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8 Things That Only Pet-Business Owners Can Understand

It’s harder than it looks.

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SCRATCHING EARS AND PATTING heads all day! A cash register full of fun money! Unlimited flexibility and puppy kisses! Dream-job alert, right?

Just ask the friends and family of hardworking pet business owners, and it might be tough to convince them otherwise when it comes to the realities of self-employment. But these small-business owners are ready to set the record straight.

People think it’s way more flexible that it really is …

Anna Partain Woodcock, who runs Brown Dog Bakery in Ankeny, IA, says the people closest to her often mistake ownership for freedom, but there’s certainly no skipping out the door whenever she pleases.
“I think because we are our own boss even our spouses think we can take off whenever we want,” she says. “I feel too much responsibility to my customers to ever just close for a week. If anything, I work WAY more as a store owner than I ever did as an employee. But I still love my job! I get to hang out with dogs. I’m blessed.”

… and way less serious.

Sometimes parents just don’t understand. Just ask Angela Pantalone, owner of Wag Central in Stanford, CT, who frequently has to explain that her business is far more than a cute hobby.

“My mom always asks … ‘How’s your little store?’” she says. “I’m like … ‘Mom, it’s a 15,000 square foot state of the art dog care facility!’ There’s nothing little about the responsibility and liability I’ve taken on.”

You have to wear many (many) hats.

Sales, maintenance, customer service, clerical tasks, marketing—it’s all in a day’s work for Nancy Guinn, owner of Dog Krazy, a five-location pet specialty retailer in Virginia. And while her friends may not always appreciate the behind-the-scenes demands of her admittedly interesting work, Guinn knows the truth.

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“They think I play with puppies and hang out all day,” she says. “I work the sales floor at least five days a week, and when I’m not on the floor, I’m in the back working on or fixing something. If not at the store, I’m at home working on orders and paperwork.”

There’s no rest for the weary.

Running a major pet-products trade show is much more demanding than any of Cathy Erickson’s friends seem to realize. As the founder and producer of the Great Iowa Pet Expo in Des Moines, Erickson’s work includes three other expos throughout the Midwest and demands her attention year-round.

“My all-time favorite [comment] is during pet expo season when people say, ‘What do you do for the rest of the year,’” Erickson says. “No one understands that it takes a year of planning and work to produce these events.”

It’s harder than it looks.

Professional dog grooming is no wash-and-go affair, but Missie Mattei, owner of Miss Doolitte’s Pet Spa & Boutique in Schuylkill County, PA, says her brother had his own ideas of what her work volume might look like.

“Grooming dogs takes time and patience,” she says. “My brother thought when I was first opening my salon and was working by myself that I would be able to groom 40 to 50 dogs per day alone, based on the fact he could wash his dog at home in the tub in five minutes. He figured I should be able to do eight to 10 dogs an hour — LOL!”

We’re not talking banker’s hours here.

Patricia Boden, who owns Animal Connection, a pet products retailer and dog wash in Charlottesville, VA, says people sometimes assume she keeps bankers hours — a notion she finds amusing.

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“My family thinks the job ends when I walk out the door,” she says. “I try not to bring home work, but sometimes my greatest ideas come after having a cocktail with my boyfriend!”

In fact, pets never take a day off.

Caring for a pet is a daily responsibility — no time-outs. No-brainer, right? Well, it’s a fact Tony McFee, owner of Cincinnati-based Fuzzybutt’s Dry Goods, says some people don’t always comprehend.

“I think one of the biggest problems I have with family is that they do not understand the 24/7/365 schedule pet care requires,” he says.

“Every year, I go through the same routine.

Them: Are you working the holiday?

Me: Yes, that’s my busiest time.

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Them: But working on a holiday?

Me: Yes, dogs need to be fed every day.

Them: But it’s a holiday …

And so on and so on.”

Despite the challenges, there’s absolutely nothing that pet-business owners would rather be doing.

Julianna Reese of Barker’s Lane, the Davie, FL, salon that took third place in this year’s PETS+ America’s Coolest Stores contest, described the “all-in” mentality as she recounted building her business.

“I never stopped believing in this journey of mine,” she said. “My journey became a passion, it became an experience of personal growth, and a true commitment.”

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