I've been reluctant to share my thoughts on the on-demand trend in the pet sitting and dog walking apps that are the sudden rage but after seeing more and more negative press I felt a need to share my thoughts.
We started out pet sitting and dog walking for a company in Northern Virginia. For the most part we were on our own and I am certain there are people not unlike us working for the on demand services but when you hire one of them it is the luck of the draw and simply do a Google search for Rover or Wag, go to the news section, and you will be greeted with all kinds of horror stories ranging from dog walkers and pet sitters not showing up all the way to dogs that were lost or worse. My favorite is this one where a lady found a man's wallet in her bed. I guess the on demand dog walker decided to take a nap and found her bed to be just right.
With the pet industry becoming a billion dollar industry over the past couple years it shouldn't be surprising that Silicon Valley has jumped into the game, but look at what has happened to the pet food industry and the amount of recalls that are happening at an alarming rate. When it comes to the care of your pet you should research everything and be informed. We like to think that we provide the highest level of care to the pets that are entrusted to us as if they were our own. We feel our background speaks for itself and that our passion is for the care of the animals but not everyone feels that way.
The biggest problem with on-demand pet sitting and dog walking services is there are no checks and balances. One of our priorities in running our business is infrastructure. Part of our expansion strategy is to promote sitters to area managers and eventually we will be managing the managers who are managing the sitters but the sitters will always have an experienced, knowledgeable person to call upon if they get into trouble. Who are the on-demand sitters going to call? An app producer in California? How will that help when they're walking a dog in Virginia Beach?
We have sitters on our staff that aren't as experienced as us but when they have run into trouble they have given us a call. One time a sitter was having trouble giving a dog his pills while on a pet sitting visit and called me. Since we are local I was able to drive to the client's house and assist my sitter in pilling the dog and show her a trick or two for future reference but a California tech company would lack this ability.
One of the main tenants of a successful business model is to let the system do the work. Set up a system that is so strong that a minimal amount of skill is required to run it. McDonald's is often used as the most successful example of this. All McDonald's franchises are essentially the same and offer the same quality of food and experience. What Rover and Wag are attempting to do is bring the McDonald's philosophy of hiring cheap, unskilled labor and using it in the pet industry to care for your pets and that is my issue with them. This is neither good for the pets or the pet owners.
I'll share something with you here that might or might not surprise you. Our advertising budget is very low and I struggle to stay under it. On the other hand the on demand services have investments in the hundreds of millions of dollars burning holes in their pockets. They can spread the word far more effectively as we can and there truly is no advocacy group for professional pet sitters. Educating the general public is then the responsibility of each individual pet sitting company and adding that to the number of task a small business owner faces can be overwhelming to many.
I have directed much of my digital marketing towards education and advocacy for the industry but we are just one small pet sitting and dog walking company in Virginia Beach. There is little we can do except to wait for the storm to pass and I believe it will pass. People are not dumb and pet sitters and dog walkers are not taxi drivers. Few people build a personal relationship with their taxi drivers which gave Uber a great opportunity to sweep in and build an app based ride sharing business but pet sitting and dog walking is very different. We are a personal services company and we build relationships with our clients and their pets while providing them in home pet care.
Taking a personal services company, turning it into a money generating app, hiring unskilled labor, and setting them loose on people's pets is a fire that will burn out. The degree that people will tolerate a sacrifice in quality for the sake of convenience is a small one and every pet lost or worse is another step closer to that fire burning out. At some point the negative press will outweigh their own advertising budget but for the time being we cannot wait around for that to happen and today was as good as any to share my thoughts on the on demand pet sitting and dog walking services.
If you would like to talk with a professional pet sitter or dog walker we are happy to answer any questions you might have.