Laid-off worker starts pet-sitting business that blossoms into growing enterprise

PETS AT HOME

August 21, 1993|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

What animal-lover hasn't daydreamed about developing a product or service that will become as popular as Kitty Litter -- and even half as profitable?

Most of us choose the safe route and keep the job that pays the mortgage.

Patti Moran didn't have that option when she started her pet-sitting business a decade ago. When her corporate job with its comfortable salary was eliminated, she found herself unemployed at 29, with no decent prospects.

"If anyone had told me then that losing my job was a blessing in disguise, I wouldn't have believed them," she says.

The layoff set in motion a series of events that Ms. Moran today finds incredible. She set up a pet-sitting business, Crazy 'Bout Critters, in her home town of Winston-Salem, N.C. It went so well that she wrote and self-published a book, "Pet-Sitting for Profit," which later was picked up by a major publisher and has sold close to 15,000 copies so far.

And then things really took off.

"The first printing came out in 1987 and sold out in nine months," she says. "I thought they would leave me alone after the book answered their questions, but people kept calling, looking for help and advice."

Ms. Moran started another business to sell administrative, advertising and training materials for fledgling pet-sitting businesses. When even that didn't satisfy the demand, she explored starting a national association to set professional standards and share information among reputable pet-sitting firms.

"We had mutual interests and mutual problems -- like finding good liability insurance," she says. "By joining forces, we thought we could get better rates and also gain some recognition."

The National Association of Pet Sitters was formed in 1989, picking up 26 members in the first few months. With Ms. Moran in charge, the association grew to 335 members by the end of the third year. After a nasty dip Ms. Moran blames on the economy, the association has more than 370 members today.

"Since the first of the year, things have been bouncing back," she says. "We've picked up 20 new members a month. When you consider it costs $130 a year to join, you're looking at a certain level of commitment."

The NAPS today is a non-profit organization with a code of ethics members are expected to follow. Now in the hands of a professional management firm -- Ms. Moran still serves as executive director and spokeswoman -- the NAPS offers its members a referral service, quarterly newsletter, annual meeting and occasional seminars on developing and improving their businesses. Prospective members are screened during an application process that requires them to prove their competency and to provide professional references.

The association also tries to determine suitability to the business.

"We want to know that they're animal-lovers," says Ms. Moran.

The median annual income of NAPS members is around $27,000, says Ms. Moran, although a few post incomes in the six-figure range.

"Obviously, urban areas such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have greater income potential," she says. "But I think the low median also represents a membership that's still new to the business. This is not the kind of thing where you can hang out a shingle, call yourself a pet-sitter and make money overnight."

Ms. Moran points out pet-sitting is needed in every part of the country, in both urban and rural areas.

"Dogs and cats are our bread and butter, of course, but you can't take a tank of fish to the boarding kennel, so we get that too," she said. "And people on farms have a real hard time getting away. Since we have people who can care for livestock, pet-sitting makes travel possible."

Write the National Association of Pet Sitters at 1200 G St. N.W., Suite 760, Washington 20005. To find NAPS members, call (202) 393-3317. "Pet Sitting for Profit" (Howell/Macmillan; $14.95) is available in the pets section of many bookstores.

Letters and questions may be sent to Gina Spadafori, McClatchy News Service, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, Calif. 95852.

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