Each year, as the new year begins, I like to reflect back over the past 12 months. I take this time to reflect on the year, the successes and challenges it brought, how well I handled them and where I struggled. I find this time helpful to give me perspective, to help me remember how much I have grown over the past year. It also helps me to develop goals and a plan for the next year.
In this post, I am going to share some of this process with you. I'm going to write about the year 2021 from my business perspective, and set goals for 2022. While this post will primarily share thoughts from the business, it will also include personal insights. As a small business owner, we are our business. We eat, sleep and live it- day in and day out. Even when I am traveling, I have a focus on the business; because of this, any thoughts or reflections on the business will by default include personal thoughts and reflections.
2021 from the perspective of a pet professional:
2021 continued to be a tough year for all service based industries; hospitality, restaurants, travel, groomers, dog walkers, pet sitters, house keepers all suffered in their business during 2021 as they did in 2020, although some saw growth and were able to adapt.
My team and I spent many hours thinking of what our clients needed most as they adapted to working from home, while home schooling their children. We continued to offer our Urban Adventure Decompression Walks, because it was clear that our clients were tired, needed a break and still wanted their dogs to get good quality exercise. These became some of our most popular walks as pet owners could see the benefits their dogs reaped by doing just one a week! We heard several stories of dogs who were growing more confident, less reactive, less destructive and playful and relaxed. Clients shared with us how happy and content their pups were when they returned after hiking for exploring for 2 hours, and our team loved it! Urban Adventure Decompression Walks have become a favorite service of our team to offer!
We also stressed cognitive enrichment in 2021- while this has been a focus for us from day 1, in 2021, we stressed sharing what we knew with our clients so they could see the benefits for their dogs on their own. Clients and friends shared with us how much fun they had watching their dogs learn, problem solve and have fun with the different enrichment activities, puzzles, and toys we shared. We were so inspired, that we relaunched our online store- Canine Einstein (named that because we believe that inside every canine is an Einstein waiting to get out!).
While we experienced unprecedented growth, we were affected by the labor shortage that seemingly affected every industry. While we searched for high quality candidates, we did need to turn some clients away. This is never an easy decision, but I will never sacrifice quality of care for a sale. Through patience and continuous searching, we did build our team from 5 people to 13! Our current team is amazing and I am so proud of them- look for our "Meet our Team" post in a few weeks!
2021 was also full of uncertainty. Some people returned to work, only to be sent home again when Omicron hit. Some traveled, or planned to, then had those plans affected by Omicron. The uncertainty of the year was stressful, would I be able to keep all staff working? Could we service all clients? What if our staff got sick? It continues to stress me, and I know from speaking with other small business owners, it is a stress they share.
Reflections on our Dog Walking Team:
As I stated above, we were able to expand our team through the year, but our team had a tough year as well. I do not feel it is my place to share who had which struggles, but as a team, we needed to come together as individual members of our team experienced
- a death of a loved one
- the loss of family/friends
- Covid affecting family
- Chronic health issues that flared up and surfaced
- Anxiety and depression of loved ones
- uncertainty of covid and how the future will play out
- a loved one with a cancer diagnosis.
I watched in amazement, as every single crisis was met with our team pulling together and supporting one another. Most of the time, clients were not aware- and that's how it should be. I could not be more proud of the team we have assembled and their level of professionalism.
We also watched as some valued, and long time team members found career options that they had been chasing. We said good-bye to several staff that we were and are sad to see gone. It's always rewarding to see a member of the Paws team chase after a dream and watch it come true for them, even when that dream means they are leaving the pet industry.
2021 was especially hard for me, personally. My household was hit with Covid in January. My husband and I quarantined for 2 weeks per the guidelines. He suffered from long haul symptoms for the rest of the year that had us meeting with doctors, a neurologist and other specialists. Thankfully, he is recovering and we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it was a tough year for us. On top of that, we had health issues with his parents- that are resolved now.
I went through the loss of someone I believed was a close friend. It was devastating to me, and took me a long time to get over the hurt and betrayal. It took me even longer to realize that the loss was a positive thing and that this person was never really a friend, as I thought. The loss was tough for me, and affected how I trusted people for a long time.
Physically, I battled a recurring back injury most of the year. My team was amazing and picked up most of the walks as I went through physical therapy and recovered. Recently, I started to have severe pain in my hands and was told that my arthritis is progressing. This was a tough pill for me to swallow as all of my hobbies involve using my hands. I love to read, knit, crochet, cook, do puzzles and draw. The thought that I will not be able to do all of these forever was a hard blow for me.
I also shared with some colleagues for the first time ever, that I have a benign brain tumor that affects my facial recognition ability (so, if you are a client and I don't recognize you in public, don't take offense, my brain relies heavily on association to recall people). Funny story, I was training a staff person on a dog walk earlier this year, when he stopped to wave at someone. A little taken aback by his audacity to be so distracted in front of me, I asked him "who are you waving too?" His answer- "your husband". While I can laugh about this now, it was (and still is ) embarrassing- but it is also a truth that I live with. My brain relies heavily on associations of where I know you- taking into account other people, the background, the situation, etc. When those change, I may not recognize a face at first. My husband is so supportive and wonderful about it, that I have started to share this with colleagues. Most have been amazingly understanding- so now, I'm sharing it with the world.
I learned to lean on friends and family for support this year, more than ever. This is important because it also affected how I interacted with others in business. I was more open about my health issues, I expressed the stress of wanting to provide for staff and clients and not being sure if we could. I was more open and trusting with people when I struggled. In doing so, I have found some amazing new friends and confidants.
Business reflections of 2021:
We adapted as well as we could in 2021. Our leadership team came together and discussed what did our clients need now that their lives were upside down? How could we offer the most help? I cannot tell you how proud I am of our leadership team in 2021 who came up with the idea of expanding our Urban Adventure Decompression walks, they came up with offering Cognitive enrichment visits, and helped out with many events to help spread the word!
We focused on education this past year. Helping to educate our clients on the importance of cognitive enrichment for all pets, on how to offer enrichment and in finding the best providers for our clients needs. We partnered with some really great companies this year, and watched as old friends started new ventures and completely succeeded!
Our clients are the best- we knew that before Covid, but 2020 and 2021 really reiterated that for us! Clients kept our team working, even when they were home. Our team received words of gratitude and appreciation that we shared with the entire team to remind them of the important job they do. Clients shared with us time and time again how we helped give them peace of mind when they could not be home. We love that!
Offering events like Paws on the Patio each month allowed us to meet more of the Milwaukee dog Community than we would otherwise have. This community is a passionate, dedicated fun group that loves their pets as much as any family member. We have loved getting to know all of you and cannot wait for 2022!
We also realized, towards the end of the year, that we needed to hear from clients- what did they want and need from their dog walking company or their dog trainer? What did they need from their pet sitters? We asked for clients to be ambassadors for Milwaukee Paws and Canine Einstein and were thrilled with the response!
What's coming in 2022?
2022 is looking to be even better than 2021! Our team is growing, and we are continuing to hire and expand our team. As we expand our team, we will be reaching out to our clients on the waitlist.
We will create an advisory panel with clients, team members from our leadership team, and other pet care professionals together. Milwaukee Paws Pet Care has always been interested and invested in doing what the pet community needs- we believe the varied insights of an advisory panel will help us make the biggest impact.
We raised our rates in 2022 to help cover the rising cost of doing business, but also so that we could give our staff pay increases. The dollar does not buy as much as it did two years ago- we value our staff and want to make sure that they can make a livable wage while working for us if they want to. All staff were given a pay increase per visit starting January 1, 2022.
We are looking for a brick and mortar location to open a dog training facility. When that happens, we will be offering more playgroups, private gym rentals, etc. We are also working on some exciting partnerships for 2022 to continue to bring the very best to you!
Most importantly, we are anticipating that while Covid will be around for a while (in whatever new form it decides to take), we will continue to grow. We are thrilled to be able to offer dependable, knowledgable and passionate pet care to our clients. We love that our dog walking team is not only able to take on the friendly Fidos of Milwaukee, but also the shy, nervous and fearful Fidos, and win them over! We will be expanding our services to continue to meet the needs of our clients and the community as a whole!
We cannot wait to see what the New Year brings!