How to Market and Grow a Family Run Doggy Daycare Business, with Sarah Stevens of k9Adventures
Discover how missing a family holiday in the Maldives convinced Sarah Stevens she needed to change how to run her daycare.
Click below to watch a short, inspiring interview with Sarah Stevens and Dom Hodgson...
Full Transcript Below
Dom: I am here with the doggy daycare superhero herself, Sarah Stevens. Sarah, quickly tell everybody who you are, what you do, how long you've been in business.
Sarah: Hi, Dom and everyone. So I'm Sarah Stevens. I run K9 Adventures in Ruislip. We do a dog walks, and daycare, home boarding, and then we also do dog training as well. So, a bit of everything.
Dom: And how long have you been going?
Sarah: I've been going, coming up eight years now.
Dom: Eight years. Wow. And it's very much a family business, isn't it?
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. My husband Pete runs it with me, and then his daughter Jade, my stepdaughter, she is our a sort of second in command. And then my son Conner still works with us.
Dom: Brilliant. Yeah, and you have other staff as well. So how many all together?
Sarah: So we've got nine altogether now.
Dom: So it's quite quite an operation. People can go and check out the podcast if you want to get Sarah's full story, and I highly recommend that you do as well. I shall pop the link to that at the bottom, but tell us a bit about where the business was going when you started to look for help.
Was it around the time of the pandemic or was it just before then?
Sarah: It was the pandemic because we were closed for a bit, I actually had the time to sit back, re-evaluate and we were running around like headless chickens, crazy busy, I knew it needed to change, but it was struggling to find the time to even stop and look at it.
I joined your 33 ideas email, probably a good six months before that, maybe nine months, but I was just still busy on the hamster wheel to do anything about it.
Dom: So it was actually the pandemic that forced you to think, I want to get on top of this?
Sarah: Well, it was mainly the fact that I lost my passport...
Dom: That's right! Tell us the story.
Sarah: So I had my holiday for the Maldives booked and was busy running around working, trying to get everything organised so that I could go.
Yeah, so couldn't find my passport, four hours later, still couldn't find my passport, plane was about to go, so I actually bought a ticket for my daughter Jade and sent them on the plane with Pete as well. And they had a nice holiday while I had to work twice as hard because they'd both gone away.
And at that point I vowed we needed to do something different because if I didn't even have time to find my passport, then that was just crazy.
I kind of hit rock bottom a bit there... Not being able to go away. I think I was in a mindset of you just keep going and going, because you know you've got that break in mind and then because it didn't happen... Yeah, that was not good.
Dom: Real good point. Yeah, a lot of people come to me when they hit that kind of point, or when they can see it coming AND... A lot of people don't, and they may get to that point, they just keep going on this hamster wheel all the time, all the time, and you burn out.
We start a business for freedom really don't we? And then we end up... We can become trapped by it, can't we, as well?
Sarah: Yeah. And I am a real people pleaser, and I love being able to help them, it's really rewarding to be able to help them with their dogs, but I'm really bad at saying no. So I say since I've joined Platinum I've had to learn to put myself a bit more first, and have some more ground rules and yeah, just say no a bit more.
Dom: So you reached out for help then, and I think you might have joined a challenge or something, didn't you? And then bought a programme and then very quickly I think we did a call.
It's interesting Sarah, the first coaching call is key for both of us because obviously it's a good opportunity for you to just go, "Blah, this is what's going on with my business." For me, I'm just looking for the opportunities and I'm looking for the hidden money and I'm looking for, well, the easy wins as well.
And with you, I felt like there was loads.
Honestly, I was thinking, bloody hell, we need to do this. We've got this opportunity, we got this thing that can make you more money, you got all this fantastic business going on and all these ideas for other things that she needs to do. So it's like where to start first?
So that's when I think I suggested to you, "Look, you might want to think about Diamond or Platinum because your business is of a size where you have all these opportuntities and the extra help from me means... You're going to be able to see a return from it straight away."
When you've got a bigger pet business there's usually so many more opportunities to increase prices, and take back time isn't it? We can mprove the customer journey, and the profitablity all these things.
Sarah: I had a lot of changes I need to make, but also if I'm going to do something, I want to make sure I'm sort of all in doing it and doing it right, so that's why I thought, well, if I'm going to do it, I'm just going to yeah, go Platinum and get it sorted, get it better.
Dom: So what was that like for you then entering, because the family business and although everyone has their roles in your business... I feel like you're at the top with the decision making and the direction and the drive and everything else. How was that? Was it a scary process entering the coaching process? Or how were you feeling about it at the time? How was it at the start?
Sarah: Yeah, definitely scary because you kind of get stuck don't you? Sticky boots and you know you need to change, but you're almost too scared to put your prices up. What they're going to say? What people going to think? Or if I start what are people going to say? But then yeah, you just got to kind of brace yourself and do it.
Dom: I think it was definitely the right move for you. So I mean, I can remember we increase prices, we introduced upsells, we mapped out more of a customer journey haven't we?
So people come in for puppy daycare and then they go through the daycare. The lifetime customer value is massive. We got the dog training now, we've got the dog walking, you've tweaked and improved and implemented whole onboarding system for people.
Looking back now, what do you think biggest things that we've done have had the biggest effect on the business?
Sarah: Firstly prices. I knew they needed to go up and then that registered anyway so it just had to, I didn't have a choice. Upsells, definitely, and then... Because when in the pandemic, when I first put them out there and I had lots of people going, "Oh, that's brilliant. I love it." And yeah, it's nice feedback as well to get from them that they were really pleased about it. And even getting the newsletter, everyone loved.
Dom: Yeah your paper and ink marketing has been amazing. The signature system?
Sarah: The signature system was start really of systemizing all the processes because we had our operators manual, but that's very complex, that's more for sort of the management bit of the daycare. But even just coming up with a staff training manual, which is quite a long process, but that's good.
Recently the daily huddle that has been really good, because it's a meeting where you identify all those little things that are a constant little niggly problem, which is usually the odd dog you get the same thing come up over and over again.
Sarah: But then actually it's really nice because in that meeting we also say, you can see we they're getting better and you're getting the feedback, "Oh he was okay. He's doing really well." And that kind of really boosts the teams morale.
And especially when everyone says, "No, no everything's been fine. Just the odd little thing." And it just helps everybody feel a bit more like a team.
Dom: This was really important, wasn't it? Like you said, we did a lot of the immediate fixing, we did some comeback offers to get people to come back faster after the lockdown and stuff. We filled the daycare back up again, added the upsells and everything else.
And our next step really is to... Take you out of it, not out of it completely, but to a point where you can have your weekends away, you can head off in the camper van, you can do... Just have a day off even, go the spa or something. Or ride your horse or whatever the hell it is that you want to, that's what we're doing next, isn't it?
Sarah: Yeah, that's it. Because I'm getting there. I get the odd afternoon or the odd day and we've had the odd weekend away, but it's getting it to the point where that's actually in the diary, it's fixed, yeah, that's what happens first before anything else. that's what happens first before anything else. But yeah, it's getting there. It's just getting the right staff. I've got really good team now, but we are busy again and I am looking for that one more full-timer.
Dom: We almost have to be continually recruiting, don't we? We have to be continually having a waiting list of potential staff and having that backup in case someone leaves or someone doesn't work out or something else and that's what we've been tackling recently, isn't it?
Interesting you mentioned about you are taking more time for yourself, you've mentioned that a few times. That's a big thing that I wanted you to understand was you were in charge of the business, you were in control, you can do whatever we want to do. And you found that quite difficult, like you said, because you are people are pleaser.
You've mentioned this a few times in the Platinum calls as well, and in various correspondence that we've had, you mentioned mindset quite a lot. It's obviously something that we do a lot more of in the Diamond and Platinum groups, we work on the mindset, we work on you setting attainable goals and just feeling like you can build a business around the kind of life you want to have. How have you found that side of things?
Sarah: The 90 day goals are brilliant and the one year and five year goals, and it's just having that focus on what do I want?
But you got to keep reminding yourself of it every day, because otherwise you can say, "Right, I'm going to do that." And then you get busy and you can forget about it. And if you don't keep saying to yourself, no, that's what I need to do. No, that's what I need, and making them a priority then yes, it's quite easy to sort of get lost in it all again and get sucked into what all the other people want.
Dom: Good to recalibrate and just yeah, remind yourself, what do I want and why do I want it? How are you feeling about the business? What does Pete think and the team and stuff and in general?
Sarah: Yeah, good actually. I mean, we've got a lot stricter on payment terms and it's actually wheedled out a few time wasters... The price increase wheedled a out a few anyway. And I knew I sort of needed to cut loose a few people so it has done that, it's definitely raised the quality of the clients I've got and I'm much clearer on my rules with them as well so they know it.
And the team are definitely all more focused on what we're we are providing for the customer and what their roles are, so that's really good. I think we're all quite positive really because we are all sort of know where we are going and what we're aiming for with it.
Dom: You're right. I think we had a bit of a monster of a business that you were at the top of, but you were kind of getting pulled here, there and everywhere, and maybe you didn't feel fully in control, and maybe the business was running you.
I was thinking now, you're right, apart from the upsells and everything else, increasing profitability and this kind of thing, now we've got a situation where you're firmly in charge, you know what you want, you know where we're heading. Yeah, there's challenges with staffing and other things, along the way, but everybody's pulling together and now aren't they?
Everybody's focused on the same goals as what you are almost?
Sarah: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, and it is just more harmonious, everyone sort of pulls together, helps each other. And it's having those clear roles, isn't it? Whereas before it was like, well, we're all just sort of mucking and help and actually just making it, right, that's your job.
Having my business porocedures all documented so all the system's are in place just makes it all really clear, which is... It's great.
Dom: Brilliant stuff. Hey, thanks so much for coming on and sharing your story. Would you recommend the private coaching to people they're watching this? Doggy daycare owners like yourself?
Sarah: Yeah, definitely. If you've got a big business, then you need to change your the mindset from being a dog walker to a business owner and we've got a responsibility to the staff to run it properly and to the customers. So, you've kind of got to learn to change your focus on more long term and running it like a proper business.
So yeah, definitely because there's just so much to keep learning and doing. It's about the learning and improving yourself really.
Dom: And we haven't even touched upon with handling the money better, the savings, the other businesses that are starting to come about. You have ideas from this and other things you're exploring. So yeah, we'll get you on again to talk about that some of the time when we're a bit further down the road.
Dom: Thanks again. Where can people go to find out more about you and what you do?
Sarah: So my websites www.K9adventures.co.uk. Yeah, I'm on Instagram, Facebook, just search K9 Adventures Ruislip.
Dom: Brilliant. Sarah, thank you so much. And you guys watching this, if you're interested in coaching, if you run a daycare like Sarah, if it's a bigger more established business, but you feel like you are losing control of it, if you don't have systems, if it's not as profitable as you want it to be, if you are working too many hours, click on one of the links below and apply to join my private coach programmes and I'll help you fix it. Sarah, thanks so much.
Sarah: You're welcome. Thank you.
If you would like to join Sarah inside the Diamond Coaching Program, and get Dom's personal help with your pet business then click on the button below.