Working Together: Behavior Modification Training to Help Your Business
By Michelle Smanski
I think all of us can agree that 2020 is unlike any year we have experienced. Last December, who imagined that 3-4 months later the nation would essentially close down? That not only would millions of businesses be forced to close, but they’d be prohibited from reopening for months. And would anyone have guessed that vacation travel would grind to a standstill?
Yet that’s exactly what happened. And while the impact of COVID-19 cuts across all industries, most in the pet business have been severely impacted.
Daycares function in part because people are busy working and don’t like having to leave their pets at home all day by themselves. As of this writing, an estimated 35 million people are unemployed—a figure unimaginable six months earlier. Millions more are underemployed as companies had to cut back on the number of hours employees could work. Additionally, untold millions are working remotely or are waiting until their states allow the companies they work for to reopen so they can return to work. All of this negatively impacts daycares.
Boarding facilities are buffeted by similar challenges. Spring and summer are traditionally busy times for boarding facilities as people are more inclined to take vacations in the warmer months. Do you know anyone who is jumping on a plane right now to go on vacation? With travel at a fraction of normal for this time of year, boarding facilities that are open are reporting a huge drop in revenue.
Pet trainers have also been affected by the pandemic, as they were deemed “nonessential workers” in many states. And even when it is possible for them to go back to work, one doesn’t need a crystal ball to predict that it will be a while before dog owners are comfortable attending group classes in any kind of meaningful numbers. The same holds true for private lessons. Lots of pet owners will hesitate before inviting a stranger into their home unless absolutely necessary.
Some dog and cat trainers are using video conferencing to help make up some of their lost business, and it is here that real opportunities arise for all three types of businesses. At this juncture, daycares, boarding facilities and pet trainers each have something the other can benefit from.
Boarding and daycare facilities have client lists; people who have used their services in the past, but for all the reasons listed, aren’t using them now. Many of these people are at home with their pets, and there is no reason to assume dog or cat owners have fewer training/behavior questions than before. Dog and cat trainers have the knowledge to assist owners with challenges they are having with their pets, but due to the current circumstances, are less able to perform their service.
So, what to do?
Contact your preferred dog trainer(s) and find out if they are interested in offering private and group problem-solving lessons via Zoom, What’s App or some other video chat service. Explain that you are going to contact your clients and offer these services to them with the trainer conducting these video lessons. Split the revenue you generate from these with the trainer; 60/40 in your favor would be reasonable. Private lessons can be offered at $40-$50 per session, which is significantly less than what many trainers charge for in-person, private sessions. This nets the trainer $16-$20 per session.
I suggest you respond to interested clients, sign them up, charge them and simply pay the trainer after the services have been rendered.
Why would a pet trainer agree to this? Because many of them aren’t working, or are working reduced hours. This is found income for them. Why should you consider it? Because it is also found income for you, while at the same time assisting your clients with a need many of them have. This will enhance customer loyalty, which is always valuable.
Group sessions can be offered less expensively to clients; $15-$20 per session with a maximum of 5-7 participants. Some trainers might be able to handle more students, but you want to be careful of the sessions becoming too unwieldy and people not getting their questions addressed or answered in a timely fashion. A group class of 5-7 participants generates $75-$100 on the low end and $105-$140 on the high end, with 40% going to the trainer. That’s $30-$56 per session, which will typically take about 90 minutes. Found revenue for all.
I suggested the training sessions focus on problem-solving as opposed to obedience training because 60% of dog owners enroll in training classes to address behavioral challenges. Besides, problem-solving lessons are easier to execute on video conferencing. You can list the behaviors the trainer is comfortable addressing and communicate that in your e-mails or social media posts to your clients when promoting the sessions.
If your facility sells behaviors modification products or training aids, such as chewing deterrents, odor neutralizers, collars, harnesses, etc., the trainer could recommend them during the sessions. You might consider offering these products at a discount to those participating in these training sessions.
If you don’t offer retail, you can consider contacting local independent pet stores. Let them know about your sessions and ask if they would be open to offering products at a discount to students participating in your training sessions. If they are on-board, you have a number of options open to you.
Tell the store that the trainer will mention their store by name and note the discount, as well as how they go about purchasing the products (some stores are open, some offer curbside pickup, etc.). In return, ask the store to please have any of their customers who are interested in signing up for a session contact you via email or phone. Ideally, they promote this on their website and Facebook page. This might result in more people signing up for the sessions—a win for everyone.
Another option is to charge the store for a 2-3-minute introduction/commercial. This can be done by simply having the owner or manager join the group session at an agreed upon time. There they will be introduced, thanked for helping to support the session and able to present their brief commercial.
Will a pet store whose business has been negatively impacted by the pandemic be willing to pay $20 to be in front of involved dog owners with discretionary income, informing them about relevant products they might purchase elsewhere? Some will. Or you might not want to charge stores at all. Simply offer this as a way of forging a stronger relationship with a business that caters to your demographic. After all, in tough times, having friends and allies is a prudent strategy—not to mention a way in which businesses can simply help each other.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented all of us with extraordinary challenges, but it also presents us with opportunities to rethink the ways we reach people and conduct some of our business.
Steven Appelbaum is a professional animal trainer and founder of Animal Behavior College (ABC), a vocational school specializing in animal career training programs. ABC offers courses for people interested in becoming pet groomers, dog trainers, cat trainers, veterinary assistants and aquatics management specialists. They will be introducing a zookeeper assistant program in 2020. The school also teaches a variety of continuing education programs on subjects including; pet nutrition, pet massage, dog walking, pet sitting and training shelter dogs. Aside from managing ABC, Appelbaum works as a freelance author, lecturer and pet business consultant. For more information about Animal Behavior College, please visit the website at www.animalbehaviorcollege.com