Small Town Success
By Annalisa Berns
Achieving success in business is a challenge in any size community, but in a small town, it presents its own unique struggles and opportunities.
Any small town is lucky to have a pet service provider. Just ask someone who has a Poodle in a town without a groomer! Boarding, daycare and grooming provide essential services for the wellbeing of humans and pets alike.
One of the biggest challenges for a small town business can be staffing. It can be harder to find staff with the necessary skills when you don’t have a large selection of applicants to begin with. Many choose to go it alone, and while being a sole proprietor can be rewarding, it can be difficult when you get sick or need time off. Other challenges include competition from other similar businesses, zoning issues and meeting client demands with limited resources.
To build a successful small town business, nothing is more important than superior care.
“We operate in a town where under 800 people live, but people will travel distances to ensure good care,” said Cassandra Bauer of Grand View Canine Care in rural Arkport, New York.
Bauer has clients that drive two hours to bring their pets to her facility because they appreciate and value the excellent care her facility provides.
Here are some additional top tips from successful small town pet businesses and clients:
Offer Special Perks
“Our biggest challenge is we have at least 10 other doggie daycares [in our area], so we have to keep up with everything they do and always try and find ways to be different from them,” Jamie Thomas-Hubiak, owner of Specialty Pet Grooming, Doggie Daycare and Boarding in Evansville, Indiana, commented.
One way they stand out is by having a staff member take pictures every day of the playgroup for social media.
10 Easy Ideas to Make the Most of Your Small Town Pet Business
- Have good signage. If finding your business is like going on a scavenger hunt, you have a problem. Post as many directional signs as you can.
- Consider adding additional services such as in-home pet care and dog walking. If there is not a lot of other local competition offering these services, they can be a very profitable add-on.
- Improve your time management skills. Start by keeping a simple record of how you spend your time each day and what gets pushed to the side but is still critical (like accounting).
- Continue your education. There are many online resources for information and courses. Be sure you are learning from credible experts.
- Get the kids in your community involved in your business. Speak at the local school’s career day, have a contest for kids or host “youth reading to pets” evenings.
- Patronize non-pet-related businesses that support your business. If the local hardware store owner boards his dog with you, return the favor by giving him your business as well. These business owners will be even more likely to recommend your services to their customers.
- Make your branding consistent. Use your logo, contact information, colors, tagline, etc., consistently. Put together a “style sheet” (list of standardized font, layout and design elements) to reference.
- Collaborate with other pet businesses. A local veterinarian or pet store might agree to promote your services if you do the same for them, or team up and host an event together.
- Verbalize how much you appreciate clients’ business and support. People like being told “thank you” and how much their business is appreciated.
- Host open houses, special events, parties and promotions regularly. Keep the focus on two things: thanking and retaining existing customers and finding new customers.
Corner a Niche Market
You might not be able to “corner the market” of all pet services in your area, but you can corner a specific niche. At ChalQuest Kennels in Chesapeake, Virginia, owner Danielle Fondale Fernandes is able to welcome dog aggressive and unaltered animals due to their small business size. They are able to take dogs out separately for exercise, which larger facilities in big cities can’t offer due to space and logistics.
Flexibility might be something you can offer that other businesses can’t. While setting boundaries is critical to long-term business success, being flexible is a business asset. For example, permitting an early drop-off with a long-time client.
Focus on Customer Service
In a small town, customer service can make or break a business. Excellent customer service starts with clear communication combined with plenty of patience. If you aren’t a “people person,” consider hiring someone who enjoys human interaction to work with customers, help with public relations and run the front office. Excellent customer service is an opportunity to keep and earn new business. In a small town, that also means being careful what you say and to whom. Gossip is a business killer!
One way to improve customer service is to focus on ways you can give more individualized attention and services. Taking notes about issues or preferences of each owner will assure you that important but minor issues are not forgotten. And, learning the name of the pet and being able to recognize the owner by name will strengthen loyalty to your business.
Find out exactly what your customers’ needs are; don’t just assume. Surveys are an excellent way to get feedback and get to know your customers better. You can offer a survey online and promote it on social media or in email newsletters. Alternatively, print out surveys and hand them out to possible clients. Ask pointed questions about what services and perks they care about. For example, you might be focusing on fancy decor when your clients really care about a larger play area.
Accounting is Critical
Have a solid accounting process. No matter if you use pen and paper or a fancy software accounting program, you need to track and know your numbers. Even if you have an accountant, you need to be comfortable reading and understanding financial statements to avoid accounting mistakes and scenarios of embezzlement. You want to know what your monthly numbers are, including cash flow, net income, profit/loss, sales, price points, gross margins and total inventory.
Make sure your business is listed on Google maps and social media. You are missing new business leads if you aren’t on these platforms. Most social media is free advertising for your business but does require an investment of your time and focus. If technology isn’t your area of expertise, then hire someone to help out. Make sure you still have access to accounts and all passwords.
“Clear and consistent social media and connecting with other businesses and nonprofits is critical to business success. Also making sure our Google listing is up-to-date and having people write reviews!” emphasizes Bauer.
Keep in mind to set boundaries and take care of yourself. If you aren’t happy and healthy, your business won’t be in a position to thrive!