The pet day care business is still nascent in India, but it is full of potential. Learn more about starting a small business in this industry from Dr.Nehzat, founder of PetStepin’.
1. How did you come up with this idea and why did you want to start PetStepin’?
First I am a pet owner and then a vet by profession, so during my early years of practice I was invariably faced with clients bringing their pets in, as they were suffering from sickness. Also many people were giving away their puppies shortly after buying them as they felt they could not handle such a hyper pet or they did not have time to cater to its needs. Thus I decided that it was time to start a place where pets could spend their day running around, making friends…be fed and pampered while their parents were busy at work.
I wanted boarding to be a fun filled, healthy experience for the pets and a stress free one for the parents. Also ‘socializing’ was a concept that was not understood by many and this is such a vital factor for the behavioural development of a pet, so I also wanted to spread more awareness regarding its importance. Keeping all this in mind, PetStepin’ was born with a motto that says it all – “Give your pets a break…while you take yours!”
2. What are the basic factors that you included in your business plan?
When PetStepin’ started three years back it was one of the first of its kind in Bangalore, as the concept of socializing, day care and puppy crèche facilities were still new to people.
Various boarding facilities were present but most of them were restricted to a cage set up or kennels with open spaces were located in the outskirts of city. Thus for me the most important factor was the location as it had to be in the city, centrally located and convenient for people to drop and pick up their pet on a daily basis. The pricing was done to cover the expenses per pet per day with discounts and offers for people with multi-pet families.
We also had to consider the duration of the stay. We wanted it to be economical enough for people from all walks of life to enjoy. Now with more awareness spreading, a lot of new facilities have opened on similar lines but the most important thing to remember in any business is to stay original and be innovative.
3. What are the legalities associated with such a business in India?
Depending on the scale of the business and services being offered at the facility the legalities and registrations vary. In case you are planning to sell stuff at the facility, then the business needs to be registered under the Shop and Establishment Act. In case of indoor kennels, there is a certain specification for the size of the kennel spaces.
4. What sort of marketing did you initially have to do, to increase the awareness?
Posters, fliers, visiting cards, online search sites, websites and blogs are a good way to build up client base, though word of mouth referrals are the best for this business. Clients should be regularly updated about seasonal offers, discounts, promotional packages, etc.
One can stay unique by adopting different methods and thinking out of the box. For example, at Pet Stepin’ we organize ‘Doggie Birthday Parties’ with birthday cake, decorations and games.
5. How did you go about hiring employees for your company?
The most important criteria for all working at PetStepin’ was that they have to be extremely passionate about pets and not hesitate to get hands on with the animals. The managers need to have an understanding of animal behaviour as we leave the dogs free to interact with each other.
Employees need to closely monitor the animals throughout the day. Another important factor is that they need to be able to administer medication, groom the pets and sometimes even feed the fussy ones. The staff should also have networking and communication skills and need to be creative, in order to take care of the advertising and promotion of the business. Hiring people who are crazy animal lovers with the same passion and ideas is a good move.
6. What is the ideal mix of team members you would recommend for a pet day care business?
Any pet care business would require a ground staff with workers who take care of the cleaning, washing and basic maintenance of the kennel facility. Depending on the size of the business you can decide the number of people you would like to work with.
We at present have a full time manager who handles the kennel bookings, accounts and management. There is a coordinator who takes care of the client updates, blog, website, advertising and basic PR functions. A certified vet is necessary to check up on the long stay boarders, update vaccinations and step in during emergencies.
We also employ part-time managers who work during weekends to help out with the check in and checkout, socializing and handling of the dogs during our busy time. We also encourage kids to volunteer during the holidays so they can learn what it takes to keep a pet.
7. How important is the name of the business in this industry?
I personally feel the name is what defines the business. It should be warm and inviting and yet explain what the business is about. Our facility was about fun and enjoyment for the pets and this is what I wanted to bring out in a peppy name like PetStepin’.
8. What sort of customer care practices did you adopt right from the start?
Along with the pets enjoying their experience it is very important for the parents to feel comfortable. Thus we make it a point for the manager to always be present during the checking or checkout of any pet. The owner has a form to fill with all details regarding meal specifications, allergies,etc and a mention to be made in case any medication or special requirements of their little one.
During their stay we regularly update the parents via phone or email and after they check out we do a follow up just to be reassured that they enjoyed their holiday with us!
9. What were the challenges you initially faced and what are some of them that you are still facing?
Facing a challenge only makes you aware of how you can improve! Initially when I started PetStepin’ people could not understand how so many dogs who have not met before can live together in such harmony.
They thought that dogs need to be chained or caged if they were in each other’s company, because this was the only way they saw boarding done. It’s only after they saw the amount of fun their little one was having with her friends and how she cried to come back the next day that they realised the importance of socialising.
One challenge that I still face even after three years is to make people realise the importance of our timings. At PetStepin’ we have a personal touch and would like to meet with the pet owener before their little pooch gets dropped – to know if he has any special requirements during his stay, and during pick up -to update them on all his naughty trials.
Our mangers have timings and so does the kennel and we request all pet parents to please be more considerate about this, so they can enjoy our services to its best.
10.What sort of growth options are available for pet care businesses?
The pet care business is growing in leaps and bounds. People are trying to find more ways in which they can pamper their little ones. They are getting more aware of the wants and requirements of their pooches and are willing to invest in their comfort. So if you are genuinely passionate about animals and want to contribute to their lifestyle, then the sky is the limit for the things you could do in the Pet sector.
11. Could you share some words of wisdom with people who want to enter the pet care industry?
In any business, you need to have your heart in what you are doing and actually want to make a difference, to achieve anything. In the Pet care business there is an additional perk coz on a tough day when you feel things cannot get worse, a slobby lick on your face or a game of fetch can just wipe away all your blues and in your heart you know you have made the right decision!