For pet owners, their dog or cat is the light of their life. Travel is sometimes a close second, though, and every time they head off on another trip, they feel guilty and worried. They hate leaving their dog alone, even with a pet sitter stopping by a couple of times a day. They’re unable to relax every time they leave for even an overnight trip (or even a full work day), and they worry that their dog is stressed out and lonely.
Pet boarding can be an excellent solution, giving pet parents a safe space to place their pet where he’ll receive 24/7 attention and care, and where they can check in any time to make sure he’s doing great. Pet boarding ranges from in-home pet care to kennels and even luxury hotels. If you have a serious love for pets and your dream career involves caring for them as much as possible, a boarding business may be the perfect fit.
According to the American Pet Product Association, the United States pet industry market made $72.56 billion in 2018. Over $6 billion of that was spent on “other services,” which includes boarding. While total spending is estimated to be about the same in 2019, the “other’ category is expected to grow. This could be an excellent time to get your pet boarding business off the ground.
First Things First: Experience
A love of animals or even a lifetime of owning pets doesn’t necessarily prepare you for owning a pet boarding business. You’ll be caring for pets that you don’t know well, which requires well-rounded knowledge of animal behavior and health. Additionally, you’ll have to learn the ropes when it comes to running a pet boarding facility.
The best experience can be gained from working in a boarding facility. Ask around to see if any are hiring or if you can volunteer your time. It also helps if you’ve worked in a vet’s office or animal shelter before, or if you have dog walking or pet sitting experience. Consider studying an animal-related field, too, either in college or through continuing education classes. The International Boarding and Pet Services Association is a good place to start if you want education, training, and certification in pet services.
Business, Legal and Emergency Considerations
There are business and legal considerations that you’ll want to have a grasp on before starting your business – these aren’t the sort of things you want to learn along the way.
- Your first calls should be to your lawyer and your accountant. They’ll be able to discuss your options when it comes to forming a business identity. The type of business identity you choose will determine the paperwork you need to fill out and how your own finances or your business will be impacted if there’s a legal issue.
- Contact your local government to make sure you’re following zoning regulations and to find out about licenses and permits you’ll need to run your business.
- Speak with a professional about taking out a liability insurance policy.
- Ask your attorney to draft boarding contracts for you and your clients to sign.
- Come up with recurring processes for keeping the pets healthy and safe, such as preventing fleas and ticks. Holistic remedies can be part of this, and may even be a cornerstone of how you market your business.
- Create an emergency plan in case an animal needs medical help while under your care.
If you set up your boarding business and then handle these issues, a host of problems could follow. You may end up having to pay damages in a legal case because you don’t have the right type of insurance or business identity, or you could have a sick or injured pet that you don’t know how to take care of. Even something as basic as a barking dog could become a public nuisance and a zoning issue if you didn’t set the business up correctly in the first place.
Animal, Boarding, and Equipment Types
While your pet boarding business may grow over time, you’ll need an idea of where to start. The space and equipment you require will be based on the types of animals you’ll be boarding. If you’re going to board dogs as well as cats, you may need the facilities to keep them separate. If you’re going to board different sizes, weights, and breeds of dogs, you may need to keep them siloed so they can’t harm one another.
The type of boarding facility you run is a consideration, too. Will you care for a few dogs in your own home? Do you want to purchase a kennel that already has much of the equipment you’ll need? Would you prefer to build a pet hotel from scratch so that you can create exactly what you want and add on to it if your business grows?
If you’re not sure of the type of facility you want to run, think about the amenities you’d like to offer your pets and their owners. What kind of play and exercise areas do you want? Do you want to add a splash pool or an agility course? Do you want the animals to stay in cages or would you like to offer them suites with beds, toys, and TVs for company? You may also want to add webcams to the facility so that the pet owners can watch a live stream of how their pets are doing. Here are even more services you may want to offer:
- Boarding for other small pets, like birds
- Grooming services
- Training for agility competitions or obedience
- Pet products and food for sale
One thing to keep in mind about these amenities: think about what your clients truly need and want, not just what’s trendy. Competing boarding facilities may have homemade food for the pets or luxury suites, but your clients may care more about transportation services or an annual payment plan that reduces the cost. When deciding which pet boarding trends to offer, put your customers first.
6 Details You Haven’t Thought Of
So much of your pet boarding education is going to occur on-the-job. However, here are some details that business owners tend to forget. Get ahead of the curve by being prepared for them as early as possible.
The best places to advertise will be where dog owners congregate. Drop off your card at veterinary offices, hang flyers at dog parks and ask if pet supply shops will let you leave postcards at the register.
2. Data Storage:
You’ll probably ask your clients to provide background information on the pets you’ll be sitting. You need a way to store and access emergency and vet information, plus vaccination records and any medical history you should know about. You’d also want to keep notes on each animal’s behavior, so you know how to accommodate the pets the next time they stay with you. For example, if a specific dog doesn’t get along with other dogs with certain traits (such as doesn’t like other male/female dogs, young dogs, certain breeds, etc.), you’ll want to remember that for the future.
It’s difficult to run a pet boarding business without employees, especially since you’ll need to ensure each pet’s safety 24/7. Hiring employees is also a great way to find people with pet care experience you may not have yet. Employees may include a manager, regular staff or volunteers to care for and play with the animals, a receptionist, and service providers like groomers or trainers.
4. Hours of Operation:
Some clients are going to want boarding services for the hours they’re at work, while others will want to leave their pet with you while they go away for a few days or weeks. Determine when you’ll be open and available for drop-off and pick-up. You want to ensure that your hours of operation are convenient for clients, but without requiring you to get up in the middle of the night when pet owners return from vacation.
5. Pet Hair:
Unless you’re running a boarding business for just non-shedding animals, which is highly unlikely, you’re going to have a ton of pet hair to contend with. Cover furniture with washable
materials, create a vacuuming schedule and schedule regular deep cleanings to get rid of any hair you missed.
6. Pricing Options:
There are numerous ways to price boarding services, and you’ll probably offer a selection to your clients. You can have daily and weekly rates, and you can also charge monthly or
annually for clients who will use your services frequently. You can also have a la carte add-ons for VIP services like grooming or training. To get started, look at what your competitors are doing.
If you’re a lifelong pet lover, running a boarding business is probably what your childhood dreams were made of. This is an excellent and lucrative way to combine your business savvy with your love of dogs and cats. Caring for several pets at once requires a lot of patience and responsibility, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. You’ll receive unabashed love from the pets who rely on you and gratitude from their owners who trust you.