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Doggie School Bus: A Commute to Make Your Dogs Tired

Dogs hop aboard a bus to their daily grind.

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PICK-UP AND DROP-OFF SERVICE makes doggie daycare a convenient option for busy pet parents. Transportation in a “school bus” also makes it adorable.

Arat Montoya provides all of the above through Doggie School Bus in West Linn, OR. What began as a simple way to increase his daycare bookings has become a marketing success story.

THE IDEA

Create a Mobile Billboard

In 2016, Montoya was newly married with a baby on the way. His client base consisted of 10 pups he would take to a friend’s 5-acre property on various days. Revenue needed to grow.

Montoya drove a 2008 Scion at the time, and its gold color resembled that of a school bus. Why not add black lettering identifying it as such — for dogs — plus a strategically placed stop sign and contact info? He did exactly that.

“Then I parked my car in the driveway, facing the street,” Montoya says. Within a week, he had 16 new clients.

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Doggie School Bus and his son were both born that year.

Montoya picks up pups within a 5-mile radius of his home, starting at 6 a.m., Monday-Friday. He takes them to the property, which now has a fully fenced half-acre officially leased by his company, where they can run free during play sessions and rest during naptime. Daycare costs $35 and includes transportation, with the bus leaving at 4 p.m. to start drop-offs. All dogs must pass a temperament test to join the pack.

THE EXECUTION

Transform the Right Vehicle

Montoya has upgraded his “school bus” twice as the business has grown. A cargo van replaced the Scion that first year, and in 2017 he found the perfect vehicle for transporting dogs: a shuttle.

“School buses actually make a lot of noise because they’re made for city driving. Shuttles use freeways, so they have more insulation,” Montoya says, explaining his choice. “The dogs don’t stress out from noise because it’s quiet inside the cabin.”

The vehicle also came with a wheelchair lift, which he wanted for his senior charges.

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Montoya paid $7,000 and put in an additional $2,000 plus his DIY efforts. He pulled out most of the seats and installed rubber flooring, tinted the windows and applied new decals that were printed locally.

Despite not being yellow like the first model, it excels as a mobile billboard for Doggie School Bus.

THE RESULTS

1,000% Increase

In just over two years, Montoya has grown his client base to nearly 300. That’s a 1,000 percent increase! He averages 15 dogs a day but will take up to 25.

The Facebook page for his business also has taken off, with nearly 27,000 followers thanks to a video one of his clients took of her pup running and leaping onto the bus — it went viral.

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Do It Yourself: Five Steps to Thank You Rewards and Referrals 

  • Look for a used vehicle that suits your needs. Why pay for new when your passengers will be shedding and drooling — and worse — all over the inside?
  • Do the work yourself. Not handy? Identify employees who are or find a dog-owning mechanic open to trade.
  • Drive safely and slowly. The pups won’t mind — they love going for rides.
  • Offer a la carte services. Montoya bathes dogs and trims their nails during daycare.
  • Post plenty of photos and videos to your social media platforms. They just might go viral, too!

 

Pamela Mitchell is the senior editor at PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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Best of the Best

Pet Boutique Gets a ‘Scathing’ Yelp Review … and Does Something Beautiful with It

Owner turned a negative into a positive.

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In December 2015, a customer left a one-star review of The Fish & The Bone on Yelp. Her dog had destroyed a plush toy in mere minutes, and the offer of 20 percent off a different toy wasn’t sufficient — she wanted store credit for the full amount.

Owner Kathy Palmer saw in the situation an opportunity not only to examine her toy sales and return policies, but also to learn more about her customers and help homeless dogs.

A customer’s dog destroying a new toy within minutes prompted a negative Yelp review, which led the store to poll all its customers.

THE IDEA

Turn a Negative Into a Positive

The Fish & The Bone has never guaranteed the toys it sells, with the exception of those backed by a manufacturer. Staff members help to match products to chewing power, but they are trained to explain that dogs will be dogs.

“It’s fun for them to take apart toys, especially soft squeaky ones. They’re driven to,” Palmer says. No soft toy can stand up to all of that energy and muscle and teeth and instinct.”

She felt the 20-percent discount was a reasonable compromise and was surprised to see the review, which knocked the store’s customer service and said that a big-box chain would have given full credit to ensure future business.

Palmer decided to create a survey on toys, one with a charitable element. She emailed it to her 10,000-plus customers with the subject line: “Read our Scathing Yelp Review, Take our Poll, and We’ll Donate 100 Dog Toys to Local Homeless Pups.”

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“We have to be bold sometimes. It was about more than this one customer. I felt like we were entering into unlimited returns territory, which doesn’t work for a little independent. I had more to say and more to learn.”

THE EXECUTION

Poll the People

Palmer came up with questions to help her understand customer expectations when it came to squeaky toys. She used Survey Monkey to ask their dog’s breed, sex and age, as well as which brands they find most durable, how long they expect squeaky toys to last, how long the toys actually last, and whether toys should be guaranteed.

THE RESULTS

Learn and Adapt Accordingly

A total of 245 customers took the survey, and her stores got a boost in positive Yelp reviews, by shoppers who wanted to counteract the negative one.

Results confirmed that customers like the brands she carries and consider them durable. They also supported her curent policy.

“When I asked if squeaky toys should have a guarantee, 90 percent said, ‘No.’”

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Palmer shared results with her staff and stressed the importance of providing accurate information when selling these products. She also empowered them to make exceptions to the policy.

“We drilled into everyone how to respond when asked if a toy is indestructible. The answer is, ‘No, but we do have some that stand up better than others. Let me show you those.’ If we fail to do that, we will take responsibility and make a one-time exchange.”

Perhaps the biggest positive to come from the negative Yelp review was the donation made. The Fish & The Bone split the 100 toys between Animal Rescue League of Boston and Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, ME. Per the customer’s request, she also donated $50 to Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, MA.

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Best of the Best

Tiny Bubbles: This Spa Brings In $1,000 a Month Extra with Micro Bubble Treatments

Provide relief, reduce costs and boost sales.

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BUBBLE BATHS PAMPER and relax. Microbubble baths do, too, but they also deep clean and help to treat a variety of skin problems in pets.

Danielle Wilson of Bath & Biscuits in Granville, OH, has been providing this type of hydrotherapy for more than three years.

THE IDEA

Provide relief, reduce costs and boost sales. Wilson learned of microbubble bathing systems at a pet industry trade show. Originating in Japan, they use bubbles greater than 2 and less than 25 micrometers to penetrate hair follicles and skin pores. These teeny tiny bubbles attract and bond with dirt as well as with bacteria, yeast and allergens, and lift them to the water’s surface. Oxygen from burst microbubbles also boosts skin metabolism and promotes healing.

“I really liked the idea,” she says. “I was a vet tech for many years and had seen never-ending battles with skin problems.”

Using microbubbles during a groom also reduces the amount of water, shampoo and conditioner needed. All this, combined with her ability to offer 15-minute treatments as an add-on, convinced Wilson to buy a system.

THE EXECUTION

Pick, promote & treat. Wilson researched manufacturers from around the world before choosing NatureBless in Singapore. Her first microbubble bathing system cost just $350, but a year later she upgraded to a $1,100 model. Its bubble-generating unit sits on the floor, connected to two nozzled hoses: One draws in water from a filled grooming tub, and the other returns microbubbly water to the tub. The second hose can also be used to apply bubbles to body areas not submerged.

“The microbubbles make the water this milky color, from the churning action. I tell customers that they’re scrubbing bubbles,” Wilson explains, adding that while effective, they are gentle on skin.

In addition to promoting the treatment for skin problems, she also recommends it for senior dogs.

“The bursting bubbles create heat, which helps with sore muscles and arthritis.”

And for those who encounter a skunk: “It has been tremendous for de-skunking dogs. It gets down in hair shafts and pores, helping us get rid of the smell so much quicker.”

THE RESULTS

Healthier dogs & higher revenue. Wilson points to late Sweetpea the Bulldog as one of her microbubble bathing successes. After years of struggling with skin allergies, the pup came in for a treatment and saw immediate relief.

“Sweetpea was such a happier dog, not having to stop every 2 feet to scratch,” she says. “It was devastating to lose her, but really cool to know that for the last year and a half of her life, she wasn’t miserable and itching.”

Wilson charges $10 to $15, depending on size of dog, for a microbubble bath. (She has yet to try it on cats.) Treatments bring in $1,000 in extra revenue a month, plus provide savings on utilities and bathing supplies.

Do It Yourself: Start Your Own Bubble Treatments

  • Choose the right microbubble bathing system for your business. They can range greatly in cost, to upwards of $10,000.
  • Start by offering the treatment for free. Wilson benefited from positive word of mouth when she did.
  • Promote regular and seasonal benefits, from skin problems to allergies to skunkings.
  • Sell local veterinarians benefits on the treatment. Wilson has one in particular who regularly sends her clients.
  • Promote on social media with cute videos. See instagram.com/bathnbiscuits for Sweetpea bubbling in a tub.

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Best of the Best

Up the Convenience Factor With a Drive-Thru Window

Baby in the car. Heavy bags. Short on time.

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THESE AND OTHER REASONS inspired Laura Amiton to open The Filling Station, a pet-supply store in Tigard, OR, with a convenient drive-thru. She came up with the idea one day at her other business, Healthy Pets Northwest in Portland.

“I had a woman running through the store, trying to get things quickly,” Amiton recalls. Turns out, the customer had left her baby locked in the car. “I said, ‘Why don’t you go back outside. I’ll ring up your order and bring it to you.’”

THE IDEA

Increase Convenience

Once back in side, Amiton says, “It hit me like a ton of bricks: Why isn’t there a pet store with a drive-thru option?”

She opened exactly that in 2015. Located in a shopping center space once occupied by a bank, a sensor sounds when a vehicle pulls up to the window. Customers can call ahead with an order or place it there. Employees take purchases out through adjacent double doors for quick and easy loading.

“It can be super fast, take just a couple of minutes. Or a bit longer if they have a lot of questions.”

Drive-thru attendants keep stickers on hand for kids in tow. They even wash windows as part of The Filling Station experience.

“We try to remind people of the old service stations. I believe in old-fashioned customer service. That’s not something they can get at the big pet stores.”

THE EXECUTION

Find the Perfect Space

Buildings with a drive-thru — already in short supply — don’t last long on the rental market.

“Starbucks does a good job of snatching them up,” Amiton explains. “This space had been sitting vacant for eight years because it lost zoning for the drive-thru.

Officials deemed it too short for a busy business, as cars would back up and block parking spots. She asked the highly motivated landlord if there was any way they could bring the drive-thru back. There was: He would present it as a pick-up window that sees significantly less traffic than a bank or coffee shop. The city approved.

Amiton then built out her pet-supply store, positioning the register area next to the window so it would always be staffed, with fulfillment help on standby.

THE RESULTS

More Food Customers

The Filling Station specializes in natural pet foods, which make up 80 percent of its sales. The drive-thru ups the convenience factor while still providing expert advice and stellar customer service. This winning combination helps the store attract highly valued food buyers.

“About 95 percent of my drive-thru sales include food,” Amiton says, who expects that number to grow when she adds online ordering. “There may be add-on sales, but the main reason someone uses the drive-thru is to pick up food.”

Those shoppers remain loyal, as well, even when they may be tempted to order from an online pet retailer and have it delivered to their door.

“Today I had a regular customer tell me how much she appreciated the drive-thru last summer, when she injured her back. She usually comes inside, but used the drive-thru when she really needed it. I hear that a lot.”


Formerly a bank, The Filling Station received special permission to continue use of the drive-thru.

 

Do It Yourself: Open A Store With A Drive-Thru

  • Opening a new store? Work with a commercial Realtor to help you snag a building with drive-thru.
  • Design a checkout area that serves customers both inside and out.
  • Staff accordingly on busy days, with team members greeting all cars in line and starting their orders.
  • Post drive-thru photos to your store’s social media — show a variety, from parents with kids to busy professionals to regulars with their pups.
  • Talk up the convenience to in-store shoppers; drive-thru pet stores aren’t common, so they may need convincing.

 

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