I’m very behind in my writing this week. It’s school vacation week and I’m extremely busy – but not for the reason you might think. It’s not that our kids are around taking up all my time. No, they have a different school vacation than the public schools, so they are still in school.
Instead, I have a house full of dog boarders. With so many families gone away on vacation, they need someone to take care of their dogs. I’m that someone. We’ve passed our busiest month ever (last August) and it is still the shoulder season. The summer vacation time is usually the busiest.
I keep raising rates, but it seems like that only makes me more desirable. Or maybe it’s that I’m still below the most expensive person by about 20% while having almost as many positive reviews as she does.
It sounds like a terrific situation. In a lot of ways it is. In one important way, it isn’t.
Dog Boarding Doesn’t Scale
Let’s say that boarding one dog is one unit of work. You feed it, give it walks, pick up after it, etc. Two dogs are like 2.5 units of work. You have to feed them separately so they don’t fight or eat others’ food. That requires a little coordination. Three dogs are 4.25 units of work because now you have to do separate feedings at different times. Each dog you have also makes the little things in life a little more difficult. Dogs quickly learn that I am the source of food, so they follow me everywhere. It’s not a big deal with one or two, but 5 or 6 following you everywhere can make it difficult just to walk.
When it rains, the unit of work doubles. The effective living space for the dogs is cut in half without a nice sunny, dry yard. Instead, we deal with muddy paws everywhere.
In short, each dog creates exponentially more work. You’d want it to be at least linear. For example, if I were a landscaper or a cleaning service, adding another client is adding one more unit of work. One client doesn’t interact with another in the same way as dog boarding. I feel like sharing the same limited resource such as living space is another reason why dog boarding doesn’t scale. However, landscapers have limited resources like equipment.
Some of the best businesses scale logarithmically. I was amazed by eBay’s business in the early 2000s. They just connect millions of buyers and sellers with very little human interaction (on their part). They build and maintain the software and it does most of the work. They rarely need a human to come in and settle a dispute.
So Why Dog Boarding?
The short answer is that the money is good right now. Many people are still catching up on a couple of years of missed travel. When they were stuck at home they got dogs. The supply of dog boarders is low compared to the demand of dog owners.
A business generating profits is nothing to sneeze at. It may not scale as much as I would like, but I can invest the profit and make that scale for me. Also, I’m able to do other work while boarding dogs. Although, as you may be able to tell, I’m not able to do my best work.
I have some flexibility in shuttling the kids to school and soccer. However, that’s becoming more difficult lately as I’ve started to get a steady stream of daycare visits. The drop-off and pick-up times that people need are when I’m generally least available. I’ve been raising rates on that service to discourage people from signing up for it, but so far it hasn’t slowed down anyone yet.
As a dog owner I get it, if we have another dog over everything is more complicated. Can’t imagine have multiples. My daughter has done some in-home pet sitting over the years, but unfortunately you only get paid for those animals. And people are weird, they want you to “live” at their house but then pay like they are using Rover for a stop by.
Lazy Man says
I’ve never done the living at someone else house. It’s interesting, but I don’t know how it would work with getting the kids to school and stuff. We did have one Rover stay at our house once. The price was reasonable, and we got a house sitter out of it.
I should have mentioned we always have someone stay at our house with our dog and cat. The dog might be fine somewhere, but he’s a rescue who was abandoned(owners moved and left 3 dogs in the back yard) and I never want him to ever been insecure.
Single people or a couple are the only ones that can do the live-in easily. We’ve got various ages of friends who do that as a side gig. My wife and I did a little bit when we first married because it was fun to get out of the tiny apartment.
I’m glad your side gig works out. I just can’t figure out anything to add on top of my 50 hour a week IT job.
It sounds like you need to raise the rate more. Keep raising until you can handle the business.
I really need to find a gig like this. I’m a bit bored this year with no side hustle.
Lazy Man says
I guess so. I did raise rates a few weeks ago and half of the big rush over April school vacation had already booked. There’s a person with 450 reviews charging about $80 a night and a bunch of people with 10-20 reviews charging $50 a night. I’m in the middle with 250 reviews and charging $65 a night. It was $35 pre-pandemic and last year I bumped it up to $56 during the peak summer season and just kept it there.