Building Your Dog Training Business Through Other Pet-Related Sources

Saturday, January 30, 2010 : 12:38:57 PM
In earlier editions of this newsletter as well as in Off Lead Magazine (2005), I wrote several articles on how dog trainers can build their business through ďotherĒ sources. At that time I focused on doggie day care and animal shelters. In this article, I want to touch on an often overlooked source, boarding kennels.

Boarding kennels and dog trainers have worked well for generations. Yet often when I visit boarding kennels and inquire if they have relationships with trainers, I am surprised to find many donít. This is unfortunate as trainers have the ability to offer boarding kennels a potential source of new clients. Referring these people to a reputable boarding kennel will certainly be beneficial to that organization. Conversely boarding kennels will hopefully refer their clientele to you.

Reciprocal referral relationships:
To establish a reciprocal referral relationship with a kennel several things have to happen. First, research the reputability of the boarding kennel you wish to establish a relationship with. Check with the Better Business Bureau. Visit the kennel and ask for a tour. Are the runs well kept and clean? Does the facility seem well managed? Do the employees seem interested in their work? Remember, your reputation is on the line whenever you refer your students to another business. Is this a place you would board your dog? Assuming the answer is yes, find out if they recommend any trainers. If they do, are they satisfied with who they recommend? Would they be open to giving their customers a choice of trainers? Do they need anything? For example: Some boarding kennels like being able to distribute simple problem solving tips. Still others might be receptive to a problem solving clinic. These techniques have been discussed in the ABC curriculum. They are often effective in helping trainers establish relationships with veterinarians, pet stores and doggie day care facilities. They can also be effective with boarding kennels as well. Itís also a good idea to put some sort of a sticker or identifying mark on your brochures or business cards so that a potential client can help you identify where they got your card from. This is important since youíll want to acknowledge a boarding kennelís referrals to you with a thank you at the very least.

Be prepared to actively recommend the boarding kennel of your choice to your students. If possible, try to work out some sort of discount in which your students receive a small reduction in boarding price if they inform the boarding kennel that you referred them. Even as little as a dollar per day may be popular with your students thus motivating them to remember who referred them to the kennel. Itís important for the boarding kennel to feel as though you are following through with your promise to make recommendations. Iíve known trainers who wound up losing relationships with businesses because those businesses werenít aware the trainer was sending people their way. Incentivizing people with discounts is an effective way to address this challenge.




Group Classes:
Aside from a reciprocal referral relationship, several other relationships are possible. Many trainers have serious location challenges that prevent them from being able to teach group classes on a regular basis. Often boarding kennels have the space necessary to conduct classes. Many boarding kennels have room outside and some even have indoor square footage sufficient enough to conduct year round classes. If a boarding kennel has the kind of space necessary to teach group classes and you need a location, clearly the kennel is an organization you need to work with. Of course the big question is, whatís in it for the kennel? There are numerous answers to that.

You can offer all kennel employees free admission to your classes so they can train their own dogs at no cost. You can also consider offering a discount to all customers of the kennel wishing to take your group class. You can offer to distribute discount coupons for boarding to all class members since many or even most of them may not be customers of the kennel, yet. Many kennels will be satisfied with this. Some may not be.

Some kennels may want a piece of your action. You may consider this, but do it carefully. Some trainers will pay a boarding kennel between $5 to $15 for every paying student in the class. Personally, if I must pay a kennel a percentage of each studentís tuition, I prefer an approach in which the kennel receives more when they refer the student. For example: I might offer a kennel $7 for every paying student in my class unless the student comes as a direct referral of the boarding kennelís recommendation, in which case Iíll pay the kennel $12. This type of an approach will sometimes motivate a kennel to more actively refer new students. Some kennels donít want to be bothered and simply request a usage fee. This is not an unreasonable request assuming the fee is not exorbitant. $50 to $150 for each class series (please note: not individual class sessions) is fair and might represent enough additional income for the kennel that theyíll happily support your classes. Boarding kennels that sell supplies such as leashes and collars will likely see an increase in these sales, although youíll want to make sure your classes are scheduled at times when the kennel is open for retail sales. Remember that a group class of involved dog owners with discretionary income consists of exactly the kind of people that a boarding kennel wants and needs for their clients. This means your willingness to conduct a dog obedience training class at a boarding kennel is a benefit for that kennel.


Private training programs:
Aside from reciprocal referrals and group classes, trainers should also consider private boarding programs. Hereís how it works. A customer of the boarding kennel leaves town and boards their dog for two or three weeks. Would such a person be interested in their dog receiving obedience training while theyíre away and the dog is in kennel? Depending on the length of time the dog is boarded plus the discretionary income/desires of the client, the answer is yes! This means very lucrative boarding/training programs can be set up with a cooperating kennel.

Iíve worked with boarding kennels in which I offered one, two and three week programs. In these courses, I trained the dog four or five times a week in kennel and then scheduled anywhere between two to five handling lessons with the owners once they returned. These programs cost a minimum of $500 to a maximum of several thousand dollars. In some areas you may be able to charge more, in others less. At its peak, my company was generating five or six in kennel programs every month (from one kennel). I paid the kennel 10% of the cost of the program, which represented hundreds of dollars a month in revenue to them for simply referring their already existing clients. I couldíve done this in half a dozen other kennels had I wanted to.

A word of caution about these types of programs. Your students need to be very clear that most behavior problems cannot be effectively addressed in a boarding kennel. For example: stopping a dog from digging in the yard, jumping on family members, chewing the couch, housebreaking, etc. These challenges must be addressed at home with the owner taking part. Whatís more, while you can certainly teach a dog to respond to obedience cues to you, only the owner can insure such response to them. This may sound obvious to a trainer, but it needs to be covered in your contract with anyone taking this type of program. Although I donít want to generalize, it has been my experience that often times when a training program costs more, the expectations of the owners also increase. Iíve known hundreds and hundreds of dog owners that had no problem spending thousands of dollars to get their dogs trained provided I did all the work. As any good trainer knows, thatís simply not a realistic equation.

Be clear with the owners, do a great job training, establish fair partnerships with organizations like boarding kennels and the rewards will surely follow.

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