How I Started A $54K/Month Pet Sitting And Dog Walking Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi. My name is Melodi Landi. I am the Founder & Owner of Furry Fellas Pet Service LLC.
Furry Fellas came into existence in 2006 when a need was discovered in the RI community for reliable and professional in-home pet care.
Furry Fellas offers a solution for the busy pet parent by providing mid-day dog walks / dog exercise sessions, mid-day let outs, vacation sitting visits, overnights in your home, in our home cage-free dog boarding & more... There are times when pet parents need to be away from home and we as pet parents, have a duty to our fur kids to ensure they are taken care of when we can’t be there.
To date, Furry Fellas employs 42 individuals. Looking at it from a full-time equivalent perspective, we employ 19.25 full-time team members.
Our team consists of all experienced professionals who have a genuine passion for animals!
All sitters/walkers have prior professional experience working or volunteering with animals. Many have worked as vet techs, dog trainers, dog groomers, or in other animal care roles.
Our team is certified in pet first aid, insured & bonded AND we are all pet parents who will love your fur kids as one of our own!
Furry Fellas has been voted in the TOP 3 Pet Sitting / Dog Walking Company within the RI / MA area for 8 years in a row!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have always had a passion for animals. I was going to school full time at the University of Rhode Island as a Pre-Vet student while working full time at a local veterinary hospital AND picking up pet sitting and dog walking clients on the side.
Since my late teenage years, I have known that I wanted to work with animals. While working at the animal hospital, I saw a great need for this type of service, and soon after decided to start this business!
I would often come across clients who had not traveled in years because their pets required specialized care or medications or because they did not know who to ask or whom they could trust with their pets and their home.
The veterinarians and the techs that I worked with would often recommend my services and then those clients would refer me to their friends, co-workers, and family members.
Before I knew it, I had as much as I could take on for 1 person, about 50 clients total consisting of both a handful of weekly dog walking clients and then the majority of those clients being vacation sitting clients. The referrals kept coming and I began referring the clients to other vet techs that I knew or worked with.
It was during my senior year at URI that it became clear that this is what I wanted to do. I switched my major to Business with a focus on Animal Veterinary Studies.
During my last semester before graduation, I began putting the business together, building a website, doing the research, getting the business set up, and advertising for staff. Furry Fellas was launched right before I graduated. At the time, I was a full-time college student working 3 jobs trying to make ends meet.
Take us through the process of designing and prototyping your first product/service.
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!
This is where our daily and weekly dog walking & mid-day let out services came in. This service is our most popular and accounts for 55% of our revenue.
The business start-up costs were low, under $500.
I learned to work with my competitors rather than against them. 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.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Launching the business was A LOT of research at first. I wanted to make sure that I was following all federal and state requirements and registering my business with the proper agencies.
I had not discovered the various business support organizations until 10 years after our launch so I basically went through and researched every aspect of starting a business.
I built the first website myself with HTML using notepad. I had taken a few web design courses in college and learned about SEO through my classes and online research. I had an advantage with this as I was also working part-time creating web pages.
I personally handled every aspect of running and launching the business while going to school and working 3 part-time jobs. I didn’t sleep much. I was very focused on what I wanted to accomplish and would stay up half the night to get it all done.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our most valuable marketing tool is word of mouth. Along with our website/SEO, networking with other local pet professionals, local pet businesses, and trade associations.
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!
Our clients are one of our biggest advocates and often refer us to other fellow pet parents.
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.
When I started this business I was also creating websites part-time. For the first few years I thought I would have 2 businesses but soon realized that I needed to narrow down my focus.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
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.
Currently, I am looking into creating an online cruelty-free pet retail store to compliment Furry Fellas Pet Care Services. I am an animal advocate and volunteer with a local organization called Rhode Island Vegan Awareness.
When I am not working in Furry Fellas, a good portion of my time goes towards volunteering in the community to help educate the public about how animals are treated and about the many available alternatives that avoid unnecessary harm to animals.
The goal of the cruelty-free pet retail store would be to provide a one-stop cruelty-free shopping experience for pet products (other than pet food) and to encourage people to read labels and look into the products they are buying before making purchases.
I've made it a priority in my life to only buy products that are not tested on animals. Having seen the horrific torture that animals go through, the images have been imprinted in my mind and I can never look back. It is the same for me with eating animals. The images and videos say it all.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to do the research, educate yourself, and watch lots of documentaries.
Always remember - Consumers hold ALL the power! What consumers choose to purchase is exactly where the market will go. By making purchases, you are telling companies what you will and will not accept. Please make your voice heard through your purchases!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have learned so much over the years. Number one is that we could never do it without our supportive clients and our amazing staff. Passion and dedication are what truly makes our team unique.
In 2017, I completed a program that was offered for free to small business owners. This program was through the SBA & Interise. It was called “Emerging Leaders / Streetwise MBA”.
A small number of business owners are selected each year.
This proved to be an invaluable tool for me and the business. This program, which mimics an accelerated MBA program, truly helped me to realize that I needed to learn to delegate and rely on others. I was the type of person who liked to do everything myself and would never ask for help. It was my biggest roadblock. Prior to the completion of this program, I was working about 100hrs per week and had a fear of giving up control – specifically over managing the incoming client communications/requests. I was overworking myself to the point I was completely burnt out. I had to learn that I cannot do it all myself.
Finally hiring office support staff and client coordinators, helped me to create a more healthy work/life balance.
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.
I strongly encourage any and every business owner to hire an accountant. You may think it will cost more but a good accountant will actually save you money in the long run.
Over the last few years, I learned the benefits of networking. It has saved valuable time and reduced the number of mistakes by learning from others who have been there AND opened up doors that I would have never come across.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Power Pet Sitter Scheduling Software: Scheduling software is a must for most service-based businesses. This will save you countless hours if you are doing scheduling by hand or through an excel spreadsheet. Furry Fellas could never have gotten to this level without it. We use Power Pet Sitter for client management, scheduling, and booking.
Mailchimp for email marketing.
WordPress and Pet Sitter 365 for our current and newest Website.
PayPal and Authorize.net for our credit card processing.
QuickBooks online for our invoicing and financial software which integrates with our scheduling system.
Facebook and Instagram for social media.
Industry Trade Associations:
- Pet Sitter International
- National Association of Professional Pet Sitters
- International Boarding & Pet Services Association
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Small Business Support Organizations:
Pet Business Coaching/Consulting/Podcasts
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I believe to truly be successful you must first be passionate about what it is you are doing. Starting and running a business takes a lot of hard work but if you have the passion and drive, you can learn everything else. It is your passion and drive that will keep you going and make you successful.
Don’t be afraid to take the first steps and get started!
Once you know what it is you want to do, learn everything you can about that industry, network, and make connections.
I highly recommend joining industry associations, business networking groups, working with the SBA & SCORE, and taking advantage of some of the free courses, webinars & business acceleration programs that are currently offered (often for free or at low-cost options).
When I started this business I was also creating smaller based websites part-time. For the first few years I thought I would have 2 businesses but soon realized that I needed to narrow down my focus.
While I enjoyed the challenge of learning and writing website coding my passion was always working with and helping animals.
There are so many different aspects of a business. Such as marketing, website, social media, accounting, managing staff, human resources, customer service, etc… While owning a business requires an understanding of all areas if you’re not great in ALL of those areas then don’t worry. You can always build your team/network with others who are good at the things that you aren’t. The best results are achieved when you focus more of your energy on what you enjoy doing and what you can do well.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking for passionate, reliable, and experienced animal professionals to join our team.
- Afternoon Dog Walkers (Mon-Fri 10-3 pm)
- Pet Sitters (AM/PM/Weekends/Holidays)
- In Your Home Cage Free Dog Boarding Hosts and Hostesses.
Once we hire a team member, they can often book up within a month or so - so, we are almost always looking for new team members. Positions generally start out part-time and grow from there.
Where can we go to learn more?
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