My husband and I have two adorable kids. One is 7, and one is 18 months old. They both have beautiful blonde/brown hair, brown eyes, large ears, a pointy nose, and four feet. Ok, so they’re not exactly “people,” but our fur babies are as close to children as we have in our house right now. Izzy and Bear, our two German Shepherds, are our “kids,” so we take care of them with the same level of care and concern as many do with their own offspring.
We aren’t alone. According to CNBC, pet owners in 2020 spent a record-high $99 billion on all things pets. Undoubtedly, spending was on the rise last year because more Americans were around their pets more often due to the pandemic. Pet adoption numbers rose as well. Which makes sense. If you’re forced to quarantine at home, why not have a snuggly furball to keep you company?
My husband and I have always been dog lovers. And since we’ve known each other, we have had at least one, but typically two dogs at a time. While we love our pups dearly, it does become a challenge when we both want an “adult-only” vacation.
As a result, vacations typically center around places we can drive, so we can bring them. Or, when we’ve had the opportunity to go somewhere a little more exotic, we’ve been lucky family or friends have volunteered to babysit. However, we know that one day we may need to look into alternatives. Family and friends have their own agendas and come to think of it, we do have a European cruise planned for next year (fingers crossed!)
I decided it was time to explore alternatives. Both of our dogs have a bit of separation anxiety, especially outside of their everyday environments, which could pose a challenge taking them to a boarding facility. The idea of having someone come to the house was a better fit, yet one that was a little scary to me. Furthermore, I didn’t know where to start. One Google search, on “Tampa pet sitting”, could drive someone mad! Luckily, a friend of mine, Dayal Santosuosso, owns South Tampa Dog Walking. So, I decided to call her up to learn more about her business and see if she had any tips as I started the interviewing process.
Scroll down for my interview with Dayal…
When was your business started, and why?
I was at a crossroads in my life where I had to decide if I would move or remain in Tampa. I had another job as a yoga instructor at the time, but because of my love for dogs, I was always asked to take care of or walk my friend’s dogs when they were unable to. Word of mouth led to more interest, so I decided to start a business. We have been open for 12 years now, and have 10 awesome people on our team!
Do you have a business background? What steps did you take when starting your business?
No! No formal business skills. My background is in education and health & nutrition. So I didn’t know what steps to take or where to start. I started by securing a domain name that I thought people would type into a search engine when looking for someone to walk their dogs. I lived in South Tampa and was able to secure South Tampa Dog Walking as the URL. Next, I hired someone with SEO (search engine optimization) skills, who helped me design and build a site that fit my brand, and was easy to find and navigate when making a google search.
Other than organic searches, how do people find your business?
In the beginning, it took a LOT of networking (pre-pandemic, of course). Just because you have a website that’s optimized and search engine friendly doesn’t mean you’ll immediately have clients knocking on your door. So I had to hit the pavement to promote. I attended networking events, passed out flyers, visited places like veterinarian offices, pet centers, etc., to see if I could leave promotional materials or meet and greet individuals who might spread the word.
What do you think sets your business apart from other Tampa pet walking/Tampa pet sitting businesses?
First and foremost, we know every client’s and every dog’s personality. Not only are we able to match the perfect pet walker on my team with a dog, but there’s a trust built among our business and our clients. We have a customer base of over 210 clients, and we know each and every fur baby and its owners. All of our team is thoroughly background checked. We pride ourselves on superior customer service, and our clients recognize and reward us for it. We’ve been nominated for Best of the Bay for over 10 years & South Tampa Magazine best of 2021.
We want our clients to know their pups are in the best and capable hands possible when they’re not with them. So we make sure to document all of our walks by texting our photos during our visits. Most companies do this, but we take things a step further by building pet photo collages, using several different multimedia apps to do fun videos. We are always posting them on our Facebook and Instagram pages to share the fun with the community. Clients absolutely love getting pics of the furbabies & seeing how much fun they have while in our care. We also make a point to support other small local businesses in the area. We do this by helping rescue organizations spread the word when pets need homes or create fundraisers for pets in need.
I also think our hiring process is unique. Because this is a 9-5 job, 365 days of the year, we only service South Tampa to keep things within a particular area for travel time & familiarity of location. Dogs require numerous walks throughout the day, at various times, so we only hire people that live within a 5-mile radius of our business location. Reliability is mandatory with us. We don’t want to miss an appointment because of traffic or car trouble. We also only hire staff who can commit to employment for at least a year. We’re creating relationships with our customers and their pets, so we want to provide them with as much consistency as possible. Finally, besides passing a background check, all of our employees must have 1-2 years of experience caring for animals. They also must have a reliable car, a smartphone, savvy in using phone apps, and taking photos.
I love your business philosophy, and it seems to work! What advice would you give to me as I’m starting to look and interview pet sitters?
Always look at reviews. And go beyond just a Yelp or Google search. Apps like Next Door, Facebook local groups, Reddit, etc., can offer some great advice. Post a question and see what your neighborhood peers suggest. Then do your own homework after.
To me, finding a company that’s licensed, bonded, and insured is a must. It’s an expensive process to file the paperwork and keep it up-to-date, which shows me that it is dedicated to its customers and its own business.
I also think it’s wise to find a company with more than one person on their team. What if you’re halfway across the country and the only person available gets sick? It’s nice to have a backup plan.
Always do a meet and greet with the pet sitter and your dog. In fact, it’s best to have a few sessions with that person, as it may take a few times for the dog to get familiar with and trust a new person coming into your home. For nervous dogs or dogs with separation anxiety, this can help to alleviate some of this tension.
Don’t be upset if the dog walker, or pet sitter, says they don’t think they’re a good fit for the job. Our employees need to be just as safe as your pet while you’re away. Sometimes personalities don’t match. Depending on how many people are on that companies team, they may set up another meet and greet, or you may have to look for another company. Comfortability and safety should always be first both for employees and for you and your pet.
Finally, how have things been since the pandemic?
Everything pretty much came to a halt once everyone was forced to work from home, and no traveling was allowed. It was terrifying for a while. However, we have such a fantastic base of clients. Once things settled a bit and my business was still slow, they quickly rebooked appointments to ensure we stayed alive. They knew that once things got back to “normal” and returned to work, they would need our services just like before. So, even though they were working at home, they resumed their previous schedules.
We always take necessary precautions and follow all the CDC guidelines. We wear facemasks, frequently sanitize, and ask dog owners to leave their pets in the backyard for pickup. Or set up specific protocols with each individual client so we can get them without physical interaction.
We are so thankful for their support and truly value each and everyone that has helped us remain open!
South Tampa Dog Walking is located at 5406 South Sellas Street, Tampa, Florida 33611, and is owned by Dayal Santosuosso. They serve customers within a 5-mile radius of that location only. Their hours are Monday – Sunday, 8am – 8pm. For more information or inquiries, please visit their website at https://southtampadogwalking.com/.
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