Real & New Threats

for Your Boarding Business: Part Two

By Laura Laaman

Part One of this article highlighted and addressed three real threats to pet care businesses: not adapting to changes in pet ownership, increased competition, and poor customer service. In Part Two, we’ll be focusing on three additional threats to pet care businesses: lack of consumer trust in your capabilities, ineffective marketing, and consumer misconceptions about the pet care field.

There are many wonderful pet care facilities providing exceptional care, yet they are still struggling. Yours might be one. You may be frustrated, wondering how you could give up your previous career, invest in a quality facility, have high standards of care (better than most or all of the other facilities in your area), and still not have enough clients and revenues. You may even be tempted to lower your prices to attract new clients, but before you even think about reducing your prices, rest assured. There are far more powerful, proven, and profitable ways to gain new clients. It’s time to make sure your facility is not falling victim to these common threats.

Lack of Consumer Trust
One of the keys to having a thriving pet care business is being able to garner the trust of prospective pet parents. In a recent independent survey, we found that a large majority of pet owners were concerned about leaving their pet in a kennel. Among their top concerns were that their pet would become sick or injured, yet these same pet parents are utilizing untrained family, friends, pet sitters, and nameless networks of people willing to watch others’ pets.

These less than desirable options are taking a huge percentage of your market share. How do you woo these pet parents to you instead of untrained people? Gain the trust of prospective clients through employee training to separate yourself from the flock. More than that – advertising your staff training is a fabulous way to highlight your company’s superiorities.

My team and I realize that great pet care does not happen by accident or come without hard work. Pet care facility owners and managers struggle with how to share the abundance of valuable information necessary to provide excellent care for pets. Taking the time to communicate everything they know to their staff could take years.

Pet owners will respond favorably, knowing that your facility’s team has been trained and their skill sets have been verified by an outside credible group. This not only makes sense for building your business but also for making the quality of your pet care more consistent and for creating an even safer environment.

The pet care companies that run into trouble tend to teach employees in a reactive manner (i.e. discussing issues only after serious situations have occurred). A comprehensive curriculum provides proactive preparation to promote a positive pet care experience. A good program should help team members recognize and prevent avoidable problems. Think of a child daycare facility. If you were choosing a daycare facility for your own child, how would you feel knowing that the team would “figure things out” if a bad event happened? If you’re like most, you want to know that the team has undergone significant training and their skills have been tested.

Insufficient and Ineffective Marketing
Another significant threat is insufficient or ineffective marketing efforts. After many years of helping countless pet care businesses grow, I’ve learned many things. One of them is that this industry is filled with passionate people who love pets. They are, however, often not great marketers. Being great at pet care is the important part, you say? I agree that quality pet care is critical, but I don’t let my clients hang their hats on great pet care alone. The pet care industry has grown, and the competition has also grown in massive proportions.

Once you have a great, formal training program to shout about from the rooftops, start asking yourself what else you have to boast about. To be effective at this, it’s important you focus on areas that matter most to prospective pet parents.

Concern for their pet’s safety and well-being is key. The first step to creating an effective, meaningful marketing message about this is making a list of all of the steps you have taken to make pets safe. As you make this impressive and extensive list, it’s also important that you quantify whenever possible; when it’s not possible to quantify, you qualify.

Qualification is a description. Quantification involves a measurement (e.g. time, weight, height, etc.) and is much more credible and impressive. For example, let’s say your list includes secure fencing. “Secure” is a qualification, but in this case you probably could quantify. Do you have double fencing? If so, that’s a quantification. How high is the fencing? Another quantification.

Other categories that you can and should rave about include your years in business, security measures, cleaning protocols, staff expertise, recommendations from satisfied customers and local veterinarians, the quality of the yards the pets will have access to, and so on.

Once you have this glowing list, you need to write content for all of your marketing vehicles. These include your website, brochures, flyers, Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc. When writing content for any marketing vehicle, try to answer this question: why should a loving pet parent choose my pet care facility over other less expensive and inferior options?

Successful marketing is a critical skill. Learning how to toot your own horn is not easy, and it requires constant knowledge to keep up with the massive, rapid changes that happen in your marketplace. Making a commitment to getting this done in your business is the first important step. You and your team may or may not be qualified to work marketing miracles. I don’t see how you could when your focus needs to be on great pet care. Seeking out seminars at the local chamber of commerce, industry conferences, and from other reputable providers will help keep you abreast of timely topics.

Consumer Misperceptions
While developing your marketing pieces and in your daily interactions with clients, avoid what my team and I describe as “bad, scary words.” My training has shown me that a spoken or written word produces a picture in people’s minds. After all, the majority of people, including your prospective pet parents, are highly visually oriented. That means that words are quickly turned into either positive or negative images.

An example of a “scary word” is “kennel.” If you weren’t in this industry, what would you think of when you hear or read the word kennel? Chain link fencing, cold concrete floors, cavernous rooms filled with barking dogs? Whether you and I feel that chain link and concrete make excellent material choices for pet safety doesn’t matter. What matters is that with all of the anthropomorphizing that is happening today, pet parents aren’t interested in putting their pet in a kennel. Rather they want a pet inn, pet ranch, pet hotel, pet resort, or pet spa – something that speaks to their pet’s lifestyle.

I hope some day I won’t even have to write about this one, but it’s so important that I’ll err on the side of assurance. I hope the term “kennel cough” is never spoken by anyone on your team. It’s bad enough that clients, the public, and even veterinarians use this incorrect and very damaging term. During an interesting chat with my veterinarian on this topic, he wisely said, “Veterinarians wouldn’t like it if it were called ‘vet cough.’” “Kennel cough” is especially damaging since our studies show that pet parents are highly fearful of bringing their pet to a “kennel” because they fear it will get sick. We shouldn’t add fuel to that fire by incorrectly claiming and naming a disease. Instead, train your employees to use the term “canine cough.”

Other scary words are “boarding” and “cage” for all of the reasons above. What do you board? Horses and, as I threatened my two sons with, bad children. Okay, they didn’t find that funny either. But seriously, boarding implies they’re away from home in a less than loving environment. “Lodging” carries a pleasant, pampered image. Similarly, “cage” brings up a mental image of a sad pet in a small steel box. Better word choices for “cage” are “room,” “sleeping area” or “enclosure.” You’ll be amazed what a difference it makes to consumer perception just to change the terminology you and your employees use.

By providing quality, proactive employee training, advertising your training and facility qualifications, and being vigilant to avoid words that bring up scary connotations, you can meet these threats head-on and ensure that your facility is one that will attract and retain new clients.

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. If you’d like to receive a complimentary phone evaluation or marketing evaluation, contact Laura and her team at or 1-888-735-5667.

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