Posted by The San Francisco Dog Walker
Let’s face it, we all look at YELP when we are looking to do business with an unknown firm. I know I do it every time, just to see what others say about them. I recognize that most of us view YELP as an encyclopedia and make our decisions based on what others say. I know I use YELP especially when I am curious to find out if they have any bad reviews, how many, and how important or believable are the claims.
When I started my business over 10 years ago, I really had no intention of growing into a large enterprise, even though this concept seems to be the all American Dream. When I would have doubts as to whether or not I was going down the right path, I would moan that it seemed like my competitors were doing really well with a more profit driven business model, and my sister would remind me that this is not a race to the finish line, but rather, that I was creating something that I could be proud of and it is commendable to not follow the herd. Having the courage to use my brain power to design the critical concepts of my business model instead of being driven by what the competition is doing, was an important component to my confidence as a business leader and to my future success. By staying small, I could offer a higher quality service, which would be driven and shaped by my ethics, not my desire to be a successful business entrepreneur.
It seems funny to say this now, but I have had only 8-20 customers over the last 10 years, while other successful dog walking businesses have had hundreds of customers. The reason I have survived, even with so many fewer clients than my competitors is because I do not have a high customer turn-over rate. Most of my clients have been with me 10+ years and that is why I have only a few reviews on YELP and GOOGLE. I don’t have a lot of clients, but if you look at it from a different perspective, that can be a good thing! It’s not quantity, it’s quality!!
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So, what is so important about being such a small sized company?
Well, for one thing, I give my San Francisco client’s more personalized service. They feel very important and they are very important to me. I treat my clients vey well and that is why they have stayed with me for many years. For example, at the end of every year, I give my clients a beautiful, professionally published photo book with their dog’s picture playing with their friends at the park or beach. Do the large companies do this for their clients? Probably not or probably not for very long. It is expensive to do this and it eats into the profits. In order for it to work for them, they will have to walk even more dogs everyday. Many dog walkers feel that this business is already a burn out for them with the number of dogs they have to walk every day, and it is for most. If you do the profit model, you need to charge less than your competitors, walk more dogs to make up for the loss and enjoy making yourself crazy.
As I mentioned in one of my other blog posts, I go out of my way to provide the best possible service for my clients, but it is a subtle thing. For example, I use only rubber ball on my dog walks. These rubber balls save your dog’s teeth. Regular tennis ball are like Brillo Pads and wear down your dog’s teeth quickly, causing problems later in life when the their teeth are completely filed down. And on a regular basis, your dogs lose these costly balls at the park, but I replace them because I care about your dogs. Other dog walkers tell me that they don’t use balls out in the dog parks because it causes problems, such a jealousy between dogs, loud barking of joy, and oh yes, loss of income. But why do they think that a dog’s joyful, loud bark is not an important factor? Just how horrible is a dog’s bark at a dog park?
Ask your San Francisco dog walker if they use rubber balls rather than tennis balls on their walks? My guess is, no, they do not. Again, it is the bottom line that shapes their businesses.
So then, why do I think that some of the very best dog walking companies may not be surfacing to the top of YELP’s list? The answer is, the algorithms. Let me talk more about this in my next blog. Stay tuned!!