Under lockdown, people turned to furry friends to keep them company within their four walls. This also meant that pet adoption rates took off by as much as 90% increase in some cities.
I’m even a guilty member of this group.
Currently, most pet owners have the pleasure of spending all day with their furry friend. Life for both parties is pretty awesome.
The Business Opportunity
Soon enough, most pet owners are going back to the office and will need to leave their newly adopted dogs (that are conditioned to spending the entire day with their owners) at home.
Smaller, personalized, and on-demand dog walking service. Dog walkers are experienced & quality professionals that have a genuine love and passion for animals.
We’re not referring to the big players here such as Wag - the opportunity we’ve identified is in the smaller (think mom & pop) dog walking business.
Small Players (the opportunity)
How It Works
Customers fill out their dogs profile on an online form and get matched with a dog walker that will best fit their dog needs.
They are able to view the walkers experience, bio and even schedule a meet and greet to introduce the dog walker to ensure it’s a good fit.
The booking engine to schedule the walk is easy and convenient.
Ensuring dogs get the exercise and quality time they deserve while their owners are hard at work. The experience is more personalized with quality dog professionals, versus other larger dog walking apps that are known to hire inexperienced walkers.
- $20 for ½ hour walk
- $30-$40 for 1 hour walk
Estimated Gross Margin
- If done by yourself: 80%
- If done by hired walkers: 40%
- Experienced Dog Walkers: Not just your “average dog lover.” Experienced means someone with dog training or prior veterinary experience that is able to handle situations that may arise with the dog. This is an important piece to dog owners.
- Personalized Experience: Owners have a good understanding of who will be walking their dogs, and have the ability to do a “meet and greet.” There are already the “big players” out there. Having a more localized and “smaller” service is a great place to start.
First, let’s look at the surge in adoption rates and search queries in March, 2020 to put demand in perspective.
We’re going through a global pandemic and it’s anxiety-provoking and it’s isolating. Those who are fortunate enough to work remotely are doing it from home, so people have the time now and the desire to open up their homes to a pet, to give that animal a chance.
In addition to that statement, she states that the rates of adoption have increased by 90 percent in some cities.
On a more micro example, Sarah Brasky, the founder and executive director of Foster Dogs Inc. in New York City states that last year at this time, her organization had applications from about 140 people per month. That has now risen to about 3,000.
Now that we’ve grasped this massive spike in pet adoption rates, let’s look at the search interest in our business idea: dog walkers
The spike in demand for this search is due to phase one and phase two of re-openings in most states. People are going back to work and are searching for dog walkers to help relieve their pets.
How Others Are Building It
We searched reputable dog walking companies that are voted best in their specific area and put together key takeaways on how they built their platforms:
One of the best ways to start a dog walking business is by starting small. This means that certain things may need to be done manually at first until you gain a reputation and begin to scale.
A good example of a “smaller” and “localized” dog walking business in San Diego is Walks to Wags:
Do LOTS of research
Research other dog walking businesses in the area to get a gauge for what the competition looks like and find something that others are not capitalizing on. This will help you differentiate yourself in the space and gain an understanding of what people are looking for.
Specialize in a high demand service
It’s important to understand which services are in the highest demand, and specialize and perfect that one service.
For example, Melodi Landi, founder of Furry Fellas explains their most popular service that accounts for the majority of their revenue:
The most requested time for dog visits was between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm. This happens to fall right in the middle of the workday for our clients. With the majority of clients working full time and being away from home more than 5-6 hours a day, there was a need for someone to come in to provide relief to their dogs - to let them out, exercise them and give them fresh water, treats, attention & love!
According to Melodi, “this service is our most popular and accounts for 55% of our revenue.”
This is the first option that she presents front and center on her “services” tab on the website.
How Others Are Marketing It
In the pet industry, word of mouth is one of the biggest forms of marketing and retaining customers. Especially when you are starting out, it’s important to build a solid referral program to encourage others to get the word out.
A great way to do that is by offering a reward (ie. credit on their next dog walk) to customers that refer you to their friends and family.
Here’s a great example of a referral program from Kathys Dog Walking in Los Angeles
Melodi, founder of Furry Fellas gives advice on competition and how this translated to $50,000 in sales:
I learned to work with my competitors rather than against them. When you think of business, we often look at other providers offering the same services as only competitors but if you network with those businesses, you can help each other out and refer business back and forth.
In this industry, there is enough business to go around! In 2019, we brought in almost $50,000 due to referrals from competing pet sitting and dog walking businesses.
Provide great customer service
Providing exceptional care and creating relationships with clients is a great way to build your reputation and retain customers.
Melodi Landi, founder of Furry Fellas explains that this is the most important part of her business:
It’s really all about building relationships, providing the best possible care, and checking in with clients regularly to be sure their needs and their pets' needs are being met.
Our clients are not just clients… They are extended family members and friends. Their pets, we treat as we would our own pets. We built our company on relationships. Giving someone access to your home and entrusting them with your fur kids is HUGE!
Who doesn’t love seeing photos and videos of dogs?
One of my favorite (and in my opinion, most effective) examples of “organic” social media marketing from customers themselves is Wags report card strategy.
I often see wag customers post the “report cards” above on my own instagram feed. Dog owners love to show off their pets, and this fun feature gives them a reason to share.
The most effective part of this strategy is that it’s users that are posting these report cards because they are typically funny, cute or they just want to show off their A+ dog to their friends.
By doing this, an entire network of people are reading the report card and are much more likely to use Wag for their dog needs since their friend uses them.
The objective is to build something quirky or unique that others are likely to talk about, and more importantly, share on their social media accounts.
Stay Front Of Mind With Awesome Content
Sending a weekly newsletter or roundup to your email list is a great way to stay front of mind for your customers.
Dog owners take pride in staying up to date with the latest trends in the dog world - here are some great ideas for writing content in the space:
- Training Tips
- How to make your dog comfortable at home while you’re at work
- Write a collection of short stories about life as a dog walker
Wag does a great job at personalization with their email marketing.
In the subject line, they always mention the name of your dog with an enticing reason to open the email.
For example, one of the last emails I received from them was a subject line that said:
Startup Costs and Revenue
Average Startup Cost
Full Cost Breakdown
Here are the essentials to getting your dog walking business up and running:
- Website/Email/Domain = $100-$150 (not including outsourced website design)
- Business formation = $300-$700
- Insurance = $50-$200
Melodi Landi, solo-founder of Furry Fellas Pet Service states that the business costs to get started were low, under $500.
The great part about starting a dog walking business is that there’s little to no inventory what so ever. Because of this, the startup cost is much less.
How much you should expect to make
For a small dog walking only business, here’s what you can expect to make when first starting out (based on one dog walker):
Average service = 30 min walk for $20.00 # of walks per day = 8 walks
Daily Revenue for 4hrs of work = $160 per day
Monthly revenue (1 walker) = $3,200
Of course, you’ll get out what you put in. This is a conservative number based on limited hours in the day.
The great part about dog walking is it’s easily scalable. The more dog walkers you have, the more walks you’ll be able to service throughout the week.
Melodi Landi started the business walking dogs by herself, and now is making $54,000/month with 19 employees.
Our sales have consistently proven over the years that there is a large demand for this type of service. We have roughly 3,500 - 4,000 followers on social media and 2,500 on our email lists. Last year, in 2019, we did over 34,000 visits and over a half-million dollars in sales.
We recently added pet errand services due to the COVID-19 pandemic for pet parents who need assistance picking up pet meds, pet food, treats, and other pet products.
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