How to target a customer niche – the dog owner example

To succeed with a target customer niche, you need to specialise and serve those customers really well.

This hit home to me recently when I analysed the different customers who were coming to my 3 quite different properties.

About 75% of bookings from one house Treetops were coming from just one segment.

In our case it is dog owners who want to come on holiday and live close to nature with their loved family companion dog.  This a huge part of our rental income.

It wasn’t just accident, we made it happen.

In this article I reveal how we grew dog owners from 30% to 75% of our customer base.

I also explain why it works well for two of my properties but not a third.

Size of the pet owner market.

Huge!

About 40% of USA households own dogs and the market in Australia is similar – 36%.  The emotional tie is also very strong – 91% of pet owners report feeling ‘very close’ to their pet.

But there is a big gap in the market.

When I look at Stayz, my local listing site of choice, I find that under 15% of listings are dog friendly. (5848 of 40002)

So here, 36% of the population with dogs are searching through just 15% of listings that allow dogs.  That is a huge – 250% – advantage for the few of us who are listing dog friendly properties!

In my case, I prefer to take our dog away with us on holiday and am happy to pay more for it.  So it is only natural that I would want to help others have a more enjoyable holiday with their dog.  But it is also a good business opportunity.

Why is this such an easy opportunity?

Many owners have unfounded fears of pets damaging their rental property. They say – ‘I don’t want my place ruined by pets.’   I love this because it helps me stand out from the market when I do offer pet friendly holidays.

I have found that owners who care enough to make the effort to take their dogs away are careful with your property, and the house will be easier to clean than with young children.

In over 10 years and hundreds of rentals to families with pets, the number of problems have been tiny.  A rug was chewed and the guest offered to pay for another.  A door flywire was damaged and it took 15 minutes to fix.  Sometimes some hair on a couch takes longer to clean, and we have a strategy to minimise that.

A practical consideration is – are the floors carpeted?  If so, the house is a little harder to clean.  In many holiday houses, floors are wood or tiled and not a problem.

I discussed this with rental Guru Heather Bayer when she interviewed me on her podcast in April. Heather manages hundreds of vacation rentals in rural Canada, most of which are pet friendly, and like me, she rarely has problems caused by pets.

Over the years we grew the proportion of pet owners from 30% to 75% by finding ways to make the pet owner experience more enjoyable.

We make a fuss they never will forget.  Here are the 10 things we did. You might do the same.

10 practical ways to grow the pet niche

1 The photo noticeboard
2 Welcome information package
3 Dog sheets
4 Adwords
5 Page on website
6 Feature on listing sites
7 Making booking easy and personal
8 Facilities: Dog fence, kennel, barriers
9 Pickup
10 Bowls

1 The photo noticeboard

Noticeboard of dog pics
You can ask your guests to leave a photo of their dog on your noticeboard.

No one else does this and it is the most popular part of our dog experience.

We encourage guests to use our POLAROID camera to take a picture of their dog and put it on the noticeboard with a simple caption.

After a slow start, this became hugely popular.

Guests outdid each other in witty captions

The noticeboard soon filled up to overflowing.  We now have a large album with the scores of older photos.

Example dog pic

After checking the guest book at Treetops, I always check out for witty new noticeboard images.  I’m hooked too!

The images are not magazine quality and it really doesn’t matter.  The psychological impact is what is really important.

 

What the noticeboard process does is form an emotional connection between the holiday and the pet and this house in the guest’s mind. This is one reason guests keep coming back.

It is all immediate – grab the camera, take a few pics, and print them, think of a caption and it is all done.  It’s fun, and no privacy concerns – who cares if everyone sees your dog?

Polaroid camera kit - 60Over the years I’ve encouraged guests to send me a photograph of their pets when they get home – and they do – very rarely.  But they WILL take a photo on the spot while relaxing on holiday.

Equipment used: I use a Polaroid CZN-05300b and there are others on the market.  Film is Zink 2” x 3”, self-adhesive reverse for sticking on to a standard  3” X 5” filing card.

2 Dog welcome information pack

Information about dogs

Our dog information pack

You can send your guests all your local information that will help make their experience with their dog more enjoyable.

When guests book, we provide a simple two page pdf of useful information for dog owners in addition to our usual welcome pack.  It includes:

  • using the dog sheets
  • places for walks
  • maps of good places
  • beaches for dogs
  • warning re dangers for pets
  • coping with heat
  • nearest vet telephone numbers

3 Dog sheets

You can provide simple bed sheets that can be used to cover the couch and the guests can have their dog snuggle up with them on the couch.  Guests love this.  Family time, no guilt!   You will notice the dog in the guest picture above is sitting on a red dog sheet – it works!

4 Adwords

You can tailor advertising campaigns to run on Google Adwords that target dog owners looking for dog friendly accommodation in your area.  This is often ignored by the big companies that dominate most vacation rental markets.

5 Page on website

You can dedicate a whole page on your website for dog owners describing your dog facilities and guest testimonials about their stay with their dog.  Prospective guests see you are genuine in welcoming well behaved dogs.

6 Feature on listing sites

You can go into your listing on the major listing sites like Homeaway and make sure you tick the box for ‘pets’.  Many of the sites will allow guests to search by ‘pets considered’.
The major listing sites do a poor job of featuring pet friendly – another opportunity for you!

7 Making booking easy and personal

If guests are enquiring about pets, have some features and stories at hand describing your facilities for pets and include it in your reply.

When they book, ask your guest what their pet’s name is and include it in the correspondence; “Guests staying include 2 adults, 1 child and 1 Pomeranian ‘Pierre’ …”
We include pet facilities at no charge so guests volunteer the details rather than smuggle in a dog without you knowing.  It helps us stand out from the crowd as welcoming and simple.  You need to be guided by your local conventions as to whether you charge extra for cleaning etc

8 Facilities: Dog fence, kennel, barriers

Owners will want to know what facilities you provide.

We describe our dog fence (‘keeps non-jumping dogs in’); our kennel for owners who want their dog sleeping outside (rare) ; and the optional stair barriers that can stop dogs from going up the stairs.

9 Pickup

Yes dogs will need to go to the toilet.  A grassy area, a trowel and some dog bags makes it easy for your guests to keep the area clean.  Pickup is the guest’s responsibility.  Your conditions need to be clear there is a hefty charge for any mess left behind.  Again, there are rarely problems.

10 Bowls

You can cheaply provide some dog bowls.  Owners can forget their own and you are helping make an easy holiday.  Prevents your good china being used outside for a dog bowl!

Even more

You can be creative.  Some owners have a fancy dog welcome with a special card, a toy and dog biscuits.  You could print a fridge magnet with the dog’s image.  Post the image on a Facebook page.  Include in a picture book sent to guests.  Whatever turns heads and makes an impression.

Just remember each extra is one more thing for the cleaner/ housekeeper/ you to get right (or wrong!).

No two properties are the same.

You will need to adapt your dog owner tactics to the strengths of your individual property.

Our studio ‘Sea Zen’ also targets dog owners, but with a difference.  As the target market is a luxury romantic getaway for couples, we allow dog stays as an easy optional extra.  We are filling a gap in this market too and we get many couples who want to bring their dog who would not otherwise have stayed with us.

Currently over 55% of guests bring their dogs, far more than we expected at the start.

On the other hand, our inner Melbourne city holiday house ‘Alto’ caters mainly for interstate travellers, and most guests simply do not bring their dogs with them.

We are also pet friendly at Alto. While we don’t go to great lengths to target the pet market, we still have 20% of guests bring their pets.  This is still a valuable segment.  People also bring their cats sometimes!

Do you know your niche?

Whatever your market, it pays to know your target customers, and to deliberately target their growth.

These are the 7 high value questions that will help you build your niche, no matter what your target market:

  • Can they find you- does your listing description describe the benefits for your target market?
  • Have you included any special facilities related to your target market in the ‘extra facilities’ in the listing site of your choice?
  • Do you use a targeted advertising campaign on Google Adwords?
  • Should you dedicate a whole page of your website, complete with testimonials from that target group?
  • How can you make their booking experience easy, with special information suited to their needs?
  • What special onsite experience can you give them to make the stay memorable?
  • Do you record how often your target guests actually stay, and are you periodically checking your success?You may be more successful than you think!!

Questions?  What is your experience with the pet owner niche?

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Mercedes Brennan July 7, 2014, 1:23 am

    Rex, what a great article! About the sheet covers: how do you launder them to get out the dog hair? I have noticed with my own dog at home, that the dog hairs occasionally don’t come out in the wash.

    Also, have you discovered any products that you particularly recommend and that guests love? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Rex Brown July 7, 2014, 7:09 am

      The dog sheets go straight in the washing machine and dryer and come out free of dog hair, very rarely needing a second wash. We experimented with thicker bed covers, but they tend to keep the hair.
      We now just use simple coloured single bed sheets, about $10 in Target on special. The plain fabric doesn’t hold dog hair and we have a reserve of about 15 sheets. If we ever had a stubborn problem we can simply throw out a sheet, but it has never come to that.

      Reply
  • Saviour November 12, 2015, 12:39 am

    A great article, I must, say for any one who would like to venture in the dog category.
    Good luck

    Reply

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