Seniors + Pets = Profits

 

Woman playing with the dog in parkKim Holmer had an “Aha” moment when her dog broke a leg two years ago. A few weeks later, after many trips to the vet, she realized that others often find themselves in the same situation, but with no time to drive their pets to appointments, especially as most are during the work day. She started a pet taxi service in her area, specializing in the senior communities that are common in her part of Arizona. She offers a courier/errand service that delivers food and pet necessities, a pet-sitting service for seniors who are away on vacation, and her primary pet taxi service. Her trusty Toyota Corolla has just enough room to handle almost any request, but she does have to turn down the occasional Great Dane!

According to a recent national survey, over 60 percent of U.S. seniors own a pet, and many seniors own more than one pet. There are 75 million dogs and 89 million cats in the United States. That’s a lot of pets that need daily exercise, food and trips to the vet and groomer! Even the U.S. government agrees that the future of pet care looks bright. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of pet care providers to grow 22 percent a year. According to the BLS, “As many pet owners increasingly consider their pets as part of the family, the demand for animal services will continue to grow.”

Many seniors – and others, such as busy professionals – are unable to transport their pets to vet or grooming appointments, or pick up medications or supplies, and are happy to pay a pro to handle those essential services for them. Offering a “pet taxi” service is an ideal add-on business to a senior errand service, as the added costs are low. The vehicle you already have for running senior errands will do for almost all pet taxi services, unless you are asked to transport a very large breed.About all you’ll need is pet carrier crates and a few pet supplies, such as leashes and, of course, dog treats. You can buy the crates as you need them for specific jobs, and soon have an assortment of small, medium and large crates to handle most breeds. Occasionally, an owner will ask that a crate not be used, so you can substitute a dog harness seatbelt.

Agreement. Before offering a pet taxi service, write and print a simple agreement listing the terms of service, such as rates, a brief pet summary, with the pet’s age, breed, medical conditions, and contact information for the pet’s vet and owner. It’s wise to include a liability disclaimer for any issues that arise while the pet is in your care.

Pricing. Most pet taxi services charge either by the hour or by the mile. One commonly used figure is the per-mile cost allowed by the IRS for business mileage, currently around 55 cents per mile. Consider a hourly rate plus a mileage charge if the distance is outside your normal range, 5 miles, for example. If you are dropping off a pet at a groomer and plan to pick it up later, that could be a lower rate than a vet visit, which usually means a wait in the vet’s office.

It’s customary to charge additional fees for holidays and after-­hours jobs. The typical surcharge is $5 additional per day during the holidays and $4-­‐$6 per job for after-­‐hours visits. Before you set an after-­hours fee, give some thought to your working preferences and plan accordingly. For example, if you prefer to be home by 5 or 6 p.m., add a surcharge for any visits after that time. If you’re normally out til 8 p.m., add the surcharge for any visits after that.

Advertising. 

  • Business cards. First, you’ll need business cards to pass out to everyone in your local pet care community – boarding kennels, feed stores, groomers, pet supply stores and veterinarians. You’ll find much of your business will come from referrals within the pet care community, so this is an important step.
  •  Your local newspaper is a good source of free publicity when you are getting started. A new business startup is newsworthy, and a simple news release, or call to the paper will usually generate at least a one paragraph writeup in the business section. If you have an interesting “hook” to your business story, such as a unique or special service you provide, the paper may even do a feature article about you.
  •  If you have a “planned”, gated or over 55 community in your area, get a copy of their monthly newsletter. Most offer low cost classified ads, and the residents of these communities are your ideal customers. Pet ownership is high, the residents have above-­‐average income, and they travel a lot! A new errand runner in my area placed a $3 classified ad in the monthly newsletter of a nearby community of 450 homes, and was quickly booked ahead three months.
  •  One of the best places to advertise your service is on the sides of your vehicle. A basic magnetized/removable sign is an ideal way to let the world know about you, and the cost is low, typically under $100 (try a search on Google for “magnetic car signs” to locate these). These moving billboards are ideal, because they are visible to potential customers when you are parked at groomer and the veterinarian.

 Referrals. Ask any business owner, and they will tell you that referrals from satisfied customers are their best source of new customers. When you provide great service, your customers will be happy, and they will tell their pet owning friends. Some pet sitters reward their customers for referrals with a small discount on future service. Remember to ask for referrals, as your customers may assume that you have all the work you want. Be sure to ask if you can leave extra business cards for their friends.

 Web Site / Blog. A web site is another useful tool in your marketing toolkit, and need not be expensive or complicated to set up and maintain. You’ll want to include at least these basic items on your web site:

  1. Services offered and prices.
  2. Pictures of you and the pets you’ve cared for.
  3. Customer testimonials.
  4. FAQ – Post the most common questions here.
  5. Policies and downloadable service agreement.
  6. Contact information.

Be accessible. Always keep your cell phone turned on so customers and potential customers can reach you easily. Make sure that cell phone number is printed on any service agreements or flyers, as you will get about half your calls while on the road.

Helping seniors care for their pets can be a sensible and profitable add-on business for a senior errand service, as the two fit so well together. For example, you can drop off a pet at the groomer, run errands for pay, pick up the pet after grooming, and almost double your income for the same amount of time. As you only have so many hours a day, this is one of the best ways to boost your income at almost no extra cost.

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