So You Want to Work With Dogs: Have You Ever Thought of Starting Your Own Pet Care Business?
Have you ever read a story about someone who changed their path in life, took the plunge following their passion, and wished that could be you?
Based on figures released by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association there are 24.6 million households in the UK and of these just under half (48.1%) own at least one pet. Within these households, there are estimated over 9 million dogs, 9 million cats, and 3.9 million other pets – that's a big market place if you want to work with pets, right?
This month we're launching K9 Magazine's latest series finding out all about the different career paths available in the pet world and get the inside scoop from those in the know to help you find the right choice for you.
This issue we're delving into the world of pet care with the help of Animals at Home to explore career options within the field and get a feel for every day life with the help of a few of their franchisees as they tell us about a typical day in the life of pet care expert in the countryside.
Once you've decided you should then decide on your plan moving forward – are you going to set up your own business or is a franchise the better option for you?
So, first things first – is this the career for you and how do you find out?
There are a few things you should consider as you decide if this is the right path for you.
1. Decide on the specifics of your career.
Do you want to become a pet sitter, a dog walker, a pet taxi or a combination of all?
2. Think about where you live and the pet market around you. For example, are you located in an area with enough of a market around?
We asked a rural franchisee, Iain Sherring, at Animals at Home (Exmoor) Ltd to give us an insight into a typical day in his life.
Up bright and early; first job is to let out our three dogs and guest dog (one of our regulars - a whippet). After breakfast, off to visit three horses, they're seen once a week and occasional weekends to turn out into their paddock. A 'hands on' check, muck out the stables’ and tidy rugs, set feed for the evening and lock up. Cat feed and cuddles near the horses. Answer the mobile and book a new client home visit.
Quick email check on the phone and then straight off to a local hamlet to see two dogs that have their owner at home but currently unable to exercise them. We all jump in the van and head off on a hack across the hills.
Once loaded they have a quick drink and cool down before the short drive back. A quick chat with the owner and then head off towards an elderly client to take her dog and her to the vets (stopping on the way to tidy and spray clean the ambulance's dog accommodation from the previous dog walk).
Once the large, old dog is loaded safely (with the help of a sling), we travel the short distance to the vets. I accompany owner and dog into the consultation to act as a second set of hands for the vet and a second set of ears for the client. After the check-up, we load up again, chat about the dog on the short drive back, unload and say our goodbyes till the next check-up date. Back to my home village for a late morning walk with daily regulars (shift working owners), then nip back for my and guest dogs walk.
Moving on to the lunch time dog walks, mid-period when the owners are at work. Two local dogs are happy to walk together (they enjoy the doggy company) but the next is a little grumpy so she walks me on her own.
Then I'm off to collect a pair of small dogs from a client and transport them to one of my Hosts for holiday care. I can feed a cat on the way home for a late lunch, telephone and email replies and a catch up with family once I've got my son off the school bus. Do some office work and then cut the grass.
Have some dinner, have a sit down, read a bedtime story to my boy, watch some tv and then later nip out to some local chickens and geese to put them to bed. Let the dogs out, quick check of the diary and plan tomorrow's routine.
3. Consider the changes ahead. It can be a scary thought to change direction, particularly if you've worked to forge a career elsewhere for years, but should that be enough to stop you?
We asked Mike Sladen who began a new chapter of his life as a pet carer aged 55 in North Wales.
It was March 2008, when visiting Crufts and viewing the Animals at Home franchise stand that I had my 'lightbulb moment', I'd enjoyed my career in retail for the last 38 years (32 of which were spent in management), but felt I'd done everything , and the opportunity to work with animals ,and the experience gained from having my own , coupled with the chance of running my own business, was to good an opportunity to miss ,fast forward three months Animals At North Wales was born
Up until then he'd been a store manager for Halfords but in 2008 he and his wife Jenny, went to Crufts and came across Animals At Home Ltd, who sold franchises. We’d always had dogs and cats and my daughter had horses. I thought, ‘This is for me’ and applied. It cost £15,000 but for that you get everything: the backing of a great national company, an area to operate in, a good website which brings in business - and their expertise. You get contacts and the managerial experience, and training in animal first aid and animal handling.
'With their help, I set up my client list by visiting local vets, grooming parlours and anywhere there was potential business. This was just as the recession was kicking in but if you can survive in those conditions, it stands you in good stead.
In the last seven years we’ve taken on about six new customers a month and now have 500-plus. I work seven days a week and Jenny – who works as a data inputter - helps me out when I’m really busy. 'I’m so happy; becoming a pet sitter for Animals At Home is the best thing I’ve ever done - and I haven’t had a single cold in seven years!'
4. Finally, are you prepared for running a business?
It can be a scary thought. If you're considering running your own business, you should be prepared for all you need to know, accounting, legalities, insurance and marketing because as you're establishing your name and reputation you'll need people to know who you are.
A lot of the concerns are taken away if you consider franchising – you have an established brand and business structure to follow. You essentially make use of someone else's learning curves by having advice on hand.
This article was sponsored by Animals at Home.
If you're lucky enough to already work with animals share your comments, tips and words of encouragement below - we'd love to hear from you!