6 Qualities of Successful Pet Industry Entrepreneurs
March 04, 2015
After 10 years of owning and operating a business in the pet services industry I can tell you she’s a wildly alluring and harsh mistress. (Actually this is true of entrepreneurship in general, but pet services crank the intensity, for better and for worse, to a whole new level.)
Pet services are the marriage of the two quintessential American dreams: owning your own business AND working with animals. Trust me, both dreams are better and worse than you can possibly imagine. As an insider and a consultant I got to see the real, behind the scenes, inner workings of many businesses ... and the books. It was easy to see what lead to personal and professional success - and what didn't. And it wasn't what you'd think.
It might seem the deck is stacked against you. It’s a difficult market to thrive in because it is over-crowded in many places. And the fact that pets can’t talk and most people don’t know what they don’t know, there is an unfortunate amount of foul play.
The economy is strong but if the last 10 years have taught us nothing else it is this: never trust. There are no guarantees. But honestly, pet services weather economic turmoil better than your average industry. (We sure can’t compete with the liquor industry, but we do pretty well.)
There’s no question how well-capitalized you are is a factor. And how crowded the market is makes a difference. But overall market conditions and money are not the deciding factors. (Authenticity will trump glitz every time.)
Thrive, Survive or Fold
I have found there are six factors that determine if someone will thrive, survive or fold in the pet services industry, and how happy they’ll be on the ride.
We all know who they are. There are businesses in all arms of the pet services industry where animals’ welfare takes a backseat to the bottom line. And said businesses tend to be smooth at presenting a good game to the well-intended, check-writing humans. When I entered the game, I won’t lie, I was scared of these players. But it turned out, I wasn’t giving pet parents NEARLY enough credit. The bottom line driven businesses usually can get enough clients to be competitive and stay in the game. But most people can tell. Humans are emotionally, intuitively, and almost metaphysically connected to their animals. Many can tell if the pet has had a good experience and most listen to their guts, and their pets. If you operate with integrity, meaning the animal welfare is the top priority, the bottom line takes care of itself. Besides integrity driving repeat business, it builds employee loyalty which drives, repeat business.
2. Content knowledge
I know, I know. I’ve read all the books too. You should be working ON your business, not IN your business. Driving a successful business is a different skill set than the technical skills needed to provide the product or service. This philosophy is a little bit right and a little bit wrong. No question, you’ll never get ahead if you're too caught up in the day-to-day. But the contention that vision, strategy, big picture thinking and execution are what is needed to run a business and technical skills are not, is not entirely true. In pet services, you are at a significant advantage if you can straddle both realms. Whether it’s grooming a wiggly poodle, being a pet nutrition junkie, or knowing the intricacies of canine behavior, you will be able to build a much stronger business if you thrive on continued knowledge on the subject matter.
3. Open and very busy minds
If these were ranked in order, this would probably be number one. You have to be pretty fluid about learning and change accordingly. (And this is not something pet services peeps are notoriously great at). You have to, above all else, be able to say and mean in your heart, “I made a mistake.” You have to be willing to accept that the information you believed in and were operating on was wrong. However hard you worked, there is a better way to do it. Conversely you need to know when you are right - even in the face of controversy. Be willing to learn as you go, own your mistakes, skeptically take in new information and draw smart conclusions - either from experience or research. You will be MUCH better off in the end.
4. Embracing Reality/Personal Accountability
Denial – It ain’t just a river in Egypt as they say. Hard times, crises, unforeseen things, and straight up big mistakes happen to everyone. They are typically a nasty cocktail of owner mistakes and circumstances beyond the owners' control. The question is which one are you going to deal with? There are entrepreneurs who take the bull by the horns, accept the crisis and figure out how to deal with it as decisively as possible. And there are those that bury their head in the sand. They hope it passes. Because sometimes it does, you know. They make excuses. They focus on the things outside of their control instead of what they CAN control (which ends up being more than you think, once you dig in). They ignore it, hope for the best, and if the business folds or takes a hit, they blame the external factors. And once it is done they just feel relief and try to get on with things, instead of learning and improving. The hard times suck. (As much as I miss it some days, the thought of the pressure, uncertainty, and problems reminds me I paid my dues. And I'm happy to be young and retired). But the businesses that really boom and thrive are the ones where the owners most easily accept the reality of a situation and do what they have to and use what they learned to make themselves stronger.
5. A heart full of love and steely resolve
Nice guys finish first, and nice guys finish last. Both adages are correct. The question is what is there besides 'nice' in the entrepreneur? To achieve the maximum of what your business is capable of, you have to have a big, good heart. You need to be willing throw your time, energy, and resources at goodwill things just to help. But you also have to have the grit and intensity to keep getting up when you fall ... to handle cyber-bullying, rejection, unkindness, and a whole lot of failure. You have to be able to handle any amount of disappointment and use it to make you stronger and more determined without perusing a bad idea and losing your shirt. In the face of harsh realities and you have to be willing to do what needs to be done. And all of this has to only fill your heart with more love and resolve.
6. Enjoying people
“I like animals better than people.” I bet the hell you do. If I got paid by how many times I heard that I would have retired in style much sooner than age 39. Don’t panic. It’s OK if you like animals better than people - Lord knows I do - but you have to like people a whole bunch. You have to enjoy interacting with them and if you see each as unique and special individuals you’ll go a lot further. Plus, your personal fulfillment will be beyond your wildest dreams.
You are going to be employing people (who probably like animals more than they like you), serving people, and you'll have people paying you. Any negative thing you have to say about people is true. And you’re probably understating it. People are very broken and everyone pays the price. All the more reason to want to reach out and help. And while highly imperfect, people are special. People are important. People are your employees and clients, too. You need to be able to meet their emotional and service needs while never compromising the often conflicting needs of their pet. It’s an art and a science. And it is the stuff of which successful pet service businesses are made.