Pet-sitting company turns to agents with strategic partnership

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Fetch Pet Care, a San Francisco-based pet-sitting service, is signing up travel agent affiliates to help grow a business that already counts franchised locations in 1,000 cities and towns in 28 states.

The goal, said founder and CEO Paul Mann, is to be "fully nationwide" within the next two years.

"We want to be the go-to service provider," he said.

According to its Web site, FetchPetCare.com, Fetch offers services that range from dog walking to visiting small pets at home (the sitter would visit for at least 30 minutes a day) to in-home, overnight sitting, where the Fetch rep would walk and play with the pet and perform "basic home maintenance" such as watering plants, bringing in the mail and making home security checks.

The company said it was "the largest pet-sitting and dog-walking franchise in the U.S."

The new travel agency partnerships are part of a broader strategy to form national and local relationships with a range of possible business sources, including veterinarians, pet stores and pet-friendly hotels and resorts, Mann said.

He said agency partners would fill out paperwork to establish that they were legitimate businesses and to enable Fetch Pet Care's computer system to flag relevant bookings for commission payments.

The company pays 10% for the first booking, and Mann said it didn't matter who booked the service, agent or client, or how, by phone or the Web. In all situations, he said, the booker would be asked the source of the sale, and the travel agency would be identified.

He said the company didn't routinely pay on further bookings by the same customer, in part due to the logistics challenge in continuing to link specific customers to their agencies.

Besides, he said, his expectation was that because 10% on pet care services didn't amount to a lot of money, most agents would rather do an initial referral and then turn their attention to the bigger and more rewarding parts of planning a trip.

However, he said, if an agency wanted a more committed partnership, ongoing commissions were negotiable.

He said Fetch also would negotiate net prices for agencies that wanted to create pet-friendly travel packages that included pet care at the customer's home or at the destination, if a customer was traveling with pets.

Another option was a deal whereby the agency takes on some promotional responsibility for the pet care services, offers clients a discount and earns 10% pay, Mann said.

Rates vary by location, but a house call or walking a dog would range from $17 to $22 per visit; for in-home, overnight pet-sitting, $50 to $65 per night; for private boarding at the sitter's home, $45 to $55; and for day care (appropriate for people who travel with their pets), $35 to $45 a day.

How can agents be comfortable suggesting that clients seek pet care from people they don't know?

Mann said all Fetch operations were bonded. The caretakers, who are contractors, are all screened for a criminal background. All are trained and tested, he said. A supervisor accompanies them on their first assignments.

Besides automatically generating confirmations to customers, the company's computer generates confirmations to the sitters. Plus, reminders of pet care dates are sent to the sitters several days in advance of the day services begin.

Besides, the sitters are not, strictly speaking, strangers by the time the trip starts. Once a booking is made, Fetch offers a free consultation between the customer and their assigned, primary sitter, the company said.

Arleen Eblacas, operator of the home-based Travels R Us, in Chula Vista, Calif., has offered Fetch Pet Care for nearly two years. She knows one of the franchise operators and worked out a referral relationship.

She tested the services with her own dogs on a private boarding basis and said she had "complete confidence" that her pets were well cared for by the sitter, Jamie.

"They go to Jamie's home and become a part of her family, sleep in her bed, watch TV on her couch and take long walks," she said.

Clients without friends or relatives to step in as pet-sitters "love this service," she said.

Eblacas adds a Fetch flyer to all travel documents, and she said that three or four clients have used the service each month.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin at [email protected].

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