For 26-year old William Pitcher caring for his families Golden Retrievers was an integral part of his household responsibilities growing up, so a love of dogs was a natural evolution. After attending New York University, he decided to take a risk and buy a franchise. Fetch! Pet Care is the nation’s largest pet sitting and dog walking franchise. Fetch! comes to your house to take care of any pet while its owners are away on travel or at work.
YOUNG MONEY: Why did you decide to buy a franchise?
WILLIAM PITCHER: I get a nonsensical number of business and entrepreneur magazines and rarely have time to read most of them. Fortuitously, one day I happened to be perusing an article about low-initial cost, high-potential return franchises. Sure enough, Fetch! Pet Care was highlighted in the article and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Here was an industry in which I already had experience, and Fetch! Pet Care applied formalized structure and a proven business model to it. I also liked the idea of national brand recognition, which has positive influence on some prospective clients. More or less, if one follows the recipe, the cake will be good.
YM: Can you tell us about what makes owning a franchise different?
WP: There are both upsides and downsides to owning any business, and a franchise is no different. Corporate support, national advertising and brand recognition are all great assets to success, but at the same time, one has to essentially pay someone for a good idea in light of royalties. On the one hand, one does not have to do much thinking to get the business to work as the business plan is laid out by corporate step-by-step. On the other, that same hand-holding can feel restrictive at times, but fortunately Fetch! Pet Care has not been suffocating. Owning a franchise is almost robotic in nature, but that being said, a little personality plus a tried business model is pretty much a sure thing.
YM: Why did you decide on this particular franchise?
WP: Fetch! Pet Care as a franchise is attractive for many reasons, especially the low investment cost. At the time I bought into Fetch! Pet Care, it was very inexpensive relative to the value. The company is still a new franchise which intrinsically appeals to me as both an entrepreneur and young man. Riding the highs and the lows is an exciting experience and I am generally of the thought that something is only worth doing if one can learn from it.
I am certain that Fetch! Pet Care corporate is learning as much from us franchisees as we are learning from corporate – and that idea sits well with me. The company strongly encourages inter-franchise communication and collaboration, which I like, as well as offering comprehensive franchisee support. The franchise is very active in establishing corporate partnerships, which draws thousands of new potential clients and works nicely for symbiotic marketing.
YM: Where did you get the funding for your business or franchise?
WP: From the first quarter I earned running a corner lemonade stand, I have been a saver. My mom raised me on a relatively meager salary relative to where we lived, so she always stressed the importance of financial prudence and preparedness. I am not a man of vice, so that math was favorable also.
YM: What was the hardest thing you encountered while starting your business?
WP: I had already been randomly pet/house sitting for several years prior to opening the franchise, so the usual hardship of finding and retaining clients was greatly alleviated by incorporating my existing clients into the franchise framework. However, I would say that the greatest difficulty I encountered was skepticism based mostly on superficial qualities. For one, I am younger than what many people expect of an average business owner. I frequently sport a mohawk and five o’clock shadow. In this day and age, one might think that the days of judging a book by its cover are long over, but social conventions endure. No matter, I let my quality of service and reliability do the talking.
YM: What surprised you the most?
WP: The level of corporate involvement surprised me most. Not to say that I expected management to fall off the face of the earth as soon as they received their franchise fee, but I was not anticipating the regular, weekly-scheduled webinars and teleconferences. I have also been impressed with how quickly the company as a whole has grown.
YM: What would you do differently?
WP: When I first opened the business, I was doing most of the walks and jobs both for quality control purposes and to recover my initial investment as quickly as possible. FPC corporate recommends that franchisees have an established network of reliable sitters prior to opening, and looking back I can easily understand why. While I was able to do everything exactly my way and I did make my start-up money back in less than six months, it was difficult to do both the actual work and run the business from a logistical standpoint. Also, and this is a double-edged sword, some of my clients became attached to me and were not entirely open to a new sitter caring for their pets. While I was flattered and happy to know my clients were so satisfied, that business model is not practical and stretches much too thinly my managerial capabilities.
YM: How do you get your name out there and get customers? What has been your most effective marketing technique or tactic?
WP: The bar-none best marketing I have had has also been the simplest: word-of-mouth. I do have Google AdWords up and running, and that does a great job for generating hits, but nothing beats my clients’ words. It is safe to say that most people trust their friends, family and neighbors more than faceless, two-dimensional search results, so client testimonials and references are as good as it gets. Otherwise, in addition to Google, we have done a couple local events at pet stores, dog shows and adoption days where we hand out all kinds of promotional swag, and who doesn’t like free stuff?
YM: What effect has the recession had on your business?
WP: The recession has surprisingly had more of a positive than negative effect on my business. Pets these days are considered family members, so generally speaking people are unwilling to give up their animals even under financial strain. That being said, many people are working longer hours at work, taking second jobs or in some cases their spouses are going back to work, so actually, I have seen an increase in business with some clients. Of course, I do what I do to earn a living, but at the same time, I understand that times are tough for everybody, and I do offer my own discount structure for duration of service, multiple weekly and daily walks.
YM: If you could offer one piece of concrete advice to other people, what would it be?
WP: Well I could recite any number of ubiquitous proverbs that apply to my personal experience, but please take my words with a grain of salt, as I do not have a family to support. At the end of the day, one’s happiness is the only thing that truly matters, so let the naysayers keep their two cents. I had plenty of people questioning my rationality when I started the business, but I have generally found that the people who have the most to say are often the most fearful of failure. Naturally, there is risk inherent to any business, but one cannot succeed if they do not try. At the core of the matter, one has already succeeded if they genuinely enjoy what they are doing, so anything beyond that is simply an added bonus. Passion and happiness always equate success by my measure.
YM: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
WP: Never dismiss an idea as irrelevant, stranger things have made money.