Just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA’s digital magazine for pet care services professionals. Read the current issue online here.
IBPSA advisory board member Alex McKinnon examines Social Pet Hotel & Daycare’s formula for success. The North Carolina pet care business with locations in Pineville and Charlotte, one of the most competitive markets in the U.S., was founded by Amy and Bill Hillis who have built a team that in just five years has taken them to annual revenues over $2 million and an EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, Depreciation, and amortization) margin of 29%. If you have a love for pets and have or are planning on having a values-based business in pet care that can create multigenerational wealth, you can learn a lot from Social Pet’s success. This is a case study of how they achieved this success based almost entirely on creating a unique and rewarding culture. Amy and Bill shared their formula with Alex as they believe they have a responsibility to help others, especially when this helps more dogs to live more fulfilling lives.
To start with, the founders have a personal purpose of helping others. This is central to their company’s ”why” which is: “We exist to enrich the lives of dogs and the relationships they share with those who love them.” With these personalities and values, it’s not surprising that their stated roles and goal for Social Pet are: “Make the world a better place for all. Work on the business, and not in the business.”
They also believe that, starting at the top, people should be humble and put others and their needs first. A key complement to this is to focus on accountability and results. In other words, Amy and Bill practice servant leadership which has been shown to work well in many industries.
Learning opportunity: Have you defined your company’s culture based on a shared vision, mission, purpose, and values? Defining culture is not big company jargon; rather, it is the critical cornerstone of growth in many businesses, most of which start out small.
The culture at Social Pet points to a very specific set of priorities which are:
Learning opportunity: Now might be the best time to revisit your services, offerings, and pricing. Why? To be able to work on the business, instead of in the business, you are going to need to differentiate your business and charge more for superior experiences, so that you can fund the staff to grow and allow you to lead vs. manage the day to day.
As people are truly their top priority, all Social Pet staff receive compelling benefits. New staff are assigned mentors for their first 60 days. They are also cross-trained to develop mutual skills which are transportable. All have career paths, including a dog track and a people track. Staff who remain 60 to 90+ days are eligible for hourly bonuses and an occupancy bonus.
All full-time staff receive these benefits: $1,200 annual education reimbursement, CPR and first aid certification, paid time off accrual plan, medical benefits, vision, dental, and 401K.
As Social Pet’s Spa Coordinator Megan so proudly says: “Countless amounts of effort go into the personal and professional development and retention of each member of the Social Pet team. When you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers, which in our case happens to be both two and four legged.”
Learning opportunity: If you are new to people plans, perhaps the hardest part is getting started. If you haven’t done it yet, you could begin the ongoing process of asking your employees and customers what is most important and starting there with what you can afford for now and continue to build the offerings as you grow.
PET GUEST EXPERIENCE DIFFERENTIATION
One of Bill and Amy’s biggest priorities is to help to build industry-wide awareness of how important it is to understand the differences in dog behavior, and how to customize services to achieve better success. Also, they believe it is key to educate people as to what options are available, including their focus on the pet/human relationship/bond and personalized care, because one size does not fit all, and how these differences in care impact pet health, well-being, safety and cost of care.
Social Pet always begins their relationships by identifying each dog’s individual personality traits, prior experiences, behavior, and athleticism to create an individualized plan. Enrichment programs will continue to differentiate their brand.
As Adrianne, their Enrichment Coordinator, says: “We take pride in tailoring the needs of not only the dogs but parents as well. With this in mind it is our mission to provide dogs with the adequate exercise, socialization skills, and proper rest to create a happy healthy pet.”
Learning opportunity: If you offer daycare and are struggling to grow your business, you might consider migrating your business to what The Dog Gurus call Daycare 2.0. This means more customization focused on the individual needs of the dogs. This can actually lead you to be able to charge a lot more for the services which can yield more revenue with fewer dogs, meaning more revenue for less work.
Key to their success thus far and ongoing is Social Pet’s collaboration with industry partners. The Dog Gurus assist them with dog behavior and pet parent educational tools. Social Pet is a proud member of IBPSA and leverages many of their educational programs, especially with pet parents. Professional Animal Care Certification (PACCC) training and certification is also an important part of their staff retention and development initiatives. Paramount Success Group has continued to provide great guidance and plans in the areas of sales and customer service.
Learning opportunity: Through their online member dashboard, IBPSA members have access to industry vendors offering services to help more profitably grow your pet care services business. Focusing on these partners’ value-added contributions could significantly improve your business results.
Social Pet operates in one of the country’s most competitive markets in Charlotte, North Carolina, where there are close to 100 pet boarding facility offerings in the greater metro area, comprised of about 800,000 humans. Nevertheless, they believe that healthy competition is good for everyone, and there is more than enough business for all. Furthermore, based on their research and findings, Social Pet charges the highest prices in the market. How are they successful with this pricing strategy? Social Pet focuses exclusively on delighting their pet guests and clients, delivering a superior and differentiated experience, and in doing so delivering a better value than anyone else. They do not focus on price, and do not worry about what other facilities are charging.
Here are some nuggets of wisdom from Amy and Bill: “Company culture must become your number one priority only surpassed by managing cash flow. Cash is king, and no vision can be realized without the money to take care of your people, the facility, and reinvestment to achieve company goals. Now, get out of the way, and let your people execute so you can move onto the next challenge. Your job, as owner of the company, is to manage cash flow and to ensure your services remain relevant in the future.”
Learning opportunity: If you only have one take away from this case study, you should very carefully examine and, if necessary, consider changing your services offerings to customized/differentiated approaches so that you can charge the best possible price to generate the largest gross margins. It is only through high gross margins that you are going to have the cash to grow your business, enjoy the ride by working on the business, and potentially sell to a third party or transfer to a family member at the highest possible valuation.
Perhaps the best part of Social Pet’s success formula based on culture is that it is truly scalable. Again, they don’t work in the business, they work on the business. They have already opened a second location, and each location has its own manager who is delivering not only continued growth, but also rising profit margins. Social Pet has defined their branding and experience so that it is transferable not only across employees, but also locations.
To further build their business they continue to add key additional staff members. Importantly, they are also investing in a strong social media program led by a new internal employee to ensure they maintain control over the brand and its message. Both Bill and Amy continue to help the industry where they can, and both give and receive many innovation ideas through their extensive network of industry friends. Given their accomplishments to date, the culture and team they have built, their future looks exceptionally bright.
If you have questions for Bill or Amy Hillis, feel free to reach out to them through their website at https://SocialPetHotel.com.
FOR MORE PET CARE BUSINESS INSPIRATION —> Be sure to join us for the 2019 Pet Care Services Educational Conference & Trade Show. Details at petcareconference.com.
Alex McKinnon is an accomplished brand builder via leadership in innovation and teamwork driving significant business growth. Currently Alex is Founder and CEO of Kinn, Inc., a Member of IBPSA’s Advisory Board, a Fear Free Certified Professional, and a Member of the Board of Directors of the Charlotte Symphony. He has 30 years of increasing responsibility in general management, brand marketing, and design/product development senior leadership roles with Kinn, Gillette, Braun, Bell Sports, Sara Lee, Sylvan Learning Center, Hampton Products International and TopicalNet based in USA, Spain, Germany, and Scandinavia. He has an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in Marketing-Finance-International Business, and a BA from Duke University in History and Spanish.