Creature Comforts

Furry Friends

Successful entrepreneurs in the industry are usually pet owners, and their ideas for businesses are as varied as the animals themselves. Some pet businesses, especially those that offer a service, can be started on a shoestring budget. That's how Cindy Kaminsky, fed up with her job in the advertising industry, started For Dog's Sake, a dog-sitting service with a twist: She takes her charges on "field trips" to the mountains and beaches around Los Angeles.

To get started, the Marina del Rey, California, entrepreneur traded in her sports car for a Chevy van, hung magnetic signs on it, bought some business cards and began marketing her service through groomers, veterinarians and pet stores. Kaminsky screens canine clients ahead of time to make sure they'll obey commands. She charges $20 per dog for a one- to two-hour outing, including pickup and drop-off; two dogs cost $30.

"I knew I didn't want to do standard pet-sitting," explains Kaminsky, 35. "I loved the idea of taking groups outdoors and all of us [including her dogs, Bear and Daisy] getting some exercise. In a year, I'd like to buy a piece of land, get a pool and start a day camp for dogs."

Jay Bloom, 31, conceived of a business that focuses on pet services, particularly health care, after his dog, Lucky, underwent a $3,000 surgery for hip dysplasia, and Bloom made the unhappy discovery that pet insurance would not cover the procedure.

Anxious to get off the "merry-go-round" at the bank where he worked as a financial officer, in 1996, Bloom started Pet Assure, a Dover, New Jersey, company that sells memberships offering direct savings on veterinary care and pet products and services, including groomers, walkers and sitters. The cost of an annual membership is $99 for the first pet and $79 for each additional pet; unlike standard pet insurance companies, Pet Assure requires no deductibles and doesn't exclude any animal because of a preexisting condition.

So far, more than 1,500 vets in 40 states participate in the program. "The biggest challenge," Bloom says, "has been to get vets to understand how they benefit from giving discounts on their services. The upside for them is that [participating] helps build their client base, and they become part of our company's profit-sharing plan."

Last year, Pet Assure logged sales of $1 million; with a new, more aggressive marketing plan in place, Bloom hopes to reach $4 million and have 6,000 vets on board by the end of this year. An endorsement from the ASPCA has helped the company grow, and Bloom has convinced a number of corporations, unions and associations to offer Pet Assure as a perk for employees or members. Users of the Pet Assure credit card get membership benefits for free, and issuing banks benefit because people will use the card more often, Bloom says.

Bloom, who is considering going public, says he has no serious competitors at the moment and isn't concerned about potential copycats. "It doesn't hurt Met Life that Prudential is out there," he says. "Competitors would just create more awareness of the industry."

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This article was originally published in the July 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Creature Comforts.

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