‘Ruff’ Around the Edges: Collaring Personnel Problems in the Pet Industry

By Lara Walsh

Nov. 11, 2014

Jamie Migdal has a bone to pick with recruiting for the pet care industry.

Despite tremendous growth and increased revenue from consumer spending during the 20 years she has been in the business, the young industry has been held back in talent management by antiquated recruitment practices, Migdal said.

“The pet industry is fragmented and generally technologically unsophisticated. It’s a relatively new industry that’s seen most of its growth over the last decade, and it hasn’t figured out how to deal with human resource issues,” she said.

Migdal wants to change that. She hopes to use lessons from human resources in her newest company FetchFind, which aims to help pet-care businesses dig up candidates who have experience dealing with animals.

The field’s biggest problems? The industry’s high turnover rates are crippling. She estimates it to be at 200 percent — and unsophisticated methods of finding new employees like Craigslist ads makes onboarding good employees who specialize in pet care difficult.

 “I’ve been in this space hiring for so many years, and all of my clients were coming to me saying, ‘Our biggest spending point is hiring. We can’t find good people, we don’t know how to identify the good people with the traditional outlets for sourcing candidates, i.e., Craigslist, Monster and word-of-mouth,’ ” Migdal said.

She added, “Those things just have a very limited shelf life, and there is no way of truly understanding someone’s background because many people applying through those jobs are really looking for any job, not just pet-specific ones.”

One wouldn’t think that there would be a shortage of pet-specific job candidates. According to research from The Children’s Mutual, a U.K.-based company that specializes in saving and investments for children, kids really want to work with animals. One of the most popular professions that children ages 5 and 6 say they aspire to be when they grow up is a veterinarian.

But fast-forward a couple of decades, and things are different. On average, veterinarians, for instance, don’t get paid nearly as much as family practitioners and pediatricians, who are among the lowest-paid doctors. And jobs grooming and “sitting” for pets are considered even more undesirable, Migdal said.

“People think of working with pets as being, if you can’t do anything else, you either wait tables or you work with animals. That’s not really the way that it should be,” Migdal said. “It takes a particular skill set.”

This mentality exists despite numbers showing that the pet industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing industries in the United States. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans are expected to spend almost $60 billion on pet industry services and goods this year.

This growth has brought with it plenty of opportunities for more jobs with the increased demand for pet products and services. Dog groomers make on average $10.58 per hour and the average wage for a dog-sitter is $10.50 per hour.

Migdal said that businesses that require one-to-one contact with pets usually have the highest turnover rates because they are typically lower-paid and have less barrier to entry, meaning employers in the pet industry experience a huge influx of candidates who want those types of jobs, but most of these pet-care job hunters have not worked with pets before and don’t have any experience.

“Many employers will kind of just take what they can get and cross their fingers.”

Laurren Darr, founder of the International Association of Pet Fashion Professionals, said it’s very common for pet employers to get applications from candidates with no relevant experience.

“Many people do not realize that designing clothing for pets is very different than designing for a baby or for adults,” Darr said. “Different considerations must be made for materials and fabrics, even for smaller vs. larger dogs.”

FetchFind hopes to use online training modules and a system of certifications and specialty-dependent badges to transform the field, both for people serious about working in the pet industry and for employers who want reliable and qualified employees.

Anani Lawson who owns Philadelphia-based Royal Cat Boutique said he would seriously consider hiring a social media expert for the company if he had confidence in finding a qualified candidate with an obvious passion for working with pets.

“You wouldn’t be worried about an employee being all talk,” Anani said. “You’ll be able to find someone you know will be good and will be able to work with pets.”

Migdal hopes to change this uncertainty with her HR-based approach.

“What I’m looking to do is to create a high level of prestige and bring some professionalism to the pet industry by creating a networking space.”

Lara Walsh is a Workforce editorial intern. Comment below or email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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