Offering boarding for dogs, cats or both can be a strategy to improve client engagement. Clea Sherman investigates how to do so successfully.
For many pet owners, the thought of going away and leaving their beloved fur baby behind is a struggle, let alone leaving it with someone they don’t know. In these circumstances, a stay with their local vet clinic may be the ideal solution. Fido (or Mittens) is already familiar with the staff and the premises, plus there is a vet on call around the clock, should something go wrong.
Offering boarding facilities at your practice can be a way to build on your service list and improve customer engagement. However, you need to weigh up the pros and cons first. Getting set up requires some investment and you need to make sure operating a moggy or doggy motel will provide financial benefits.
Yolanda Gerges provides management consulting to veterinary, dental and health practices through her business The Peak Performance Practice. “When deciding if you should offer a pet boarding service, there are two factors you should look at,” she advises.
The first is checking who else is providing a similar service within your area, not just vet clinics but also pet-sitters and pet ‘hotels’. If there is a surplus of services, your practice may struggle to find enough regular clients.
In this case, a partnership with a local provider may be a more sensible but don’t forget your due diligence. Thoroughly vet anyone you are going to partner with and get recommendations from your clients.
The decision to host pet sleepovers probably also rests ultimately with your clinic. “Sometimes practices will want to create extra revenue by adding services. Then they find that they are unprofitable because the owner hasn’t checked if they can facilitate this,” says Gerges.
Questions to ask before launching a pet boarding option for your clients include:
- Is the infrastructure in place to provide adequate service?
- Does your team have the skills and time required to support overnight stays while managing their day jobs
- Do you have enough regular clients in your database to warrant this offering?
- How will you promote the service and how much will it cost to do so?
“Before you go looking to make add-ons, ensure you have good client retention,” Gerges recommends. Her advice is to start with a business case and examine forecasted revenue, the expenses involved and estimated profit.
The cat’s pyjamas
Mona Vale Veterinary Hospital on Sydney’s Northern Beaches is a busy clinic which offers cat boarding and hosts up to 10 cats at a time.
“We provide a safe environment to look after pets while owners are away or on holiday,” says Charlotte Sykes, who is a veterinary nurse at the practice.
“We hope the boarding service promotes our veterinary hospital as meeting all their cat’s needs, thus ensuring return business from happy customers!”—Charlotte Sykes, vet nurse, Mona Vale Veterinary Hospital
Mona Vale Vet only provides cat boarding as the clinic is close to the suburb’s main street and does not have a lot of space. As Sykes explains, “Dogs need more room and attention so instead we recommend local dog boarding businesses and offer a pickup service.”
At Mona Vale Vet, cats who stay the night enjoy private quarters, a separate litter area and comfortable beds. Multi-levelled facilities give them room to move around and they have a covered outdoor space that provides fresh air during the day. “We have interchangeable cages which can be rearranged to cater to cats’ individual needs,” says Sykes.
Giving owners added peace of mind, the clinic has living quarters upstairs and a nurse ‘in residence’ who will drop by to check on the feline guests at night.
Offering cat boarding works for Mona Vale Vet because of the clinic’s good relationship with pets and their owners. If a cat is unwell, diabetic or a renal cat, the owners can be assured that it will get its medication from a trusted team while they are away.
Being well-located and having a steady flow of clients means Mona Vale Vet doesn’t need to put much effort into promoting their pet boarding service or charge super high rates. The standard cost for a one-night stay is under $30 but the clinic gets return on investment by taking the opportunity to offer a comprehensive care bundle. Boarding kitties have to be up to date with vaccinations before they stay, plus the clinic recommends wellness checks, parasite prevention, nutritional products and other merchandise when their owners drop them off.
As Sykes explains: “We hope the boarding service promotes our veterinary hospital as meeting all their cat’s needs, thus ensuring return business from happy customers!”
Hosting dogs overnight can present further challenges at your vet clinic.
Based in Perth, Dr Liam Brown owns The Vet Connection in East Fremantle. “Not many inner-city practices provide dog boarding because these animals require so much more attention than cats, plus they can be noisier,” says Dr Brown, whose practice is focused on the care of cats and dogs.
If you are thinking of offering a dog boarding service at your practice, “Consider how much space you will need and the cost of rent,” says Dr Brown. “You will have to have separate accommodation for dogs and cats in addition to your wards for unwell animals. Would there be a more financially rewarding purpose for these areas, like using them for another consulting room or for grooming?”
This kind of service also means more responsibility for the staff who have to walk and care for them. “Even if you are not open on Sunday, you will have to pay someone to look after the animals so keep this in mind,” recommends Dr Brown.
If you do want to provide dog boarding, you have to ensure it competes with local kennels. “At these facilities, dogs are walked at least twice a day and some even provide dedicated handlers,” says Dr Brown, “Vets can find it hard to provide the same experience, especially for big dogs who need exercise, environmental enrichment and interaction.”
Offering overnight boarding for pets has the potential to boost your income but in terms of effort and profit, the equation tends to favour cats over dogs. Before going ahead with this service, the most important thing is to be confident it will pay off, increasing not only client satisfaction but also your bottom line.