On-demand Dog Walkers: How You Can Compete

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While I am a co-founder here at Scout, I am also a professional dog walker. I walk dogs almost every day. I love walking and playing with dogs. Like many of you, I see what's happening with on-demand dog walkers and pet sitters, and I see that it's making the whole industry nervous. If you want to scale your business to compete for those clients, you'll need a dog walking app.

The Current Dog Walking Landscape

The pet services industry is huge. Americans spend over 5 Billion dollars a year on services for their pets. What may be surprising is that until recently no company has more than a 1% share of the market. It's completely dominated by small business owners. This, however, is starting to change. It's no surprise that companies are raising huge amounts of money and trying to gain control of this market.  I got involved with Scout because I really believe that local, professional pet sitters, who own their own businesses, are better for our pets and communities than any on-demand dog walkers and pet sitters.

On-demand Dog Walkers are Disrupting the Industry

There are a million and one industries being infiltrated by tech companies, leaving small business owners in their wake. Uber and Lyft are disrupting the taxi industry; Airbnb is giving the hotel industry a run for their money, and now companies like Wag and Rover are entering the pet industry. If you look at all of these case studies, the common denominator is convenience. Each one of these companies carries a higher perceived risk than their traditional counterpart. Uber and Lyft are basically high-tech hitchhiking. Airbnb lets you invite a stranger into your home, or lets you sleep in complete stranger's home. People are using these services because they are really convenient. The main purpose of technology is scalability. On-demand dog walkers are leveraging their technology to reduce prices. In our industry, time is money! Think about all the time you spend scheduling an appointment, invoicing, collecting money and communicating with your customers. This is the time you or a dog walking manager could spend completing services, marketing, hiring, and training staff. The more appointments you can manage, the lower your per-appointment expenses, meaning the lower you can price your services. If you want to compete in the new economy and grow your business beyond "old school" pet owners, you're going to need to provide a reasonable level of convenience to both the pet owners and yourself. Here are 3 ways software provides convenience to pet owners and helps you stay above the competition.

1. Easy, Accurate Scheduling

Convenience starts with simplifying the purchasing experience. For pet parents, that's requesting, changing and canceling appointments. Back and forth emails and text messages are problematic for everyone. It adds a layer of complexity for your customers and increases the time you spend coordinating appointments. What sounds easier from yours and your customer's perspective? If you're trying to grow your business, would you rather:

  1. Get a new appointment alert, check availability, and tap a button to approve, or
  2. Review and read through your texts and emails, decipher a written request with multiple dates and times, ask for clarification, add the information to your calendar, then email a comprehensive confirmation back to the customer.

If you're a pet owner with a hectic work schedule, would you rather:

  1. Pick up your phone, tap a button, fill out a short form, and receive confirmation that you're scheduled, or
  2. Type out and an email or text, wait for a response, clarify your original email, wait for confirmation and hope it actually got scheduled.

Applications like Scout streamline this process. We've designed a method to help pet owners make accurate requests and receive immediate feedback so they know the approval process is underway.  Managers simply need to check availability and approve the appointment. Final confirmations are sent automatically and customers can see their appointment status in the app at all times. It's a win-win situation for both business owners and their clients.

2. Improved Communication

If your experience is anything like mine, communicating effectively with people is difficult. I used to receive all sorts of jacked-up emails."I need someone from next Thursday through the following Sunday." The End. In my head I'm saying to myself, "Today is Thursday, so does that mean this coming Thursday or the one after, and which Sunday is the following Sunday, if it was next Sunday would he have just said till Sunday'?. What time did he say? Oh, he didn't!"Does this sound familiar? For customers, it's much easier for someone to fill out a form with real dates, times and required fields than to write an email explaining everything they want. As a business manager, it's much easier to read a standardized form than a freeform email. Reading an email, translating it to a calendar and drafting a confirmation takes a lot of effort. Wouldn't you rather see the request already in a calendar and know right away if your company has availability? At Scout, we give managers the option to approve or deny an appointment with the click of a button. If you approve it, the customer gets a clear, concise and instant confirmation. If you deny the request, you can type a note to the client letting them know you're not available what the issue is.  It only takes a few seconds to process requests and to communicate with a customer. This saves a lot of valuable time a manager could be using more productively.

3. Automated Billing

For a busy customer, keeping track of who you owe money to is not easy. Pet sitters have to walk the line of either being annoying or not following up enough to actually get paid. This is a real problem if you are trying to stay in business or grow your company. The number one reason businesses fail is that they run out of cash. You can provide the greatest service on planet Earth, but if you can't make payroll or pay your bills on time, you won't get very far. Your staff will expect to be paid even if your clients haven't. The industry standard for electronic payment is $0.30 + 2.9%. On a fifty dollar invoice (my company's average weekly invoice amount) that's only forty-three cents to make sure I can pay my staff and my bills on time. Forty-three cents to avoid running after a client to collect money. Forty-three cents and after a service is completed, I never spend a second to even think about getting paid. Attracting a younger, more tech-savvy client base is necessary if you want to compete with on-demand dog walkers and pet sitters. Even older customers are becoming comfortable using apps. My dad is 70+ years old and controls everything from his thermostat to his security system from an app. Using technology is all about removing barriers in the sales process. If you want to attract pet parents who are considering on-demand dog walkers, make it easy for them to choose you!

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