and stay. Then great customer service needs to kick in to keep them coming back.

Poor Customer Service
Due to increased competition, pet parents have abundant choices of who to trust to care for their “baby.” With more facilities fighting for the business, one of the popular tactics is lowering pricing. Most of the time, this strategy is highly ineffective. It leads to lower quality of services, dissatisfied customers, disgruntled employees, and fewer investments in your business, including marketing. This is a disaster when you’re in such a highly competitive environment. Here are just some of the many elements that need to be done just right to turn your first-time customers into raving, returning fans who then, in turn, refer your facility to others.

Proven phone protocols – Sound big business? It’s not. Whether you are a small, medium, or large-sized business, you actually already have phone protocols. Whether they’re helping or hurting your business is another story. Three important basics are if and how quickly someone answers the phone (or gets back to the caller if they needed to leave a message), the energy level used when answering the phone, and the phone greeting.

Does your company always answer the phone promptly? Sure, a delayed response can be justified. “We’re caring for the pets.” When shopping for a home for their pet, as silly as it might seem to you, pet parents aren’t thinking that way. They will quickly get worried and annoyed if the phone rings three times or more. They will likely assume that if you’re not paying attention to the phone, you aren’t paying attention to other things – like the pets. Then, of course, they move on to your competition.

The energy level of whatever greeting you have is critical. Pet parents will likely make assumptions if an employee sounds ho-hum or frustrated. Is this how her pet is going to be treated? Ensuring that anyone who answers the phone sounds upbeat is critical.

A standard greeting takes the guesswork out of the phone process and provides pet parents assurance that you have standards. A simple greeting like “Good morning, Pet’s Palace! How can I help you?” can do the trick.

Most employees who work in a pet care facility do so because they love pets; humans, sometimes not so much. Fortunately or unfortunately, humans are the ones that make the decision on the best pet care person or company. Giving these proven protocols to your passionate employees can help.

Business hours – Are your business hours convenient for you, your employees, or your customers? Some proactive pet care facilities in the U.S. are open 24/7. Although I personally don’t believe this is necessary or even a good idea, these companies clearly don’t want to miss one customer.

Customer greetings – Okay, be honest. Who would your employees rather greet: the pets or humans? Pets, of course! As a smart owner or manager, it’s important to understand and embrace where your employees are coming from. They also need the tools, directives, and strategies to wow your human clients. After all, pets can’t talk, so humans are looking for reasons to like, dislike, trust, or distrust you.

Voicemails – When a prospective or existing customer calls your business and someone isn’t available to take care of them, they go to voicemail. If that message isn’t appreciative, upbeat, and delivered in a friendly manner, they will hang up. And guess where they’re going to go. Yep. Straight to your competition. How often do your customers need to leave you an email or voicemail? How quickly do you respond?

Surveys – How do you gauge how much your customers really like you? Despite the level of pet care you provide, if your company is not measuring your customer’s expectations, your company may go by the wayside. Any business that is interested in surviving and thriving in a competitive market place needs ongoing and ideally automatic surveys. Some online tools include and Companies who utilize these kinds of tools consistently find out that what you would want for your pet care experience is not necessarily what your customer wants.

Client communications – Do you and all of your employees have a consistent level of professionalism with all communications? If everyone is not on the same page, it can make the client doubt your level of care and move on to another choice in the marketplace. Taking a look at company emails, email signatures, and letters is an important step at elevating your company’s image.

If all of this seems daunting – it is. Providing great pet care is simply not enough in this competitive marketplace. Increased competition requires increased commitment and excellent execution. Step one is taking the time to make a list of your company’s weaknesses and opportunities in the areas above. Next, list your action items, and then schedule a meeting and communicate the need to improve to your employees. This can and should be done in a positive, exciting way. Hopefully they’ll be as engaged as you are and help you take your company to the next level. In a future article, we’ll discuss the dangers and opportunities of ineffective marketing and insufficient pet care training.

Since 1989, Laura Laaman, president of Outstanding Pet Care, has been providing world-class consulting and education for the pet care industry. Laura’s effective strategies and techniques are proven to boost revenues while empowering pet care facilities and veterinary practices to deliver even greater pet care. Laura became a published author in 1996 and top selling business author in 2002. She is an award-winning speaker, trainer and author.

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