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Virginia Business Owner Goes Back to School for Her Customers

To improve her expertise, this store owner took a 500-hour course.

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Nancy guinn has a passion for pet nutrition, so much so that the owner of Dog Krazy in Virginia recently completed a 500-hour program in pet nutrition.

THE IDEA

Go Back To School

Guinn has been guiding customers toward the best products for their pets since opening her first store in 2006 — there are now four locations. The idea to become a clinical pet nutritionist came from a local veterinary technician with an itchy flat-coated retriever.

Through food-elimination trials, Guinn settled on venison as the best protein for Obi. The vet tech sung the store’s praises, but said her employer, Fredericksburg Animal Hospital, would require formal credentials before referring clients to Dog Krazy for nutrition consultations.

Guinn researched several online schools before choosing a program offered by the Academy of Natural Health Sciences.

“It best suited my needs,” she says of the curriculum and the ability to learn at her own pace. “So I enrolled and began working seven days a week between the stores and school.”

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THE EXECUTION

Hit The Books

In the program, Guinn studied a variety of canine and feline health topics, including anatomy, physiology and disease; general, sports and breed-specific nutrition; raw and prescription diets; natural remedies, homeopathy and supplements; and legal and business issues as they relate to pet nutrition consulting.

THE RESULTS

Reap the Referrals

Guinn now receives regular referrals from local vets.

“Because I’m now a certified clinical pet nutritionist and because I have proven myself to these vets, they send clients to me all of the time,” she says.

Customers whose pets Guinn has helped also contribute to strong word of mouth for her nutrition consultations. Throughout the week, emails arrive with pleas for help and “poop photos. So many poop photos!” she says.

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To meet the increased demand for her time and expertise, Guinn has taken two steps.

“I share what I’ve learned with my employees, and we have continuing education classes every month,” she says, adding that, “If there is something one of my employees isn’t sure of, they call me immediately.”

Guinn also will pay for her employees to earn pet nutrition certification themselves, either through the program she attended or another that they agree upon. They simply must commit to working at a Dog Krazy location for two years after graduation.

“If it helps our customers and benefits our stores, I’m all for it.”

Nancy Guinn has been helping customers discover the best products for their pets since opening her first store in 2006.

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Do It Yourself: Choose the Right Program

  • Find a program that meets your needs both as a student and as a business owner.
  • Tout the certification on your website and ask customers to spread the word.
  • Partner with a local vet to ensure referrals during your studies and after.
  • Hold classes led by you as well as trusted pet food brand representatives.
  • Walk the walk: Through trials, Guinn found kangaroo was the best protein for her dog.

 

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 Sitter Offers In-Home Hospice Care to Dogs with Terminal Illnesses

In the final weeks of a pet’s life, they may have special needs.

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IN THE FINAL WEEKS of a pet’s life, they may have special needs. Their people also may need help. Those living in Chicago, IL, can turn to the hospice services provided by Rover-Time Dog Walking & Pet Sitting.

THE IDEA

Assist with end-of-life care, provide support. Julia Rohan founded Rover-Time in 2012, and soon she met the dog who would inspire her to offer hospice services. Cujo the Pit Bull was an existing client when diagnosed with terminal cancer. His humans worked long hours.

“They were the first to ask if I could help in this way,” Rohan recalls. “They wanted to do right by their dog.”

She spent middays with Cujo, giving him meds, taking short walks and providing company.

“All of the things a pet parent would do for their dying cat or dog if they could stay home and away from their normal life.”

Rohan always handled Cujo with care.

“As they are dying, animals can get snippy. I read his body language and made sure not to overstep. We had peaceful visits that left him feeling content.”

They also gave Cujo’s family peace of mind.

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“Many people fear coming home to a dead pet. Having someone there a good chunk of the afternoon helps them walk through the door at the end of a workday.”

Hospice became a permanent addition to Rover-Time’s services after Cujo passed.

Julia Rohan

THE EXECUTION

DIY and multitask. Clients in need of hospice services meet with Rohan to go over their situation and to customize care. She handles all of these assignments herself, as opposed to tasking one of Rover-Time’s 15 employees, for multiple reasons.

Busy with operations, Rohan misses the hands-on work.

Also, she says, “It’s a wonderful gift” to be able to support pets during this stage of their lives and their people.

Rohan can multitask during the visits as well. She typically spends several hours at a client’s home, the majority of time simply sitting with the dog or cat and working on her laptop.

“It’s not as labor-intensive as it might seem,” Rohan says, pointing out that client communication makes up the bulk of the work. “During that first conversation, I create a safe place for them to share what they need, how I can provide comfort to everyone, and then I ride those ups and downs with them until they make the difficult decision to help their pet cross over.”

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Rover-Time hospice services cost $35 to $50 per hour, with a $25 new client fee if warranted.

THE RESULTS

Positive word of mouth, client retention. Rohan may see only four to five hospice clients a year, but the impact on her business is significant.

“I see the bigger picture. Walking with the customer through this process, building intimacy over time, saying goodbye. Showing that I care and that the loss impacts me creates a brand ambassador who speaks very highly of Rover-Time’s purpose and pride in what we do at all stages of a pet’s life.”

Clients often return to Rohan when they bring a new dog or cat into their home. Cujo’s owners now entrust Rover-Time with their their current pups, Lulu and Tator Tot.

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Best of the Best

Meet the Reptiles: A 2-Day Event Introduces Customers to New Types of Pets

It aims to change people’s misperceptions about reptiles.

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REPTILES CALL 4.5 MILLION U.S. households home, according to the 2019-2020 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey. Feeders Supply aims to up that number with its annual Exotic Reptile Show and Tail.

THE IDEAEducate & Entertain

“Owning a reptile can seem intimidating. Many people have the perception that they are scary or can be challenging to care for,” Amanda Lambert, public relations and marketing strategist for the stores, says.

“Talking about these misperceptions spurred the idea to do an event with Exo Terra,” a brand Feeders Supply carries. “It would allow customers to see reptiles up close and ask questions.”

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The first Exotic Reptile Show and Tail took place at the Louisville, KY, location in September 2018. It hosted again this year, with the Jeffersonville, IN, store also getting in on the fun.

THE EXECUTIONPlan, Partner & Promote

Lambert chose the two locations because they are 25 miles apart, and each has an event space. She asked Steve Sotelo, a reptile specialist with Exo Terra, to plan the program and bring a variety of species. Lambert posted event listings on social media and sent press releases to local newspapers and TV and radio stations.

The second annual Exotic Reptile Show and Tail took place on a Saturday in September in Louisville and on the following day in Jeffersonville. During the two hours, Sotelo introduced attendees to a ball python, Parson’s chameleon, blood-red bearded dragon, Malaysian horned frog and red-footed tortoise, among others. He talked about their origins, life cycle and care in captivity, and answered questions about them. Attendees could even hold certain reptiles.

Lambert and another corporate staffer were on hand to manage the event and hand out free Exo Terra backpacks and lanyards.

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THE RESULTS Media Coverage, New Customers

Lambert and Sotelo appeared in a segment on the local ABC affiliate, which helped draw more than 75 people to the events.

“We were pleasantly surprised at how many parents brought their children,” she says, adding that families left with an interest in owning a reptile.

To give them time to discuss adopting a new pet, Feeders Supply ran its 50-percent-off reptiles sale with purchase of a terrarium kit for nine days at all of its locations.

The stores also gained new customers within the existing reptile community.

“A lot of people brought their own pets, ball pythons, several bearded dragons. Reptile people loved it. It was a chance for them to show off their scaly family member and for people not be freaked out,” Lambert says. “And it was a chance for us to provide an experience that can’t be had elsewhere, to let them know we carry reptiles and supplies and have knowledgeable, trained staff.”

Do It Yourself: 5 Steps to a Reptile Event

  • Partner with a brand that has an education program, so you can bring in species different than those customers can see anytime at your store. For example, Feeders Supply sells bearded dragons, geckos, turtles and other reptiles, but not snakes.
  • If you don’t have an event space, considering holding a reptile event off-site. Lambert suggests setting up chairs to keep attendees from getting too close to the presenter and pets before the designated touch time.
  • Promote to the media. They love critter stories!
  • Invite local reptile enthusiasts to attend and bring their pets.
  • Run any sales long enough to give attendees time to think about adding a reptile to their family. Follow up with sale details.

 

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Best of the Best

A Day Care That Offers Dogs Hikes and Swims in the Ocean

It’s adventure time!

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CERTAIN DOGS DON’T do well in day care. Andrea Servadio, CEO and co-founder of Fitdog in Santa Monica, CA, explains: “They need more activity or different mental stimulation, or they get overwhelmed in larger play groups.”
Or all of the above. To give such pups the best possible care and a fun-filled outlet for their energy, Fitdog offers Adventure Classes.

THE IDEA

Fun-filled alternatives. Two types of classes are available: Canyon Hikes and Beach Excursions. Three hikes, 4 to 6 miles each, happen every weekday in the Santa Monica Mountains. Dogs get to explore the trail, stopping mid-hike for a break.
Fitdog offers one trip to Huntington Dog Beach every weekday.

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“The dogs who know how to swim go out into the ocean,” Servadio says. “The ones not fond of the water stay in the shallow end, digging and playing fetch.”

Pups come from seven neighborhoods with pickup and drop-off included in the cost. Hikes are $40, and beach trips are $49. Staff-to-dog ratio runs one to six.

THE EXECUTION

Coordination and expertise. Pet parents whose dogs have met behavioral requirements can book Adventure Classes through the Fitdog app. Reservations go to the Sports Coordinator, who groups dogs geographically and by activity level, then chooses appropriate trails.

A Sports Leader picks up the pups between 8 and 10 a.m. in a company van. Servadio uses the fleet-management system Samsara to create efficient routes and to maximize safety, the latter as it monitors driver speed and phone usage. The system also gives location information.

“We can update pet parents in real time, ‘The van is only 15 minutes away,’“ Servadio explains.

Once at the destination, dogs approved for off-leash fun are given that freedom. Otherwise they stay on leash with the Sports Leader or assistant. Drop-offs happen between 1 and 3 p.m., with notes and photos from the day arriving soon after.

Sports Leader Scott Korchinski gets ready to lead pups on a canyon hike.

THE RESULTS

Happier dogs, more bookings. Adventure Classes give pups the opportunity to expend both physical and mental energy, and to socialize with a small group of dogs in a fun setting.

“Once people start incorporating these types of activities into their dog’s schedule, they become addicted because their dogs are a lot happier,” Servadio says. “By doing something a little bit different, mixing up their routine, it makes time in day care a lot better.”

The classes have grown to 18 percent of the overall Fitdog revenue since being introduced in 2015. In addition to having a positive impact on day care bookings, they also lead to training referrals.

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“If a dog is pulling on a hike constantly or not responding to their name or reactive to other dogs on the trail, we recommend that the owner take some of our training classes. Approximately 25 percent of dogs in training classes were referred from Adventure Classes.”

Do It Yourself: 5 Steps to Adventure Classes

  • Survey dog-friendly recreational areas nearby and determine which are good fits for your business.
  • Draw up procedures, agreements and waivers that cover all aspects of travel and activities.
  • Purchase dog-friendly transportation and a fleet-management system.
  • Dedicate and train staff accordingly. Fitdog assistants spend two months with a leader and must pass a practical exam before they get promoted.
  • Create a supplies kit for classes that includes water bottles and a first aid kit, plus protective gear such as paw wax.

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