Ugh. Keys are the worst. They literally keep me up at night. Did all the keys get returned? Did the pet owner test the keys before giving them to us? There are a million things that can go wrong. We try to get two sets of keys from the pet owner, but it doesn't always work out that way. Chasing down keys is my least favorite activity. Mistakes get expensive quickly. Key management is an important skill for any dog walker or pet sitter.
Over the years, I've put some procedures in place to limit key issues:
Secure keys with a code
Pet owners are putting a lot of trust in their pet sitters. Giving you their pet and keys to their home is a big deal. Making sure their keys are secure is important. Accidents happen, and keys get can get lost. A simple key code will prevent an outsider from identifying the home if keys are misplaced.
Walk It Like A Dog uses a simple numbering system starting with 1 and working our way up. The little colored plastic tags work great. I hand-write the next number in the sequence on the tag and enter that number into Scout to link it to the customer. Scout also allows for entering lockbox codes. When a key code or lockbox code is entered, dog walkers and pet sitters can view the code and look up any additional entry instructions.
Never Lock a Door From the Inside
This is the best dog walking advice that anyone ever gave me. In most cases, if you only use the keys to lock the door, there is no chance of locking yourself out of a home. The last place you want to find yourself is locked outside in the middle of an appointment. There are extenuating circumstances such as doors that lock automatically. No matter how careful you are, accidents happen.
Have a Locksmith on Speed Dial
I gotta guy. He knows I own a dog walking company, and he will open any door I ask him to. I have a section in my contract that authorizes me to call a locksmith even if I cannot get a hold of the owner. I don't like to leave anything to chance. If it's the pet owners fault (ex: they didn't check the keys), we charge them. If it's one of my walker's fault, I eat the bill. No matter what, their pet gets cared for.
Invest in A Key Cutting Machine
I bought a key cutting machine and it's one of my favorite tools. Although I do ask for two sets of keys, I usually only get one. Since my clients drop them off when I'm not at the office or home, in some cases I end up finding out that they only provided one set. Inevitably, this will be the house one of my walkers gets locked out of. To make it easier, I bought a used key cutting machine. Mine was a couple of hundred dollars used. It's not the best machine, but since I only make a few keys every week, it gets the job done. A new machine will cost about $750.00.
Keys are difficult to manage and as your dog walking company grows, it only gets more difficult. Mistakes happen and you don't want to be left out in the cold (or heat). Make sure you have a system in place to help you provide security and a backup plan in case you find yourself locked out.
We would love to hear what you do to manage keys! Let us know in the comments.