From DJ-ing in Ibiza to long walks in the park – meet the Dog Father
Before embarking on what must be considered one of the more successful dog walking businesses in south west London, Dom was more at home in the nightclubs of Ibiza, Majorca and Spain as a DJ. He also worked as a gardener, a slightly more down to earth job similar to what he now enjoys. But, growing up with a complete love of dogs and a clear entrepreneurial mind, it was but mere time before he started thinking about turning his hobby into a more serious business.
Anna: How did you start and why is your concept different to that of other dogwalkers?
Dom: I started with a clear vision of what I wanted to do, which was to create a premium dog walking business that offered complete flexibility. I also wanted to create a strong brand with core values that was more than being just about one person.
A: Are there any qualities that you think sets a successful dogwalker apart from another?
D: Well, the love and welfare of dogs is an obvious one. The job can be very stressful at time as there are a lot of variables. The ability to think on your feet with a clear mind. Customer service and going above and beyond what is expected of you. High energy levels and a decent level of fitness (it will get you fit), drive determination and ambition. Success in any form comes through hard work and long hours. 16-17 hour days during the height of the pandemic were not uncommon.
A: How long has it taken you to get to where you are now, with several employees, branded cars etc?
D: It certainly wasn’t overnight. It has been a very gradual progression over the past 11 years.
A: What are the ups and downs of your job?
D: It really is such a rewarding job! I am the happiest when I am out in the woods of Wimbledon Common with a pack of four or five dogs or at our beautiful day care centre in Surrey. We have five acres of private farm with meadow land and little wooded areas plus a large stable block and courtyard. I spend quite a bit of time planting flowers, hanging baskets, sapplings and seeds with a little help from the dogs – some of them love digging holes. The hanging baskets in the courtyard and wild flowers along the perimeter fence are all in bloom – it’s really stunning at the moment. I’m getting my dog fix and my gardening fix and it’s nice to enjoy the fruits of one’s labour. The team all have their favourite dog and we all get attached to them as we spend so much time with them. The dogs also become very attached to us. Picking up the dogs in the morning is amazing when they are so happy to see you. We are also very fortunate to have some wonderful clients who have been supporting us and using our services even when they have been working from home.
The downsides are the same as any business I guess; long hours at the desk after work, not as much quality family time as I would like, stress, and also when one of the dogs become unwell or passes away. As I said, we become very attached to the dogs and really love them so over the years I’ve experienced some very sad times with my dog friends passing.
A: What, more than anything, do you wish you had known before you started that you know now?
D: I wish I had looked for a day care centre sooner. The process took around two years with quite a lot of investment and planning appeals – I lost the first two sites I was looking at.
A: You have been extremely helpful to some of our Brave Starters who have come to you for advice, what made you decide to do that?
D: Why thank you. I am always keen to help people and share knowledge. I spoke with a few experienced dog walkers before I started and it was very useful so I am more than happy to do the same but with more of a business focus. I would rather someone start with realistic expectations and high values in dog care and help them achieve this. As with all industries there are good companies but unfortunately also some rogue ones. I have helped quite a few of my competition over the years and have also had help in return, or advice on something. I believe it’s better to have friends and good contacts in the industry than enemies.
A: Was there anything that came out of those chats that was surprising or that you perhaps hadn’t thought of; Was it a mutually beneficial meeting?
D: It’s always nice to be asked for your opinion, to feel that it matters. I also found it very rewarding to be able to offer help and advice and an insight into my business and the dog walking world.
The Brave Starts process truly is a win-win, whichever angle you look at it from.