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1:01 AM   April 21, 2015
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Secrets of the Pet-Sitting Retailer

Stores that offer additional services have selling advantages.
By Meghan E. Murphy

Building on a base of customers who love their pets, more stores are adding pet-sitting businesses to their offerings.

Pet sitting can be a lucrative service addition for any retailer looking to build a strong rapport with customers and make personal product purchase suggestions for them. Credit: Cris Kelly
A pet-sitting business can complement a store in many ways, industry sources report. Aside from being an add-on service for customers, pet sitting allows retailers to build a personal trust with customers and get to know the needs of their pets.

“It’s great cross-marketing and [the businesses] fit really well together,” said Jen Giacchi, owner of Friendly Visits and Paw-Wares.

Giacchi and her husband, Anthony Pirnat, first started a pet-sitting business but recently bought a retail store, where they advertise their pet-sitting services. Giacchi’s pet-sitting customers came to her store’s opening and still frequent it. She also uses the store to advertise her pet-sitting business to new customers.

In order to walk through a customer’s door and care for their beloved pet, a business owner must build a strong trust. That relationship can translate into better service in the store for customers and their pets.

Giacchi describes pet sitters as “part of the family.” Her customers trust her advice about feeding, toys and behavior products because she knows their pets. Before she owned the store, she directed her pet-sitting customers to other businesses, but now she can invite them to her own store to purchase products.

“I know that they’re following through on my suggestions,” she said.

Rachel Abbott, owner of Houston Whisker Sitter and Muddy Buddy Dog Wash in Texas, also said she recommends products to her pet-sitting customers that she sells in the retail section of her self-service dog wash. She also calls clients when she discovers new products that their dogs might like and even delivers items to some of their homes.

With or without retailers offering the service, the pet-sitting business is growing, said Kelley Young of Professional United Pet Sitters of Dousman, Wis.

“People are going away from having friends and neighbors watching pets,” she said. “A professional is getting paid to do the best job they can.”

Many within the industry report a pet-sitting business can be started for relatively little money, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of work involved. To help with setting up and operating a pet-sitting business, several organizations have the sole purpose of providing resources. Professional United Pet Sitters (or PUPS), Pet Sitters International and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) offer members a broad range of resources, from online discussion forums to research to discounts to accreditation.

“We suggest joining a professional organization so you can get information from people who have been doing it,” said Courtney Klein, a communications specialist with Pet Sitters International. “You have a big peer support network.”

Most pet sitters belong to at least one of the groups, Abbott said.

“It was really important to me in the beginning,” Abbott said. “It’s a sounding board when you’re a sole proprietor.”

One of the biggest mistakes first-time pet-sitting business owners make is trying to test the waters too tentatively, according to several experienced sitters.

“Pet sitters fail frequently because they put a toe in and wait,” Young said. “You need to go out and commit and advertise, advertise, advertise.”

Luckily for retailers, they already have a place to market a pet-sitting service. Giacchi puts advertisements for her pet-sitting service on the back of the computer screens at her store and places business cards near the register.

However, Young also recommends that retailers advertise pet sitting at local veterinary offices, groomers and other pet businesses, as well as in local publications.

Many cautioned that retailers should choose carefully whom they hire as pet sitters.

“Pet owners should really know who that person is and if they’re really qualified, bonded and insured,” said Felicia Lembesis, executive director of NAPPS.

Abbott said that when she started her dog-wash business, she initially planned to operate the store. But her pet-sitting customers wanted her to continue coming to their homes.

“If you’re in retail and going in to pet sitting, you’re going to have to decide if you’re going to hire somebody or do it yourself,” Abbott said. “The pet sitting is much more personal. If they know you as a retailer, they’re going to want to see you [at their house].”

Abbott, who is a member of PUPS, recommended that those who are considering pet sitting also join free online discussion groups before paying for a professional membership. Pet sitters—even those who work in the same region—are very willing to swap tips and answer each others’ questions.

“We all do share information,” Abbott said. “It’s a very open group.” <HOME>

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