Buying a business: Pet care businesses

Animal lover? Turn your pet passion into a business

There are certain industries that have very definite requirements – and this is one of them. If you’re not an animal lover you would have to be a very good actor to want to take on one of these franchises. And even if you did, remember they can smell fear.

But if you’ve always wanted to work with our four legged friends then these are businesses that can become part of your lifestyle. Would you relish the chance to be on first name terms with a variety of animals, while experiencing all the joys of the great outdoors?

What is it?

We British love our animals. It is estimated that 52% of the population has a pet and this multi billion pound industry is growing all the time. This trend shows no sign of halting so it’s no surprise those in the pet industry call it a recession proof business.

We have three petcare franchises which will serve as examples.

With Bugsie’s Mobile Dog Wash, franchisees offer a complete washing, conditioning and drying service literally to the door. They drive to the client’s house in a specially converted van that has warm water bath and all facilities built in. Franchisees are also trained to offer flea treatments and microchipping – for owners who want to take their dogs abroad.

Petpals looks after your pet while you’re at work or away on holiday with a full feeding, walking or sitting service for any animal from guinea pig to horse. This means that people don’t have to board their pets when they are away and people who work full time aren’t prevented from having a dog or cat (see our guide on how to start a dog walking business for more details on developing this type of business).

And Oscar provides a complete range of foods, care products and equipment making it a self styled ‘one stop shop’ for pet supplies. Goods are ordered in advance and delivered to the door, thus eliminating the inevitable struggle back from the supermarket. Franchisees can also be consulted on dietary or behavioural queries by putting the client in touch with an Oscar expert.

All three franchises can be run on a full or part time basis and are generally flexible. But they are also quite physical, outdoor businesses – animal lovers only need apply.

It’s worth noting that, as a franchisee, you’ll still need to get pet business insurance to make sure your business is protected.

How does it work?

These franchises can be set up in a matter of months but an important part of that is seeing if the prospective franchisee is suited to the work. These are the kinds of businesses that you need to enjoy so spending time out with an existing franchisee is vital. It will also show whether you have an aptitude for dealing with animals.

Then researching your area is the next important step. As Brendan Humphrey of Petpals in Winchester explains:

“Petpals gives the franchise a big launch but it’s up to the franchisee to plan how this should be done. We effectively give them homework looking into their territory, finding the best ways to reach the right audience.”

Getting the business started might involve getting out and about, leafleting, local newspaper adverts. But also by being visible and talking to people you will start to make yourself known.

“We actually have marquees that franchisees can take to local shows and fetes to meet with potential customers,” says Janet Walmsley of Oscar. “You meet a lot of nice people in this business, it isn’t about hard sell.”

And Oscar and Bugsie’s also have telesales teams who take enquiries and pass them on to the appropriate franchisee. Oscar gives you 125 appointments in the first package to get you started.

If you start off as a full time franchisee, it’s likely you’ll work six or seven days a week and usually quite a long day. “In the summer its seven days a week because I look after pets while their owners are away,” says Brenda Glen of Petpals in Kent.

“But while one day I might start one day at 6.30am and work through till 6.30pm, every day is different and I’m very fond of all the animals I work with. I’m able to catch up on calls and admin here and there in the evenings.”

Each day with all the franchises will be mainly practical or physical work although you will need to keep on top of the administration. With Oscar it’s good practice to keep track off and then phone customers when you calculate supplies running low. Petpals does a progress report on each animal it looks after. And with Bugsie’s it’s vital to keep customer records up to date.

Most franchisees said they’d had a quick take up of business. Bugsie’s franchisee John Botting in Kent said the eye-catching design of the van really got people’s attention – although being out and about a lot obviously helped with this.

And the range of people – and animals – you get to work with seemed to be a definite bonus. “It’s mainly cats and dogs at the moment,” says Julie Jackson of Petpals in Newport, “but I can also do horses, small animals – even reptiles. I’ve always loved animals so it’s great.

How much does it cost?

As businesses that can be run from home, after the initial franchise fee, overheads are essentially low – a van, transport costs and then staff. And obviously the need for the latter two increases with the amount of work and therefore income.

Advertising:

“Advertising is constant expense for me,” says John Botting of Bugsie’s. “I get the best response from local paper adverts but after four months in business, I now find I can put smaller adverts in for less money and still get the same response.”

All three franchisors spoke of the importance of word of mouth. This above all things will cut your advertising costs. And advertising on a local level is not only cheaper but also more effective. Just putting a card in local post offices or with local vets will reach your target audience very easily.

Then they will tell their friends and the people they meet while walking the dog and so on. Offering a free visit for a recommendation is a good incentive for people too.

Transport:

You need a van for each of the franchises – and it’s expensive. But all of them have brightly painted logos and contact details so what you pay out for the vehicle you should more than gain back in ‘free’ advertising.

And as you get more clients, your petrol costs go up. But as Neil Stapleton of Oscar in Devon says, “I do around 350 miles a week which makes the petrol quite expensive. In the country you just have to plan your route carefully.”

Staff:

With Oscar and Bugsie’s this doesn’t apply until you take on another van and expand the area – should you wish to. But with Petpals you won’t be able to run the business without help after a while and you won’t be able to offer services such as pet sitting.

This will be a case of advertising or people approaching you to help out part time – the trick is, as always, to know when you have enough work to support staff or risk waiting until you are in danger of losing business.

Premises:

A home office and a garage should meet these needs quite adequately. As with all costs, it’s when you come to expand that this can change.

How much can I earn?

This is a business that probably won’t make you a millionaire as it stands – although you’re likely to get quite busy and will have a comfortable satisfying living. If the business catches on it will grow fast, because of the kind of community that exists with people who own pets.

“I started in 1998 with less than 5000 houses in my area,” says Neil Stapleton of Oscar in Devon. “Now I have 40,000 having taken on another area.” Expanding into other areas and ultimately taking on more vans and people is the way to make money.

But this will inevitably lead to a more managerial role so you have to decide whether that is what you want above the lifestyle of working with animals each day. If money is your motivation in the first instance this is probably not the industry for you.

And the attitudes of the franchisors seem to reflect this. As Brendan Humphrey of Petpals points out “There are no financial targets that franchisees have to achieve or rates at which they must expand. It’s up to them to grow as they want to.”

This isn’t to say the franchisors are kind benevolent souls who don’t care how much money you make. That would be absurd because they wouldn’t make any money themselves and the franchise wouldn’t develop. But the point stands that isn’t solely a profit driven business.

Another way to boost your takings is to offer more services. Expanding your product range and learning more about animal problems means people will come to you for advice and buy additional merchandise from you. For example offering natural healthcare as opposed to chemically based ones will be attractive to many people.

For many people their pets are like their children, which is why you could find Christmas stockings another handy source of extra revenue. Going the extra mile for other people’s animals will win you respect and therefore repeat and referred business – which is the best way to earn a good living.

This might not be a hard sell business but attitude is very important. If the thought of going up to dog walkers in the park and talking about your products or services fills you with dread then this probably isn’t right for you. If on the other hand, animals are part of your lifestyle and all you live to do is talk about them then something suggests you’re on the right track.

Pets aren’t like humans, they can’t walk themselves or go out and buy their own food. So you need the motivation to get up and work even when it’s dark and freezing cold. If animals are part of your lifestyle this will be that much easier.

Tips for success

So you want to work with pets? These are our top five tips for creating pure animal magnetism in your business:

  1. It’s important to emphasise that this is a job for an animal lover and an outdoors type of person. You can’t be afraid of being out in the elements with only a 10 foot Irish Wolfhound for company – because there may be a time when this will be your job for the morning
  2. A positive mental attitude is essential because animals pick up on nerves or a bad mood. If you’re unhappy, they’ll be unhappy and trying to wash an unhappy dog is not an easy task. Sometimes things will go wrong but if you accept this and don’t get uptight about it you’ll be much better off
  3. With the kind of job where you’re going round meeting people in the local area you need to enjoy chatting to people and being recognised. Talking extensively about other people’s animals will be part of your job – particularly in a smaller area. And if you do it well and enjoy it, it will only improve your chances of a building a busy and successful business
  4. It’s fairly standard but make sure you research and know your area before taking on the franchise. There will always be pets in every area but you’ll need to know the best way to approach owners to ensure they want to use your service
  5. Make sure you believe in your product. Neil Stapleton goes to the lengths of eating his dog food to demonstrate its quality. You might not want to do that – but you do need to have confidence in what you sell. If people love their pets like children they must be confident that you or your product will love their pet too

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