What I Learned in My First Year Running The Dog Park: Anna Brotman

I started The Dog Park five years ago this month.

As is true of most business ideas it was born from personal necessity and professional ambition. I’ve always loved dogs. When I moved to Budapest, Hungary 6 years ago I brought my two dogs with me. I quickly learned that the kind of care and walking services I envisioned for my dogs didn’t exist. I wanted a company to care for my dogs almost as much as I cared. When I moved home to Toronto I noticed the same gap in the market but with much higher demand. My vision became clearer and from that vision, The Dog Park was born!

From day one I wanted to make dogs happy and to keep them safe. Five years, tens of employees, and hundreds of dogs later, that remains our mission.

What I Learned in My First Year

I did a lot of prep before I entered the market, but I still had a lot of learning to do. There were the administration things: set up a site, get permits, get insurance, pet first aid, research and set rates; and then there were the logistics: how would I map my day to maximize the distance I could travel and the number of dogs I could walk?

The biggest lesson I learned was when to say yes, but more importantly, when to say no. I had a pretty clear vision of the company I was building, I thought I had a good path to get there, but it quickly became clear that if I wanted to achieve my goals I would have to be more specific about my offering even when it meant giving up some revenue.

At the beginning, I felt like I had to say yes to any client, regardless of location, or time of the walk regardless of if walking or caring for that dog would ultimately cost me more in time or distance travelled than profit made.

It was a difficult lesson because saying no means having faith in the process and that

your grand vision will come to life. Saying no means you have to keep a keen eye on your big picture. I had to learn that I couldn’t say yes to every walk request or every new client request. I had to put boundaries on the times that I could walk and care for dogs and those had to make sense for me.

How I’ve Grown

I far surpassed the goals I set for myself in that first year. It became clear that people had been looking for the exact service I was offering. I handed out business cards, wore branded shirts, put up promotional flyers in condos, became a local at all the dog parks, worked on my SEO for my website and started an Instagram page with an emphasis on taking great photos of the dogs. Once I got my first few clients The Dog Park quickly grew from word of mouth which was and continues to be how I get introduced to most of my clients.

Quick growth meant I needed to bring on team members. I never want to move fully away from walking the dogs, but I did have to relinquish some because it’s not physically possible to do it all. Even today I still walk on average 40,000 steps/day!

The market has changed too. It seems these days that everyone has a dog, and everyone has a dog walker. I’ve stayed true to my goal and to what’s worked for me. As I get more seasoned I’ve learned to be more strategic. This business grew out of my love for dogs and my desire to provide small and safe group walks that are fun for the dogs and offer ease of mind for their owners. That will always remain my primary focus.

Where I Want to Go

I never wake up and shudder at the thought of going to work. My work is what I love. I still have stress throughout the day because my day: weather, dog moods, delays and ensuring myself and my team deliver a high standard service. I’ll always put off the administrative tasks because while those things are key to my business, they’re not what inspired me to start the company.

I’ve learned that my business has a huge capacity for growth, and my longevity has proven to me that it’s stable enough to take new steps. Some of my goals are to expand into new neighbourhoods and cities. We are currently looking to test out The Dog Park model in new cities to see if franchising opportunities will work in this type of industry. Regardless of how many dogs we have, The Dog Park will always exist to make dogs happy.