For entrepreneurial pet lovers, there’s almost no question as to what type of business they would want to start. Becoming a trainer, groomer or sitter is likely a dream job for those who want to spend their days working with and caring for dogs and cats. But, as any pet care professional can attest, being a part of this industry is no easy task.
“Pets are often regarded as family members, and the responsibility of caring for those pets is not one that should be taken lightly,” said Daryl Conner, manager of Yankee Clipper Pet Grooming and certified petcare dermatech specialist. “[Pet care professionals] don’t just play with puppies all day. We work with living creatures who can often behave unpredictably.”
Starting a pet care business is certainly an achievable goal, but you won’t succeed without a strong knowledge of both animal behavior and business basics. Before you start writing up that business plan, here’s what you need in order to work in the industry.
Regardless of what type of pet care business you want to start, a basic education in animal care and handling is the first step to working with animals. While you don’t necessarily need a degree in animal science, reading books, taking courses and attending industry events are essential to expanding your knowledge of animal anatomy and behavior. Groomers and trainers are responsible for more than simply washing and cutting fur and teaching tricks: They are often the first to spot issues like fleas and ticks, which they will need to know how to deal with.
Consider getting certified by a reputable industry organization with rigorous testing and training requirements, such as the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors or the National Dog Groomers Association of America. This will not only give you a good educational background, but also build up customer trust when you do start your own business. However, a good pet care professional knows that his or her education is never complete.
“Always continue your education,” said Mandy Massara, founder of All Aspects Animal Care. “Keep refining your craft. We don’t know everything, but we want to.”
While books and classes are a good start, a theory-based education can only get you so far. Firsthand experience handling animals is critical to starting and running a successful pet care business. Most groomers and trainers started out as apprentices under more experienced professionals before branching out and starting their own practices.
“A lot of pet owners don’t know what goes on behind the scenes,” said Teri DiMarino, president of the California Professional Pet Groomers Association. “[For groomers,] getting the cut right is one thing, but handling the pet is another issue entirely. What happens if a dog gets in a fight, or needs first aid? You have to be prepared.”
Linda Kaim, founder of Lionheart K9 Dog Training, said that many industry certification programs don’t include hands-on training to work directly with animals, and that knowledge-based tests are an insufficient assessment of how a trainer or groomer will perform when dealing with pets.
Similarly, Sandy Blackburn, author of The Everything Dog Grooming Book and owner of The Groom Room Pet Spa, noted that online courses are okay for refining skills once you have experience under your belt, but as a novice, this route is not recommended.
Licensing and insurance
Because animal behavior can be unpredictable, protecting both yourself and your customers through proper licensing and insurance coverage is a must. Massara recommended doing thorough research into local ordinances and taking the proper steps to comply with them.
“Consumers should be wary of unlicensed businesses,” she told Business News Daily. “They have no recourse if something goes wrong.”
In the pet care industry, one must remember that professionals work with both pets and people. While the bulk of a trainer, groomer or sitter’s day-to-day activities involves the care and handling of animals, it’s the owners who ultimately drive your business. George Quinlan, NADOI member and founder of All About Dogs Behavior and Training Center, said that liking people and being able to communicate with them is just as important as loving animals.
“Without good communication skills, you’ll lose half of your clients,” he said.
A true love of animals and experience working with them only make up one half of the equation for an independent pet care business. The other side, of course, is knowing how to run a business.
“Having a good grasp of basic business principles is a must,” Conner told Business News Daily. “Many groomers [and other pet care professionals] do not understand how to figure out the cost of running a business, and because of that, they have no idea how to structure their pricing. They end up setting their prices to be comparable to other professionals in the area, with no way to compare overhead, and do not charge what their service is worth.”
Speaking with other entrepreneurs, both in and out of the industry, can help in determining pricing structure, hiring needs, necessary equipment (if any), marketing and other essential elements of starting a business.