As the owner of Michael's Pack Dog Training Center in Mineola, Michael Schaier blames the public's quick-fix mentality for biting into his holistic dog-training business.
Schaier estimates he signs up just over a third of the 30 canines that trot each month into his 1,200-square-foot space for a free evaluation. The assessment determines what the pooch already knows and what the owner wants the instruction to achieve, as in teaching Fido to walk alongside his master without a leash or refrain from leaping onto a food-lined kitchen counter.
"People hear that they can get it done quicker by force, and they don't want to invest the time and money" in his training method, said Schaier, 63. His approach can take "anywhere from a few weeks to many months more than forceful methods, depending on the dog's issue," he said.
Moreover, the once-popular TV show "The Dog Whisperer" still resonates with pet owners, who remember the host, Cesar Millan, using "some heavy-handed techniques at times," noted Schaier, who owned a real estate agency in Islip before launching his current venture in 2007. Describing his holistic method as a "gentle approach" that involves no yelling, hitting or kicking, Schaier employs verbal directions, hand signals, praise and treats to communicate with his canine charges.
Client impatience issues
According to experts, Schaier has a twofold challenge. He must increase his odds of securing more paying customers by attracting more prospects, and he needs to overcome consumer impatience, a problem for a variety of businesses, including fitness clubs, diet centers, tutoring services, home renovation firms and real estate agencies.
Resolving those twin stumbling blocks, experts noted, requires a multipronged approach, such as providing prospective customers with referrals from satisfied patrons and developing strategic partnerships with noncompetitive, allied businesses whose recommendations are held in high esteem by their customers.
Although Michael's Pack has been growing at a 25 percent annual rate for the past six years, it has been struggling, Schaier said. Employing three full-timers and one part-timer, the firm turned a small profit last year on revenues of $225,000. But courtesy of a new website, TV spots, growing word-of-mouth recommendations and a marketing and public relations agency, Schaier projects revenues to hit $275,000 and profits to grow by year's end.
The firm's training packages run the gamut, from five group puppy classes for $285 to an eight-month program of weekly home visits for $6,500, with all sessions running about an hour. Most customers sign up for five to 10 private classes, which cost $100 to $270 an hour, depending on the trainer and the location. At any given time, 40 dogs are receiving training, said Schaier, a certified professional dog trainer.
House calls vs. training site
Since most of the training takes place in owners' homes, Joanne L. Scillitoe, associate professor and academic director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at New York Institute for Technology in Manhattan, believes Michael's Pack could bolster profits and have more money to spend on advertising by eliminating its training center. She also suggested affiliating with firms whose recommendations can add legitimacy to its training method, such as kennels, veterinarians and breeders, particularly of large dogs that may be difficult to control.
In response, Schaier said he has reached out to such outfits with varying results. But he nixed giving up his space, because his landlord is the neighboring veterinary practice, which recommends his services and has six locations.
Adding revenue streams
By marketing products such as dog toys, Schaier could add another revenue stream while conveying his expertise on overall canine well-being, said Doug Betensky, president of Upside Business Consultants LLC in Hauppauge. Offering lectures on canine nutrition and fitness could imbue his company with added value, Betensky said.
Two years ago, Schaier began puppy playtime and large-dog socialization sessions for additional revenue, he said. Particularly popular in the winter, the doggy playgroups are held on Sundays and run $20 a session or $150 for a 10-session package.
Schaier's past experience with lectures has been mixed. After hosting a talk on doggy first-aid, he canceled another on hound-healing oils because of the poor response. He has also gotten spotty results from selling accessories like bandannas for pets and treat-carrying pouches for owners.
"As a small-business owner, there's only so much I can do in one day," said Schaier, who has also self-published two books, "Wag that Tail," and "What Can You Expect When You Are Expecting a Puppy," both sold on Amazon.com.