Sunday, September 6, 2009

Is your business "upscale"?

The pet industry has gone uptown, upscale, first class, top drawer. When you see the deluxe doggie spas and boutiques, the bling outfits for dogs, designer doghouses, and more, it makes one wonder: Is there a market for upscale pet sitters too?

Check out the new test store opened by Petco, Petco Unleashed, in San Diego. Promoted as everything Petco has, plus “a hip attitude, d├ęcor and sense of community,” the store appeals to the upscale customer who wants to experience the latest trends and products. Along with this, of course, comes upscale pricing and increased profits for the business.

A friend of mine lives on Whidbey Island in Washington State. We talked about kennels and pet care services, and I wondered if I could make a living there. She said most of the businesses don’t charge as much as I do here in California, but there is one mobile groomer who caters to the upscale market. She offers a spa day for dogs, including full grooming, massage, and other deluxe services, starting at about $125 for a four hour “experience.” She is always busy.

While up north, I also visited an in-home dog boarding business, Lucky Dog Resort, and I was really impressed by the owner Melissa’s entire setup. Her place is immaculate. The kennels match– there is no jumble of assorted crates, gates, and dog beds– and the dog yard is perfectly groomed and weed-free; the fence is in good repair. The feeding area is neat and the food bowls are clean. Each dog has a labeled bin with its own belongings. There is no doggy smell, no clutter, and the dogs are happy and playing well together. The minute you get out of the car you see flowers, planters, a lovely front door, a cute welcome sign. Everything is freshly painted and spotlessly clean. I know it is a ton of work to keep everything so nice, but she has clients that drive 30 miles from Seattle to board with her, so I think it is worth the effort. Her graphics match the business- colorful, professional, and well organized.

How can a pet sitter go upscale?

I have found that many people who live in humble homes are still willing to pay top dollar for exceptional service. Don’t write off a potential customer because of their perceived income level.

Give customers more than they pay for

Wash the cat’s dishes, clean up the spilled kitty litter and surrounding area, clean the lime deposits off the automatic waterer. Bring in the mail, the packages, the paper and the trashcans. Clean up the yard even if they don’t ask you to. Water the plants if they look droopy. Leave a detailed note as to everything you did, including the extras. You might as well get credit for your efforts!

If it’s okay with the owner, bring catnip for the kitties. I used to grow my own and bring it fresh to every client. One time I left a baggy of catnip in the frig, and the client called me to tell me I forgot to take home my marijuana! Oops- should have included that information in the note!

Give holiday gifts

It doesn’t have to be something big. A few biscuits or a small toy wrapped in cute paper with a ribbon is a thoughtful gift. I found a litter scoop I really liked and bought enough to give all of my cat clients–in August, no need to wait until Christmas. Notecards with the pet’s photo on them are easy to print yourself.

Don’t neglect clients that don’t use your service during the holidays. Make an effort to stop by and deliver a thank you. They’ll remember it. At the very least, send Christmas (or holiday) cards.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

You think they don’t notice your car is full of junk, and hasn’t been washed since the millennium? They do, believe me. Keep the car spotless inside and out.

Same applies to your personal grooming habits. It is tempting to go grubby when you assume no one is home to see you. But if you are out in the car, stop at the store, or see a neighbor, you will be judged by how you look. Shirts with your company name on them will sharpen up your presentation.

Don't neglect the notebook and paperwork you carry. Have everything well organized and in a clean, attractive folder or binder. Have key tags that are neat and professional, not a jumble of worn tape and paper. Water spotted or wrinkled papers look sloppy and unprofessional.


Your graphics say who you are. A junky website made from a template that has a lot of overlapping or cheap looking elements says you are definitely low budget. Invest in a designer who will spend a few hours to clean up your site. (Sales pitch here: I offer web site design service!)

Coordinate your graphics. Your business card, web site, invoices, notes, car signs–whatever you have– should all be color-coordinated and instantly recognizable. Classy graphics will indicate an upscale business. Don’t junk everything up with lots of big red type and sales pitches. You don’t want to look like WalMart, you want to look like Neiman Marcus. Keep it simple.

Offer special services

Offer pet transport, like taking the pet to the groomer or vet. Learn massage or TTouch and offer a half-hour session. Obedience training, doggie playgroups, toenail clipping, bathing and brushing are all extra deluxe services you can consider. If you offer boarding in your home, provide pickup and delivery. You can charge extra for some add-on services, and others you can include in your basic “upscale” price.

Give customers added value for their money, and you are well on your way to an upscale image.

© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.


Val Pegg said...

Great article! I got a good laugh out of the client calling you to say that you left your marijuana! I bet that made your heart jump! HA!
Great ideas here about being "upscale." Thanks for the thoughts.

The Pet Elf said...

These tips are spot-on! Clients can and will pay more for service, but as professionals we need to be going the extra mile. One of the first things I do on a sit is scrub up the food dishes and feeding area, and make sure they are clean for the final visit.

The personal appearance one is so tough for us sitters! It's tempting to run out in raggedy sweats and company t-shirt, but that's exactly when you're going to meet a potential client!