[Ask The Expert] How Do I Start A Pet Loss Operation?

February 11, 2013
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Ask The Expert: How Do I Start A Pet Loss Operation?

Answer From Pet Loss Expert – Coleen Ellis

Question: 

Coleen, I heard you talk in your first article about “why” I should start a pet loss operation.  You sold me!  I’m ready to start my program.  What do I do?

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Answer:

Awesome, Frank!  Serving the pet market is so powerful and is such a wonderful co-branding initiative for human death care operations. It’s having another message to bring to your community in how you will be serving this amazing affinity group known as pet owners and pet parents!

What is Your Business Model – The Details

The first order of business, you need to determine what type of business model you will be.  Will you be serving pet parents only with a boutique type of service or will you try to service all kinds of families, including those that want group cremation?  Also, will you be a supplier to the veterinarians in a B2B type of model?

As we make our way through these questions, I’d like to share with you some best practices and some thoughts as they would relate to the addition of these services to your human death care services operation.  With that I will also give you things to think about and make your decisions based on real facts.

First of all, by servicing only those pet parents (remember the size of that segment – they represent 83% of the 62% who have pets) you have an opportunity to showcase your services and level of care to a group of people looking for the creation of an experience in honoring their pet.  For a pet parent, when they witness the magnitude of your service level and how you helped them with the pet, they are left with a positive feeling about how you would care for their family members.

Furthermore, by servicing just those families that desire a higher level of care, again, you are given an opportunity to show a family what you and your team are all about in creating a meaningful death care experience.  For the pet and the human family members!

Bottom line, you don’t have to be all things to all people.  Pick the type of services you want to offer and offer only those.  If that means private cremations only and not doing group cremations, then so be it.

And, lastly, if you do decide that you want to be a supplier and offer a wholesale pricing package to veterinarians, make sure your value offerings and processes are sound and solid and are not just about pricing.  There are too many pet cremation suppliers out there who have commoditized this process.  Don’t be one of those guys!  Also, I can’t stress to you enough – RUN YOUR OWN BUSINESS when it comes to a B2B type of operation, a type of operation where the veterinarian is the one that you are supplying.  What I mean by that is put your standard operating procedures in place that will work for your facility and that are according to your rules.  Many pet care professionals are still very hesitant on getting families to sign a cremation authorization form.  Crazy, right?  I know!  However, I think that it’s because they have not been educated on why this is important and the level of protection that is provided with this form for all parties involved in this decision of cremation for a beloved pet.

As a professional, you would never consider cremating a human being without authorization from the family.  Use the same level of professionalism in serving the pet business.

Another hesitation with a pet care professional is that through the completion of forms like the cremation authorization form they are sharing their clientele’s names with you.  As a pet loss professional, it’s imperative to educate them on what you will do with this information to ease their fears.  We will need to contact families for a variety of reasons, some reasons are:

  • Community-wide memorial services
  • Services for National Pet Memorial Day
  • Pet loss support groups
  • New memori­alization items
  • Grief information
  • Cards on the anniversary date-of-death
  • Children’s pet loss programs
  • And many, many other reasons

I can’t stress to you enough; educate the clinic on why you are getting this information and how it will help them in the support that you are providing to the family.

I also want to point out, if the main focus of your business model is servicing families directly, that doesn’t mean you can forego educating the pet care professionals in your market.  Therefore, sales calls to the veterinary clinics and other pet care professionals is still a must!  Even if we do not have a wholesale pricing structure to offer the clinics!  There’s no getting out of these sales calls!  After all, why wouldn’t you want to get in your market and tell your story!

Establishing the Value Offerings

The next order of business is to establish the value offerings.  In other words, when families or veterinarians call us to assist them, what will we do for them?  What will they get when they call us?

As the value offerings are set, there are a couple of rules of thumb.  First of all, what does the competitive landscape look like in this area?  What are the other pet loss operations doing?  While we don’t necessarily need to copy them we certainly don’t want to come out with lame offerings compared to the operation across town.

Another rule of thumb is to determine what we will be GOOD at.  Will we be the best price?  Will we be the highest priced but offer so much in our services and experiences that we can justify the price?  Will we be the fastest on pick up of the pets and return of the cremains?  WHAT will we be the best at?  I like to tell people – establish your ONLY’s,… those elements of your services and offerings where you are the only person that does them.  These “only’s” will then become your sales presentation.  And, the only’s can’t be arguable!  Saying “we care more” is probably saying the same thing as the guy down the street!  Make it an authentic ONLY!!!

I want to do a quick review,… in my last “Ask the Expert” I shared with you what families have said what they want when their beloved pet dies.  To review those answers, pet parents want:

  • Their pet to be treated like a family member.
  • Memorialization and service options.
  • A safe place to grieve.

Therefore, as you look at your offerings, how will you fulfill those needs?

Lastly, in regards to value offerings, some of the best practices that I have honed in on in this area are that pet parents need to start out with a package (yes, the pet loss side of death care likes packages, too!) that will include items that can segue into other types of memori­alization sales.  For instance, families like having a clay paw or nose print of their pet.  These clay and/or nose prints will work nicely into these types of memori­alization offerings:

  • A piece of jewelry with the pet’s nose/paw on it.
  • A rock for the flower garden
  • Scanned and included on a custom made blanket with the pet’s photo – under the caption “He truly left a paw on my heart forever.”
  • Or to take to the local tattoo artist for a true “forever mark” on the heart!
  • And tons more ideas!

Another element that I would definitely include in the offering is a fur clipping.  As with the paw print, a fur clipping can fit into numerous memori­alization items, including:

  • Cremation jewelry.
  • Tied neatly with a bow and showcased next to the paw print in a shadow box frame.
  • Or tucked in the urn with the pet.

Outside of these two elements, there are numerous other areas that should be considered in determining the value offerings.  Some ideas are:

  • Method of pick-up of the pet
    • Consider using a casket and blanket or a stretcher-style removal – something other than a bag.  (Remember – people want their pets treated like family members!)
    • Timing of the pick-up of the pet
      • Immediately?
      • On a route?
    • After care support
      • Having a team member reach out to families to provide this support will really add to their experience with you!  The other reason I like an active after-care program is that it most fully creates a wonderful tangible that makes it hard for others to compete with you!  Make their experience with you and in honoring their pet be all that it can be!
    • Grief support material
      • Have available grief material to help with the entire family,… the children, the other pets, etc.  Be a trusted resource!

The Branding and Logo Look

I’ve already been asked numerous times on how to market pet loss services to a community.  While I’m going to address that in my next article, I would like to get us started in this area.

After determining what we are, who our market is, and what we will offer, it’s time to create our branding look.  This is our logo, our tag line, our colors and the “feel” of our business.  Frank, this is a topic that I very passionate about!

First of all, let’s talk about the logo.  I want you to get creative in this area,…  don’t be predictable here.  Stay away from something that has been used over and over and over again.  Create a logo for your business that is unique yet tells the story of what we do.  If you have to, spend a bit of money in this area to have a branding look and feel created for the business that will yell “CLASSY!”  Spend a bit of time in honing in on that logo, on the tag line and on the feel of the business with the colors that will be used on print pieces and the website.  And remember,..  a logo is not a portrait; think Nike, Adidas, McDonalds.  Simple yet awesome.

This extra bit of effort in creating a branding feel will really set the tone for success and should be able to withstand the test of time and not quickly be dated!

As mentioned, on a daily basis my mail box is loaded with questions on how to market pet loss services.  Be on the lookout for my next piece – and I will answer all of these questions then!

About Coleen

Coleen is a well recognized thought-leader on the subject of pet death-care by organizations such as the National Funeral Directors Association and the International Cemetery, Crematory and Funeral Association, her work within the pet death care industry has begun to span the country as others who share in her passion for pets and their respectful treatment in death desire to open their own care centers. In response to consulting demand, Coleen founded Two Hearts Pet Loss Center, to guide those people who also wish to provide death care services in their communities, as well to be an educational resource in the pet grief discipline.  Most recently, Coleen was awarded the first Death and Grief Studies Certification specializing in Pet Loss Companioning by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, at his Center For Loss in Ft. Collins, Colorado 

Coleen is a native of Kansas where she graduated from Fort Hays State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing .  She shares her home in Indianapolis, IN, with her husband and business partner, Chris Burke, their human children, Brian and Amy, and their three furry kids, Ellie Mae, Crisco, and Rudy.


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