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The State of the Pet Care Services Industry

Guarding Our Professional Reputation: The State of the Pet Care Services Industry 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.

By Carmen Rustenbeck

During the 2012 election campaign, then President Obama, who faced candidate Mitt Romney, was interviewed by a local radio station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The first interview question posed was “red or green?” Initially, President Obama did not understand the question. But he was quickly informed by his staff what the question meant and he offered up an answer.

It seems his pre-interview prep neglected to prepare him for the great “red versus green” debate in the state. New Mexicans (and frequent visitors) can be quite passionate about their chili peppers. Some prefer the flavor of a red chili pepper while others will go down swinging for green. When he was finally clued in, Mr. Obama recalled he had once had green chili in Pueblo, Colorado, and enjoyed it very much. Colorado green chili? Those were fighting words in New Mexico, but the misstep was forgiven and the interviewers moved on.

What President Obama was not aware of, along with much of the rest of the world outside of New Mexico, was that a fight to ensure the quality and name of a particular green chili pepper grown in New Mexico was underway – a battle for the reputation of the legendary chili peppers grown in Hatch, New Mexico. As the popularity of Hatch chili peppers has grown in the United States, producers not located in Hatch, New Mexico, began growing similar peppers and branding them “Hatch”.

To protect their reputation, the Hatch pepper farmers formed an association that fought to have Hatch chili peppers acquire a third-party certification. The certification follows a pepper from harvesting in Hatch through to the final product. It does not matter if that ultimate product is a chili pepper dish at a restaurant or a canned chili pepper in the grocery store.

Why did these farmers have so much pepper passion? Because reputation matters. Real Hatch chili peppers have been grown in the Hatch Valley for generations. Grown from heritage seeds harvested in Hatch. If you see Hatch chili peppers in the market or on a menu, the members of this trade association wanted to make sure you, the consumer, are getting the best Hatch chili peppers possible.

Reputation matters.

Whether it is peppers or pets, reputation matters.

In the pet care services industry, we are following a similar path. Our industry, in general, is growing year after year with a slowdown not predicted until 2022. According to Sundale Research, in “2018, pet kennel/boarding expenditures are estimated to grow by 5.7% to $3.94 billion…From 2017 to 2022, pet kennel/boarding expenditures are expected to (have) grow(n) by an average of 5.1% per year, reaching $4.77 billion in 2022.”

In this year’s Annual Pet Care Services Financial Survey, conducted by Researchscape and sponsored by The Dog Gurus and IBPSA, we discovered that our participants are showing an increase in profit. Researchscape reported: “Pet-care businesses enjoyed higher levels of profitability in 2017 than in any of the three years prior…22% had net profitability of 31% or more, compared to 6% in 2016, 5% in 2015, and 12% in 2014.”

With all of this good news it seems that we should not be concerned as an industry. However, just like the Hatch chili pepper growers, our concern is not about industry growth but industry reputation. In recent years we have been challenged by technology startups such as Rover.com. These technology-based marketing companies have been able to sell the consumer the idea that boarding has very negative connotations and any caring pet parent would not put their pet in a “cage”.

This sharing economy, which I call the “urber-ization” of the industry, has identified with the on-demand consumer who is looking for instant answers to their needs. Need a pet sitter? Just log on to Rover.com, enter your city, and a selection of “pet care providers” will appear on the screen so there is no need to put your pet in a “cage”. As stated by DogVacay founder Aaron Hirschhorn in the March 2017 Inc. article, “How the ‘Airbnb for Pets’ Became a $70 Million Business”: “We started realizing that if we – who have no real experience – can do this, then pretty much anyone can”.

We pet care professionals, however, know the truth – it takes training, education, commitment, and hard work to provide quality care for pets. It doesn’t matter if care is provided in a facility environment or in a client’s home. The question we should ask ourselves is “what are our next steps as an industry to protect ourselves and extinguish myths and misinformation that are now affecting us?”

Association matters.

There are four actions that the Hatch growers took to help secure the future for their chili pepper farms: they formed an association; pursued a standard which brought third-party certification; asked for regulatory help; and disseminated truthful information.

Good news! We are already ahead of the game as we have several associations in our industry that can help pet care services providers: National Association of Professional Pet Sitters; Pet Sitters International; The Association of Professional Dog Trainers; and International Boarding & Pet Services Association.

Bad news? Our reputation is suffering. Recently, a member of an association posted that getting our industry to work together “is like herding cats.” This past year I have had many industry groups come to me and say that our industry is divided and fights against itself. With these types of comments coming from our own industry, how are we to come together as an industry? Work together to continue to build our professional reputation? Fight misinformation and include in that fight our response to undue legislation?

We start on this path by encouraging all pet care services providers to join IBPSA and other industry associations that serve the pet care services industry. The question you should ask yourself is how much are you willing to invest in your business to fight the naysayers in our industry? This investment is not just a financial one but also an investment of your time and expertise.

Any association’s first mission is to advocate for their industry. We here at IBPSA do this by providing access to education, certification programs, webinars, conferences, weekly newsfeeds, social media posts, the IBPSA blog, producing a quarterly magazine, and conducting nationwide interviews. IBPSA educates at the state legislature level when we hear of any legislative action. This legislative piece is an area where information is not readily available and we depend upon our members to notify us when legislation is happening in their area. In the United States alone, at one point in 2017, there were over 3,500 pieces of legislation for the pet industry at large according to the Animal Policy Group.

This year, IBPSA has assisted members with legislation in Virginia and South Carolina. In Virginia, House Bill (HB) 79 and HB 94 both had similar information in which regulation for dog daycares was being presented. IBPSA reached out to the committee chairs and shared with them industry standards and expressed our concern on the proposed legislation. In South Carolina, IBPSA supported the efforts of member Gray Moore and the local boarding community in stopping a state written third-party certification program in HB 3069.

However, even with our best efforts to keep up with legislation, IBPSA found out too late that Kentucky passed a tax bill (HB 366) which required boarding facilities and veterinarians to include a 6 percent tax on gross receipts effective July 1, 2018. According to Mark Cushing with the Animal Policy Group, this same type of tax has been defeated in Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Connecticut, Minnesota, and California. And, already, the fight has started again. In the state of Arizona, Proposition 126 proposes a similar sales tax on services.

The “I” in IBPSA is for international, so we look to our members everywhere to notify us when they are working through legislation in their countries. To that end, we were informed in September that there is pending legislative changes for the boarding industry in the United Kingdom. We will put forth our best efforts to help those industry members be prepared for changes that will come their way.

This is truly how an association works. IBPSA does not write letters or educational curriculum and impose it on our members or the industry. We ask for you to become an active part by giving of your time and knowledge so that we, together, can better the industry for everyone. We depend upon you, our members, and the industry at large to contact us so that we can partner with you in promoting best practices for our industry.

Education matters.

In that effort, on January 1, 2019, IBPSA will launch the fruits of its partnership with FetchFind to bring new educational programing to our members. As part of our new “Premium” membership, for a $100 flat fee, in addition to your regular membership fee, IBPSA members and their staff will have on-demand access to 100+ educational online programs.

 

IBPSA also offers certification programs to include Canine, Feline, Rabbit, Ferret, Avian, Guinea Pig, and soon we will add Reptile. On January 1, 2019, we will also offer package deals on our Species Certification Provider Level. Look for those deals to be advertised in the IBPSA member store.

Earlier this year, in Louisiana, a facility suffered an employee death. This death occurred when a dog attacked an employee during an overnight stay at the facility. IBPSA was made aware of this when we received a call from the OSHA inspector. One of the first questions the inspector asked of the facility owner was if they were a member of the industry association. Another question was how the owner trained the employees. The answers were, no, the facility did not belong to an association, and the facility only trained in-house with no formal training program.

As I spoke with the inspector I could hear his frustration with a needless death of an employee and the lack of oversight that was happening in the industry in that state. Industry standards were sent to OSHA and they have become part of OSHA’s resources in Louisiana.

IBPSA has begun to address risk management and safety issues in a facility environment with our Risk Management & Safety Facility Certification Program. You can learn more about this unique in the industry certification as we profile the program’s first recipient, South Tampa Pet Resort, in this issue of Pet Care Pro Quarterly.

Certification matters.

Our next opportunity to come together as an industry and improve our reputation is through third-party certification. Just as the Hatch chili growers needed standards to set them apart, so do we. The Professional Animal Care Certification Council (PACCC) called for industry experts to help build three levels of certification standards with exams that would demonstrate to the pet owner the proficiency level of a pet care services provider. Every pet care services provider who considers themselves a professional should seek to become PACCC certified. IBPSA is here to ensure that our educational programs help prepare you for this very important step to professionalism.

For certification inspiration, see the profile of Laura Schorrak in the Q2 2018 issue of Pet Care Pro Quarterly. Laura, the owner of The Dog Den and The Puppy Den and a founding member of IBPSA, has single handedly achieved the highest number of PACCC certified professionals at one company. We are thrilled to have Laura and her staff as part of the IBPSA family.

IBPSA is proud to provide educational materials needed to help our members prepare for these exams. We believe that the association and PACCC work seamlessly together to provide a standard of care for pets as well as management standards for pet care businesses. And PACCC is not the only other group IBPSA works with.

Collaboration matters.

This year we attended the North American Veterinary Community conference, VMX, as an exhibitor. Our mission was to reach out to veterinarians who were seeking to add auxiliary services (boarding, daycare, grooming, etc.) to their current businesses. It was one of the best conferences we have ever attended. In 2019, IBPSA will be back at VMX where I will be speaking several times on the trade show floor discussing IBPSA and what we can provide to veterinarians who are looking to add services. With 17,000 plus attendees expected it is sure be a great start to the year for our industry and association.

In February of this year we also attended the Texas Pet Sitters Conference. What a wonderful group of pet care services providers. It was also my first introduction to the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS). We look forward to working with NAPPS in 2019. The relationship between our two organizations only serves to move our industry forward as we collaborate together in building a strong professional reputation for the pet care industry.

Participation matters.

Now we come to our final action – marketing the truth about our industry. This takes all of us together not only advertising, but also blogging, sharing, and bragging about how our employees and facilities are meeting industry standards. Did you go to conference this year? If so, did you post on social media that you were attending an educational conference? Did you blog about the conference and what you learned? Did you share with your customers your experiences? Are you celebrating employees who complete education or receive third-party certification? Have you started turning your knowledge into educational short videos for your customer? Are you using every opportunity to show your industry knowledge and expertise?

One last thought: if you participate your influence will increase. By participating, your voice is heard and offers the opportunity to share with others in our industry. In return, your chance to learn from them increases exponentially. Let’s not be described as “herding cats” or a “divided industry”. Let us choose to make 2019 the year that we show the pet owner what a professional industry looks like.