After working in sales for several decades, Daniel Simms was tired of the grind. He decided during Christmas 2016 to start looking for his next gig. Knowing Simms and his wife owned a home in Long Island with ample outdoor space, friends suggested he try dog-sitting on a site called DogVacay, which was bought out by Rover in 2017.
"We love dogs and we had lost our final dog, Brodie, who was a beagle, about eight months prior to that," he says, "and it just seemed like something I should try." Business quickly picked up, and "I would say by about May, I was more than covering the mortgage on the house," he says.
These days, Simms, 61, and his wife, Denise, can pull in between $5,000 and $9,000 per month from their business. A typical day includes three day-care puppies and 3-to-5 overnight boarders. Simms foresees continuing the business "forever," he says: "I love what I'm doing."
Here's how he was able to grow his doggie day care.
Upon starting his doggie day care, Simms decided to be proactive about marketing. He printed out 1,000 business cards and "I literally went door to door to speak to vets that didn't do boarding, groomers, and wedding planners, travel agencies," he says, "and I was greeted so warmly by everybody."
He told businesses about his new venture and offered 15 to 20 cards for them to pass out to interested parties. "More often than not they would say, 'I get asked about this all the time, a reputable person to watch dogs,'" he says. "'Give me more cards.'"
The Simmses made photo albums of their dog "customers" to show prospective clients. After putting together the first album, Simms made another round of business visits to show how the day care had grown, "and [business owners] would say, 'Oh, I've given your card out a lot. Give me another 25 to 40 cards.'"
These days, the Simmses' services include $45 per day for day care, $55 for an overnight stay, and $20 to $40 for baths. Simms will also travel to pet owners' homes to do walks for $30 to $40.
Their prices have increased over the years. When Simms first signed up for DogVacay, "I really wanted to get to 25 five-star reviews right away," he says. "So our first year our prices were about half of what they are now."
As customers began coming in, Simms encouraged them to write a review of their service on the site. "And now, five years later, we've gotten 258 five-star reviews in a row," he says. The initially low prices and online reviews helped to beef up their customer base and enabled them to raise prices eventually.
Denise works from home for a medical device company, and the two split the daily dog-care duties. "Our first day-care dogs show up weekdays as early as 6:15 a.m. So I do all the greetings," he says. Denise does the morning feedings.
During the day, "I spend as much time outside in the back with them making sure that the right combinations of dogs are playing with each other," he says. Simms will take any dogs out for a walk if their owner requests it.
He's usually the one to bring the dogs to their owners when they leave between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., and Denise does the evening feedings as well.
"The business would be a lot smaller if I did over 90% of it," he says. But the two of them together can bring in that $5,000 to $9,000 per month "if we both pitch in."
At this point, they don't intend to scale up further. "If anything, we'd like to ramp down our business a little bit," he says. "We have plenty of referrals."
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