Michael Polakoff - Founder and Owner, Pet Central DFW

Michael Polakoff is the founder of Pet Central DFW. Michael was born and raised in Dallas, Texas before moving to Socorro, New Mexico to study psychology at New Mexico Tech. While studying, Michael fell in love with his elective in animal behavior and knew that his future held a career surrounded by animals. After graduating, he continued his education by studying animal behavior at the University of California, Davis, where he earned his Ph.D.

During his studies, Michael Polakoff focused on the honey bees’ communication methods regarding the location of food. Fascinated by his studies, Michael was tempted to stay in academia but opted to see what life was like in the real world. A decision that would eventually lead to the birth of Pet Central DFW. Michael worked an office job for a few years but found himself feeling unfulfilled and craving something more. He wanted to get back to his passion of working with animals, but wasn’t keen on the notion of returning to the university life style.

Thus, in 2013 Michael Polakoff started Pet Central DFW, a dog walking and pet sitting business that gives pet owners a safe and reliable caretaker for their furry friends. The happiness and satisfaction of clients has allowed Michael to expand Pet Central DFW across the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and continue the career he’s always dreamed of.

How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?

I have an educational background in animal behavior and before I started Pet Central DFW I took care of my friends’ pets for years. I was inspired by a newspaper article in the Dallas Morning News, which indicated that one can actually earn a good living in the field of pet sitting and dog walking. That sounded like the perfect job for me. It didn’t take me long to decide to quit my boring office job and dive right into this.

How do you make money?

I make money by providing a service to pet owners that is high in demand. Many people work long hours and worry about their dog needing a potty break or exercise. People go out of town and don’t like the idea of boarding their pets in an unfamiliar, stressful environment. So that’s where I come in. I take dogs out for much needed exercise and mental stimulation and I take care of pets in their own homes where they can feel at ease while their owners are away.

How long did it take for you to become profitable?

It took about one year to start seeing a profit. Word of mouth is really the best way to get clients in this line of business. It took about a year for enough people to hear of my services so that I was able to make ends meet. After that, the word of mouth started snowballing, and I was constantly in demand. It came to the point where I was working seven days a week for at least 12 hours a day, I realized that I needed to hire good, reliable help.

When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?

Yes, since it did take a while before pet owners in my community were aware of me and knew that I was reliable, there was a time when I didn’t know if I’d be able to continue long term. However, I knew that this was what I wanted to do, so I just economized as best I could and kept at it. Once word of mouth started to spread, I knew that I could do this for as long as I wanted.

How did you get your first customer?

When I quit my last job in order to start this business, I told my dentist all about it when I went in for a cleaning. Fortunately, my dentist had three dogs of her own and was looking for a dog walker/pet sitter. Thus, she became my first client, and all these years later, she is still my client.

What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?

Other than referrals, my best strategy has been Groupon. It’s free to create a Groupon, and it gives people a chance to sample my services at very little cost to them. Some Groupon customers just want to get the three low cost dog walks as a treat for their dog, but they don’t intend on being long term clients. But some try it out and realize that it’s worth the money to make sure their dogs get adequate exercise each day.

What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?

Hiring is always a difficult decision because it means I have to give up some control over the business that I worked so hard to build. I have to trust that someone else will live up to the high standards that I set for myself. Thus, I am very picky about the people I choose. I have been lucky to find people who are very reliable, meticulous, and who love working with animals.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

I am dependable and I treat my clients’ pets as if they were my own. The animals love me, and their clients can see that. I leave detailed notes for the clients so they can read about everything that happened during my visit, and I often send them pictures of their pets. My clients’ pets are their families, and they want to feel assured that they can trust me with them.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

I get a lot of pets to take care of that are very wary of new people. Some of these animals are rescues who have learned to be wary due to being in very bad situations where they experienced abuse and neglect. The point where I make a breakthrough with the animal and they learn that they can trust me is the most satisfying moment I experience in this job.

What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?

In the future, I’ll hire more employees and branch out to surrounding areas. I’m excited about growing into new areas. I get contacted frequently by potential clients in outlying areas that I would love to help, but I worry about overextending myself. As I am able to find additional reliable, trustworthy assistants, I’ll be able to take care of these pets, too.

What business books have inspired you?

Six-Figure Pet Sitting by Kristin Morrison is an invaluable book for anyone starting a pet sitting/dog walking business. I had been in business for a little while before I read the book, and I wish I had known about it before I started. The book is full of good advice for starting and maintaining a pet care business. I have had to consult it on a number of occasions when confronted with difficult situations.

What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?

A small, mobile carpet shampooer is a great investment for any pet sitter. I have older dogs and dogs and cats with digestive issues. I never want my clients to have to deal with soiled carpets when they get home, so I always take care of those issues as they arise. The SpotBot carpet cleaner is ideal for me. I can set it on a stain, turn it on, go walk a dog, and when I come back the stain is gone. Well worth the investment, and clients are very grateful to have a pet sitter who will deal with unpleasant messes.

How do you handle last minute requests and last minute cancelations?

In this business, that is something I deal with a lot. Most of the time, if a request or cancelation is last minute, it is because life is unpredictable. Circumstances change and vacation plans may be canceled last minute, or emergencies come up that cause a client to contact me for help last minute. I always try to be understanding and make the necessary changes to my schedule. In the event of emergencies, I always will do what it takes to be available. If I just can’t fit something into the schedule, I know other pet sitters in the area. So, I will always find a way to make sure the animal is taken care of.

Who is your chief competition and how do you deal with them?

I don’t consider other dog walkers and pet sitters to be my chief competitors. Neighbors, relatives and friends are the people that are my main competition. If a client finds a friendly neighbor who is willing to take care of their pet, they may be less likely to hire a professional pet sitter. Therefore, I always try to do more than what a neighbor or friend would do. By always showing up reliably, leaving detailed notes of my visits, sending photos of the pets to the client, taking dogs on long walks, cleaning any messes the pets make (e.g., regurgitated food, kitty litter kicked out of the tray, knocked over trash), administering any medications the pets need, etc., I feel that I do a lot more than someone who is doing the job for free would do.

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