These websites and apps have positioned themselves as more personalized experiences than traditional kennel or boarding facilities. You have a wide variety of sitters to choose from, and that kind of choice is comforting to some. These apps provide a wide variety of petcare contractors because the bar of entry is relatively low. Wag! and Rover allay concerns over lack of professionalism, expertise, and/or trust by using a background check for each sitter that uses their service. This is, of course, still a low bar of entry for pet sitting contractors. Just because you don’t raise red flags on an automated background check does not mean you can create a safe, stimulating, and enjoyable environment for people’s pets. Regardless, with such a sense of choice and the appearance of vetted contractors, pet owners could be forgiven for choosing the tech route for their pet sitting needs. More than anything, the sense of convenience is the greatest strength these apps and sites have.
Why call up and shop around for a boarding facility when you can just scroll on your phone like you do for much of the day anyway? Oftentimes, the company that gets the most business simply provides the shortest distance between two points. Think fast food or online shopping. But Rover and Wag! provide more than just convenience. Pet-business contractors can provide photos and bios on their profile, and reviews are compiled for the pet owner to browse. In many ways, this is ironically a more personal and intimate-feeling means of finding a pet-sitter. This is why pet sitting apps are so successful: the convenience of online shopping with the personal touch of, say, online dating. The mixture is almost paradoxical, but slick silicon valley companies are old pros at creating apparently personalized and intimate experiences across the internet.
While it may seem difficult to compete with relatively giant tech companies in the pet industry, all is not lost. The very qualities that make pet boarding apps like Wag! and Rover so successful also pose key weaknesses in their business models.
The apps are the first and last point of contact between pet contractors and pet owners. Both Wag! and Rover disallow phone or email communication between sitters and clients. For many pet professionals and pet businesses, email chains and newsletters are a key source of business and allow the individual or pet business to stay top-of-mind for current and prospective clients. Without a consistent means of contacting clients, pet sitters are constantly at-risk of being forgotten or eschewed for lower-priced or more enticing profiles fed by the app’s algorithm.
Tech companies require a steady stream of income to reach net worth’s like Rover’s. That’s why high costs are baked into the system in a way that’s virtually invisible for clients but back-breaking for pet professionals. Rover takes 25% of the sitter’s compensation on each transaction. Wag! takes a steep 40% from each transaction. Bear in mind, both of these cuts are taken out before taxes–and as a contractor, pet sitters on Rover and Wag! have to factor this year’s taxes into their income from the apps. As a result of these increased costs, pet sitters on pet boarding apps have to increase their prices accordingly or face lean income to build their reputations, which can lead to cutting corners on the part of the pet sitter. Furthermore, insurance and liability are geared towards protecting the app itself rather than the wellbeing of the sitter or boarder. If a dog or contractor gets hurt, the contractor is legally and financially liable for the damages. This can create an air of distrust and trepidation between contractors and clients.
While many pet owners swear by pet boarding apps, or particular sitters found on their app of choice, pet sitters who work on Wag! or Rover face the problem of poor publicity and media coverage. You could be the highest-rated sitter with a perfect and extensive record of success but that is irrelevant when social media is filled with videos of sitters throwing wild parties in clients’ houses or stories of hurt or killed pets at the hands of sitters, walkers, and boarders on your same platform. As mentioned above, only a standard background check and a simple best-practices quiz stand between prospective pet business contractors and pets. With the low bar of entry and high sample size, it’s no wonder that unfortunate situations or abuses occur through these apps and websites.
These shortcomings, among others, leave pet professionals with ample opportunity to get the edge on pet sitting and boarding apps.
There are many traits and advantages inherent to dedicated pet daycare and boarding facilities that allow them to provide a smoother, safer, more connected, and comfortable experience for pets and pet owners. Any pet business owner would be well-served understanding these advantages and capitalizing on them to attract and retain loyal clients when threatened by pet boarding apps.
The best pet businesses are more than just places to send your dogs to; they’re community hubs where dogs, dog owners, and pet professionals can connect, socialize, and educate. Apps can’t create a community environment in part because pet sitters and boarders are individuals who are in direct competition with other pet contractors, without a centralized location to gather at. Particularly in a post-pandemic world, pet businesses can be an oasis of community in an increasingly isolated world.
Organize community events for your clients. Send out regular updates via social media or email with the latest goings-on in your facility. Highlight well-behaved dogs or humorous interactions. Contractors on Rover and Wag! tend to have few dogs, or even just one at a time. Educate existing and prospective clients on the importance of socializing their dogs with others in a way only dedicated pet businesses can facilitate. The earlier and more frequently that pet owners expose their dogs to other dogs and people, the better behaved they will be with others throughout their entire lives. Some daycare and boarding facilities even set aside a pup parent area where pet owners can watch their dog play with others and socialize with other pet parents.
Cancellations and changes in plans are commonplace on apps like Wag! and Rover. The platforms do their best to make this a smooth process, kicking the contract down to new contractors, but this can create unnecessary stress for contractors, pets, and pet owners alike–often resulting in a communication breakdown between clients and a string of contractors. Clients can request the same sitter or boarder repeatedly, but it’s anyone’s guess whether the contractor accepts, is available at all, or is already booked by another client. As a dedicated pet business, it’s much more likely that you’ll have space and bandwidth for a client’s dog at any given time—and if you do find yourself filling up quickly, perhaps employing a preferred pup club or tiered service business model will help you serve your most loyal clients first. Lean into this reliability by preemptively reaching out to clients at times when they might normally use your services. Working holidays is a great way to get the message across to your clients that you are reliable and available for them.
Pet business facilities are specifically tailored to cater to a large number of pets. Play areas, toys and exercise equipment, kennels and cages, grooming and training resources, cleaning supplies, food and treats, and any associated resources that make caring for dogs easier and more comfortable are all commonplace at dedicated pet boarding and daycare facilities. Highlighting these resources in your communication with your clients and utilizing them to create a clean, inviting atmosphere for pets and pet owners will give you an edge on independent contractors who require food, toys, treats, etc. from the pet owner every time they sit or board for their dogs.
If you struggle to maintain a clean and inviting outdoor play area, Natura turf can give you the benefits of real grass with the evergreen nature of synthetic turf. Natura provides a green and lush look when you have trouble growing grass, and it virtually disappears when grass grows through the turf. In either case, Natura prevents mud and cleans dogs’ paws as they play. Because Natura is perforated, dogs can safely stimulate themselves by smelling the ground and doing what dogs do. Natura turf is just one of many benefits you can provide as a dedicated pet business.
You may have noticed that many of these advantages of dedicated pet facilities are worth advertising to existing and prospective clients. Unlike on pet boarding apps, you are able to maintain a dialogue with pet owners via phone, email, and social. This is something that’s definitely worth capitalizing on because staying top-of-mind is often the difference between gaining a dedicated client and losing one. People have a lot going on, and while it may seem difficult or off-putting to send out cold emails, clients are used to receiving dozens of marketing emails and if even a small percentage makes it through and convinces existing or prospective clients to patronize your business, your marketing effort will be well-rewarded. (Perhaps it was one of our emails that led you to this blog!)
Of course, social media is a great way to foster community and maintain contact with your clients, and you’re likely already active in that space. Unlike marketing emails, it’s easy to make your social media presence unobtrusive and worthy of interacting with, but it’s important to go after what your followers would value from your social posts. Take videos of dogs playing or being trained, tag owners if they’re willing, broadcast events on live. Instagram and Tik Tok in particular are geared toward video content that’s easy to create in an active pet business. Pet content is hugely popular on social media, and it’s easily consumable for the busy and the bored alike.
While the major presence and market share of independent pet boarding
apps like Rover and Wag! present a real challenge for dedicated pet
businesses, it’s a challenge worth undertaking. There will always be a
place for real pet businesses so long as they stay competitive and
evolve with changing technology. Oftentimes, the difference-maker is
consistent self-promotion and good work. Your dedicated list of clients
will promote your business for you as well.
To summarize, if you want to compete with pet boarding apps, you’d be
well served by fostering a community with your clients, staying
reliable in times of need, providing resources unique to dedicated pet
boarding and daycare facilities, and building up a robust and relevant
social presence. At the end of the day, so long as you provide a good,
consistent service, pet owners will see the difference between your
facility and the services offered by apps like Wag! and Rover. These
apps may seem as though they’re too big to fail, but it’s your employee
expertise, pet experience, and human touch that will allow you to gain
an edge on giant tech services.
For more tips on how to stay ahead of the curve in the pet industry, visit our blog. Check out this piece we did on how to innovate and add value to your pet business.
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