Pet Sitting Businesses slowly coming back during COVID

by Nancy Hassel, American Pet Professionals

Areas of the pet industry that have been particularly hit hard during 2020 has been the pet sitting, dog walking, doggie day care and boarding industries.  With travel bans, people suddenly working from home caring for their own pets (and many continuing to do so), many pet sitters when from 100% customer capacity to very few clients – where they had to apply for unemployment insurance for the first time in their pet sitting careers.

During many of our live weekly virtual networking events for our members, we discussed ways that pet sitters can slowly start to pick up clients, add new services to their business to stay afloat and try to lure back old clients who now may be heading back to work.  

A few of our pet sitting members said, “I feel like I am just starting out, all over again,” another said, “We have gone from 100%, hundreds of clients in our location, down to about 10%  – we had to apply for unemployment and let go of all our outside contractors.”  Some of those pet sitters are now at about 35% capacity of clients – not quite where they were by any means, but slowly growing.

APP member, Robyn Elman of In Home Pet Services, based in Queens, N.Y, said, “We did the COVID certification for pet sitters course, which helps our clients feel more comfortable in knowing we took the course to be COVID safety compliant.  We understand that it is a big deal going into client homes during the pandemic and it shows that we are taking it seriously, to our existing clients and to perspective clients also.”  Robyn went on to say, “Make sure everything is update to date on your website and social media accounts reflecting what safety protocols you are taking to keep your customers and your staff safe.”

We talked about a lot taking every avenue to find new clients, and not just rely on one form of customer acquisition – but multiple ways, even old school marketing tactics like hitting the pavement when you first started out.

For example, one of our members, Beth Goldin of At Your Service LI, Huntington, N.Y., who has been in business 15 years, said, “I had to order new magnets to put on my car – I haven’t had magnets on my car advertising my business since I started.  But it worked, I have already met with new clients because of the magnets.”  Beth told me that at a stop light someone next to her waved at her, she rolled down her window and the man in the car next to hers said, “Do you pet sit birds?” – “Why, yes I do,” Beth replied, the man snapped a picture of the magnets on her car – and boom a new client.

Another thing that Beth is doing, that is very smart, is getting frequently tested for Covid and letting her clients know that she is regularly tested – and testing negative, and of course putting all the safety precautions in place, wearing a mask, washing hands, sanitizing leashes, and so on.  

And letting her customers know, “If you know anyone who has recently adopted a dog or cat, please let them know about my service.”   Doing so via her email outreach, some social media and local mom and pop shops as well.  Beth is almost at 50% capacity for clients – where six months ago she had 3 clients left on her roster during lockdown.

Seeing seasoned pet sitters not give up, pivot and realize that they may never see their old clients again, but really have to get new clients is just part of business.

Another APP member, Carol Parmalee of Hooves, Hounds and Whiskers Pet Sitters in Branford, C.T., started offering all kinds of services during lockdown, shopping for her clients, fresh egg delivery from her chickens, pick up and drop off pet food delivery, just to name a few. And she has been proactive in networking and sharing ideas with other pet service based businesses. 

Personally, I have seen a lot of members in the pet sitting area of our industry slowly picking back up, especially here in New York where our infection percentage remains low, (1% or under), and many areas of life opening back up here.  And of course the large uptick in pet adoptions – has had more and more people seeking out pet sitters, dog trainers, boarding for those short trips away, veterinarians, and so forth to care for so many newly adopted pets.  

While this area of our industry still has a long way to go to get back to where their businesses were pre-covid, the businesses that don’t give up, that use every tool in their arsenal are the ones that are seeing more new customers hire them.  

It’s not to say, that everyone is out of the woods yet, and that it isn’t tougher in some areas of the country than others – but persevering and really being consistent with your message to acquire new customers is so important. And perhaps adding new services that you may have not wanted to do in the past, may just be the ticket for your pet sitting business to survive and thrive again.  

I personally did pet sitting for well over a decade – so this is something that I am very familiar with, and getting clients during the recession was also not easy, but it didn’t stop me from acquiring new clients either.

Starting out, maintaining and getting new clients will always be a part of your business – please don’t let it deter you – no matter what we are going through.

Some tips that could help you market your business and find new customers:

  • Magnets for your car with your Business name, Phone #, Website on them.
  • Order new business cards – always have them with you – you never know where you may meet your next client. 
  • Frequent areas where pet parents are like dog parks.
  • Show that you are Covid compliant, (perhaps you took a Covid safety course online), or are getting tested regularly, explain your safety and sanitizing methods to your new potential clients.
  • Email database – if you don’t have a list, nothing like the present to start building that all important list– even if that is not something you’re excited to do – you have to market your business.  Provide value and information to your customers and potential new customers with your emails.  Monthly is a great place to start.
  • Develop relationships with your local pet stores, veterinarians, cross promote with dog trainers, etc.
  • Join your local Chamber of Commerce.
  • Develop relationships with local restaurants and hotels that are dog friendly – let them know about your services. 
  • Develop relationships with your local animal rescue organizations and municipal shelters so they know who you are and what your business does so they can recommend you to new adopters – or at the very least have your cards/brochures in the shelter.
  • Let your clients know that you have a referral program, i.e. if they refer you to a new customer they will get XYZ discount, free walk, etc.
  • Have a frequent hire punch card – just like if you got to a local restaurant or nail salon where after your 10thvisit/purchase you a get a free _____.
  • Be social on social media, create relationships, provide value, don’t just post and ghost.
  • Follow local hashtags on Instagram.  For example, my dog Cody often posts #DogsofLongIsland – because, well he is a Dog of Long Island – if you’re a business you can follow those hashtags local to you – and start developing IRL (in real life) relationships with those pets that use those hashtags.  Be sincere; provide value and comment on their posts. Or even better – you can send them a IG direct message and use your VOICE!  “Hi Cody, this is Nancy – I am a pet sitter and dog walker in your area – and just wanted to let you know if your mom ever needs someone to walk you that I would be happy to set up a Covid safe meet and greet. You can DM me back or call me at ____.  Hope you have a great rest of your day – and I love following you on IG!”  _____ your name, your @ sign for your pet business. 
  • Network with other pet sitters in and around your area.  Once you start getting more and more clients, you will more than likely need to refer some clients out – and having trustworthy pet sitters in your network is vital. 
  • Remember some days will be better than others, but always take action towards your goal of getting new clients – and watch your business start to grow again.

Have a tip or suggestion that has worked for your pet sitting business during COVID? Please let us know – we would love to hear from you!
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