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Need Staff for Your Pet Care Business? Think Outside the Box

Need Staff? Think Outside the Box  is 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. AND staffing and staff issues will be tackled in sessions at the upcoming IBPSA conference. Learn more and register at petcareconference.com.

By Jamie Migdal

Hiring Staff. Ah, two of the dirtiest words on the planet, especially for pet business owners. (And we deal with lots of poop every day, so we know a little something-something about dirty words.)

As I have said in just about every conference workshop I’ve given in the last five years, finding staff is the #1 pain point in the pet industry. (Following closely on its heels as pain point #1.5 is training staff, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Back in the good old days, when I started Out-U-Go, my first pet care company, it seemed that every pet business in a given region passed the same employees around as they graduated from school, had kids, got divorced, became actors, etc. I had any number of staff members rotate through Out-U-Go several times over the years while I was the owner; I’m still friends with quite a few of them.

But the 90s was a long time ago, and many pet care businesses today have been dealing with the onset and culture of the gig economy, for better or for worse. The competition for experienced pet staff can be fierce and utterly frustrating if you’re trying to grow your business. And that’s why, when a pet business owner comes to me for staffing help, my advice is to not worry about finding Experienced Dog Walkers or Long-Time Pet Sitters.

My advice is to cast your net away from traditional pet care hiring channels and look for people who have experience in other service industries.

So where do you start that process?

Keep your culture transparent. Visiting a company’s website is often a candidate’s first step in researching an organization prior to applying. Differentiate yours by providing an authentic look into culture, core values, and history. Highlight open positions and the information candidates care about most – hours, potential career paths, pay structure, and/or stability – to drive interest and applications.

 Let’s talk about getting the word out. Think about the specific nature of the job that you’re hiring for, and drill down to the basics. Are you looking for someone to drive your pet taxi? Search for bus drivers, van drivers from the local nursing homes, or pizza delivery drivers. You can train them on the basics of animal handling pretty quickly, but you can’t train them to be comfortable or adept behind the wheel of a minivan without a logging a lot of actual road time.

Now, think about your dog walkers. The most basic requirement for dog walkers isn’t a love for dogs – it’s responsibility + good mobility. Search for nannies, kindergarten assistants, physical therapists, wait staff, former military, and even mail carriers. If you offer dog running services, look for students on the track team at the local community college, or marathoners-in-training from the local running club.

What about in-home pet sitters? The first person I’d want to interview for an overnight pet sitting position is someone who has worked in home health care. They’re well-versed in taking care of homes and are used to paying close attention to their human clients; these are great qualities for any pet care professional to have.

In addition to looking beyond the purely pet-centric employment pool, it can pay off quite handsomely to look outside of the typical pet care provider age range. Based on my own experience, pet sitters and dog walkers tend to be people in their twenties. This makes a lot of sense, because few pet sitting jobs are full time, and college or graduate students need flexible hours. But my favorite demographic for just about any pet care job is 45+. I’ve met so many talented, responsible, and all-around fantastic employees who are mid-life career changers or retirees that it kind of surprises me that this demographic isn’t more actively courted for pet care positions. Think about it – their kids are grown, they’ve got decades of work experience under their belt, and, for the most part, they have crazy-good life management skills. And most people in that age bracket who want to work with pets have already had pets themselves. Effectively, they’ll be pre-trained on important essentials on Day One.

In addition to traditional channels (Indeed, Hireology, Craigslist, Facebook, and other social media outlets) don’t forget to take a look at sites such as Care.com, SitterCity, or even Harri. And don’t forget to look at on demand pet services platforms; lots of people who sign up for these sites (pet-centric or otherwise) would love to have regular work with a great company. Leaving business cards with your Lyft or Uber driver isn’t a bad strategy, either; use your 15-minute ride as a preliminary interview. And if your driver isn’t interested, I bet he or she will know someone who is.

Hot tip #1. If your neighborhood has a large rescue or municipal shelter, pay them a few visits and talk to the volunteers. You can even ask them to put some of your business cards in the staff lunchroom or volunteer lounge. This can be a very fertile staff acquisition tactic, and you’ll be getting people who already know how to handle animals (and pick up poop).

Hot tip #2. Military family members! If you are near a base, they are full of talent. Go now!

What are your favorite hiring hotspots? Let me know at jamie@fetchfind.com.

About Jamie Migdal

Jamie Migdal, CPDT-KA and CEO of FetchFind, has been innovating within the pet industry for nearly 25 years. She is an expert in all aspects of the pet industry, including education, technology, business development, sales, marketing, and management. Her fourth company, FetchFind, provides staff training/business solutions to pet care service companies around the globe.