Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pet Vacations offers in home dog boarding

I recently interviewed Lynda Edwards of Bellevue, WA about her business, Pet Vacations. Founded in 1993 by her friend Monique Summers, Lynda took over the reins after serving as business manager for several years. When I lived in Seattle, I helped Monique develop her logo, brochure and public relations materials. I never dreamed I’d end up in the same business! It was fun to reconnect 17 years later and discover the business has grown and thrived.

Pet Vacations has a unique business model. A network of caretakers boards dogs, one at a time, in their homes. The business grew from 4 to the current 45 caretakers located throughout Puget Sound. Lynda estimates they handled 6,000 days of boarding in 2009. Her business also offers house sitting, where caretakers stay overnight in the owners’ home with the pets.

Lynda has two employees: A manager to run the day-to-day operation, and an accountant/bookkeeper, both part-time. Monique, the original owner, fills the accounting role while also working as a caretaker.

If you decide to expand to this extent, you will no longer be a hands-on pet sitter, you will spend most of your time running the business. It’s a big change, and you will be dealing with issues such as taxes, incorporation, insurance, personnel, software, and marketing– all the bells and whistles of big business–on a much larger scale than before.

Pet Vacations is incorporated as an S corp. Many similar businesses are incorporated as an LLC. Here is an article from SCORE on types of corporations. For more articles about starting your business, visit the SCORE website.

Many of Pet Vacations caretakers have been with the company for over 15 years. I asked Lynda how many days a year each caretaker works. She replied, “As many as they want.” Holidays and summertime are the busiest, and most caretakers need to make themselves available during these periods. The money is not enough to support a family, but it is a nice addition to the household income.

The list of caretakers includes people who work from their homes, are stay-at-home moms or retired. Lynda runs ads for caretakers on Craigslist, and also invites inquiries from her website. Each caregiver is an independent contractor and signs an agreement that clearly spells out the liabilities and responsibilities of each party. Lynda interviews the entire family during a home visit, to be sure everyone is enthusiastic about the arrangement, and that the family’s own pets will be receptive to guests. She also does a criminal background check on each caretaker.

What is the key to Pet Vacations’ success? Lynda states, “If one has a good product & a great concept, word of mouth will take over and reputation becomes everything. We have developed a fantastic one over the years.”

I’ll write more about how Pet Vacations operates in a future post.

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