How to Start a Pet Boarding Business

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The pet industry is booming and busy pet owners needing care for their pets when they travel. Starting a pet boarding business can allow you to build a profitable operation while helping pet owners to ensure their pets are happy and safe when they aren’t home. If you love working with cats, dogs, and other pets and have experience in pet care and handling, then this business might be a great opportunity for you. But while caring for pets for a living might sound like an ideal business venture, it’s important to understand everything that goes into starting and running a pet boarding business.

Business Overview

Pet boarding businesses provide attentive care for pets while their owners aren’t able to care for them. Pet owners put their pets into boarding while they’re traveling, often for work or while on a vacation. In most cases, boarding facilities mainly care for cats and dogs, but some facilities may offer care for small animals, too. These services may be just for overnight, while extended stays can last for weeks or months. Boarding on weekends and holidays is often in high demand.

A pet boarding business needs to be designed to be a pet’s home away from home. This includes having appropriate kennels for different types of pets, as well as an outdoor space where dogs can exercise. Boarding business owners or staff care for pets multiple times a day and need to be skilled enough to handle pets with different temperaments and training.

Industry Summary

According to IBIS World, the pet boarding industry underwent significant growth from 2014 through 2019. During that five-year period, the industry experienced a 6.2 percent growth, and the number of businesses increased to 123,900. Industry employment also grew to 218,674, and the industry was predicted to bring in $9 billion in revenue in 2019. 

This growth is driven in part by the increase in the number of pet owners in the country. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that in 2017-2018, 38.4 percent of households owned dogs, while 25.4 percent of households owned cats. That amounts to more than 48,000,000 households with dogs and over 31,000,000 households with cats. With pet ownership so popular in the United States, there’s an increased need for services like boarding. An increase in per capita disposable income from 2014 to 2019 also means that pet owners have more money to spend on luxuries, like vacations, which further increases pet boarding service needs.

Industry Trends

Many trends are shaping the pet boarding industry. According to Gingr, more and more pet owners are highly tech-savvy, so boarding businesses need to also embrace technology. Businesses can offer online reservations and can even install video cameras that stream footage to a website, so pet owners can see their pets even when they’re across the country. These little details can appeal to tech-savvy pet owners and set businesses apart from their competition.

The pet boarding industry can also take advantage of premium offerings to deliver pets and their owners truly unique, desirable service. Luxuries like extra-large kennels, furnishings that resemble the comforts you’d find in a house, and indulgences like special toys and gourmet treats all make a pet’s stay more enjoyable. These premium offerings create an upselling opportunity and can increase a business’ profits. When a boarding business offers these unique perks, pet owners may be more likely to use the business again in the future, which builds customer loyalty.

Who is the target market for a pet boarding business?

Most pet boarding businesses market toward pet owners who travel, whether that’s for work or for a vacation. The business model and any specializations will partially dictate the target market. Some facilities may specialize in dog boarding and market specifically toward dog owners, while others may market to only cat owners.

Skills, experience, and education useful in running a pet boarding business

A pet boarding business owner doesn’t need a business degree to start the business. But, certain skills and experiences can increase the chances of the business being successful.

Pet care knowledge. A business owner should be knowledgeable about how to care for the types of pets the business will be boarding. Experience handling those pets is valuable and will allow for better, safer care.

Pet first aid experience. Sometimes pets may need illness or injury treatment while in boarding. Formal pet CPR or pet first aid training and certification can help to train boarding business owners in how to handle emergencies and get pets the help they need.

Customer service skills. Great customer service will help a business to stand out. Business owners with customer service experience and talents can build customer loyalty.

Attention to detail. Attention to detail is so important in every element of this business, from giving pets their needed medications to making sure that a pet is acting normally. Business owners should be detail-oriented and involved in every aspect of the business.

Management experience. As a business grows, the owner may need to hire additional staff to help. Experience in hiring, training, and managing employees will be important.

Costs to Start a Pet Boarding Business

The cost to start a pet boarding business will depend on the business’ size and location. Smaller businesses can cost around $20,000 to start, while larger operations carry startup costs closer to $80,000 or higher depending on the facility cost.

Common startup costs for a pet boarding business include: 

  • Building renovation costs
  • Pet kennels and cages
  • Supplies like food bowls and cleaning supplies
  • Inventory like food, toys, and grooming products
  • Furniture for a waiting area and check-in desk
  • Signage

Steps to Starting a Pet Boarding Business

Step 1. Write your Business Plan

After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a business plan.  Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.

Related:
How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

Step 2. Form a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and LLC.  Each type of entity has its own pros and cons such as liability exposure, costs and administrative requirements. 

Related: Comparison of Business Entities

 Step 3. Select your Location

While most pet boarding business don’t necessarily require a prime, high-traffic location, it is usually important to be conveniently located close to clusters of neighborhoods.  The issue though is some communities have noise ordinances and opening a boarding facility in those communities can be challenging.

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 4. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

Most states have some sort of licensing for boarding facilities and are regulated under the state’s Department of Agriculture. In addition, some counties and cities will also have additional regulations and inspections in order to operate.

In addition there are some common local, state and federal registrations most businesses need which include a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number, and Occupancy Permit among others. 

Related: Common business licenses, permits and registrations by state

Step 5. Find Financing 

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a pet boarding business is another.  Funding to start a pet boarding business can be difficult.  In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs. 

Related: Finding the money to start a business  

Step 6. Get your Marketing Plan in Place

Good, ongoing marketing is essential to a pet boarding business’ success. Boarding facilities often use a variety of marketing techniques, like email marketing, social media marketing, print advertising, and direct mail to connect with potential customers. Customer loyalty and referral programs can also help to bring in new customers and to encourage returning customers.  Also, networking with local pet stores, veterinarians, pet walkers and groomers can be beneficial as a referral source for boarding.  Even networking with direct competitors who offer boarding can be beneficial as they can refer their customers to other facilities when they are fully booked. 

Marketing costs will vary depending on the type of marketing activity, but business owners can minimize marketing costs by doing some or all of the marketing on their own.

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Step 7. Get Insurance

 A pet boarding business will need several types of insurance for full coverage:

  • General liability insurance protects the business if a customer is ever injured while on the property, like if they slipped or fell.  
  • Commercial property insurance protects the business against the financial loss if its building and supplies were damaged or lost because of an event like a fire.
  • Worker’s compensation insurance helps to cover expenses like medical bills or lost wages if an employee is ever hurt while working. 
  • Cyber liability insurance helps to protect a business that accepts payments for boarding online. It can protect the business against lawsuits if the personal or financial information it collects on customers is ever hacked or jeopardized.

Insurance policy costs will vary depending on factors like the business’ location, the number and type of pets that it cares for, and the number of employees that are on staff. To get the most accurate understanding of what insurance may cost, request quotes from multiple insurance providers. When comparing the quotes, pay attention to variables like coverage limits and exclusions, premiums, and deductibles. 

Step 8. Hiring Employees

While a business owner may be able to initially run a small pet boarding facility, as that business grows, it will be time to hire additional help. Payscale reports that kennel managers earn an average of $34,454 per year. According to Glassdoor, kennel attendants earn an average of $22,980 per year.

In addition to budgeting for employee salaries, a business will also need to budget for expenses like workman’s comp insurance, paid time off, and health insurance contributions. 

Related: Hiring your first employee


Amazon has several books that go into detail on starting and running a pet boarding business:


How much can you potentially make owning a pet boarding business? 

The revenue of a pet boarding business will depend on many factors, like the business’ location, the number of years it’s been operating, and its profit margins. According to PayScale, dog kennel owners make an average of $50,868 per year, though that income ranges from as low as $20,000 to as high as $122,000.

Things to consider before starting a pet boarding business

Pet owners can get anxious when their pet’s care and safety is involved, and you’ll likely face many unusual requests that go beyond your typical standard of care. Make sure that you have policies in place for these extra requests, so that if you do honor them, you can fulfill them.

Good policies will go a long way toward keeping the business running smoothly. Consider your vaccine and health requirements for pets, and outline these in writing when you first open your business. This is also the time to outline action that will be taken if a pet has a medical emergency, as well as to establish relationships with local vets who are willing to work with your business.

Owning a boarding facility often means not taking off for popular holidays as that is when kennels are typically at full capacity.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break for local schools and summers are the peak for seasonality. 

While pet boarding on its own can be a profitable business, many boarding facilities offer additional services that can increase profits. Services like nail trims, grooming, training, and more aren’t only convenient for pet owners, but can make for valuable upselling opportunities. Additional options include offering extra playtime sessions, special treats, and organic grooming products – all of which can increase your profits from a single pet’s stay. Some boarding facilities also branch out into pet daycare. While it may be tempting to offer many different services, it’s best to keep things smaller and more manageable as you start. Choose the top few services that you feel will most appeal to your audience, then grow from there.

Resources:
International Boarding & Pet Services Association
Outstanding Pet Care and Pet Care Services Association