Most dog walking and doggy daycare/boarding companies hire young, relatively inexperienced employees so they can pay them $10-$12/hr. We offer slightly more at $13/hr, but I would not say we have attracted a significant higher quality of employee as a result. Here are the issues that have the potential of creating risk for poor safety and customer service in our business:
Forgetfulness of critical details: There are a lot of safety procedures we put in place to avoid risks and they are all critical to remember. For example, forgetting that one dog doesn’t like another dog and accidentally letting them near each other unrestrained could cause a dog fight.
Unhealthy attitudes about risk: Adrenaline seekers are too comfortable with risks and get into situations where a dog or person could be harmed because they love living on the edge. We are looking for those who aren’t paralyzed by risks, but also don’t seek out risky situations.
Lack of learning from mistakes: Employees need to be able to recognize when they made a mistake, feel appropriately upset by their mistake, but move on with determination to do better. When someone has anxiety about admitting a mistake or anger from receiving constructive criticism, this hinders them from learning from their mistakes.
Low empathy & impatience: Anyone working with animals needs to have a lot of empathy and patience so instead of getting upset about a bad behavior the handler is able to try to understand why the dog is doing the behavior and to look for solutions that don’t involve negative emotions. Honest and trustworthy people with a strong moral compass have high empathy, so it's a vital quality.
Poor health:. Low immune system function that causes people to get sick a lot, brain fog that keeps them from thinking clearly, poor physical endurance, etc are all much more common than you would think in the younger population. We need high physical stamina, emotional resilience, and mental clarity for our star applicants.
The quality of employee we attract at $13/hr makes more mistakes on the job, calls in sick more often, and quits after a shorter period of time. The cost is far more than $13/hr that we pay them. This business model for staff that involves low entry pay, low entry requirements, low training requirements, over staffing and under utilizing of employees has its benefits. You can have extra employees on call who can fill in when someone calls in sick or quits and that’s how the business is able to keep running smoothly. I haven’t over staffed/under utilized my employees on purpose because it forces employees to get second jobs and manage two schedules that are challenging to coordinate. This makes employees even less committed to their job. Many employers use this business model, including most businesses in our industry, but I think it is critically flawed because you aren’t able to attract the rare high quality employee who is going to be a superstar at everything they do and are committed to this job long-term. I have tried to solve the problem by spending more time assessing these qualities (I even have applicants take memory tests) and training my employees, but to no avail.
How can we attract quality employees without driving up our prices so high no one can afford our services? I think I’ve thought of a creative solution. We are going to open a school for young, aspiring dog trainers. Not only will that provide additional income, but we will have staff work for free as a part of their training. Instead of hiring a bunch of employees at $13/hr we will hire one dog trainer at $25/hr, who will supervise and train our students and they will work for free during their three month training. The top graduate will have a job guaranteed and they will be able to help train the next batch of students. This will keep prices affordable and make sure we always have the staff who are well trained and committed to the job.
I am writing a business plan and a curriculum and will be presenting a rough draft to business developers to try to raise capital for our startup costs. I am shooting for the beginning of next summer at a new location in South Anchorage.
With our current, flawed, business model, we will only be able to provide services as long as I happen to be able to find good employees at $13/hr. It’s very uncertain at this point, but as usual I have high hopes for the new employee who is moving up here to begin training in a couple weeks.