Growth, challenges & acquisitions with Julie Graham, owner of The Pack Pet Services

by Nicole Gagnon in
Julie Graham, owner of The Pack Pet Services

How does serving nearly 30 years with the US military prepare you for owning a pet care business? In Julie Graham’s case, it’s decidedly shaped the philosophy and the way she runs her business, The Pack Pet Services, LLC, a pet care services business dedicated to meeting the needs of their clients, human and animal, one, and every, visit at a time.  

You might wonder how a Project Manager in the United States Air Force (USAF) goes from serving her country to serving your best friends, so we’ll help fill you in! As a lifelong animal lover, Julie has always had pets – and she didn’t let her career with the USAF change that. In fact, despite the many years spent travelling, often moving every 2-3 years, Julie always travelled with her family of pets. Since she would be gone working all day, sometimes 12-14 hours, she would need someone to drop in to help care for them. It became a routine – when she arrived at a new duty station, one of the first goals was to find quality, reliable care for her pets. This routine and experience of finding pet care providers is what helped guide her when she started her own pet care business. When Julie retired from the USAF in 2019, she began the journey of starting her business, and in November of 2020, The Pack Pet Services was officially open for business in Lewes, Delaware!

As Julie explains to all her new clients, “There are a lot of things we do and don’t do based on my past experiences with pet sitters. For example, I always had multiple pets and with my business, we have the option to charge for multiple pets, but we rarely do unless it’s a situation where it’s a significant burden. Instead, we pitch it as you’re buying a block of time. For example, our Standard Visit is 30 minutes. If you have two or three dogs that can easily be walked together, we can do that. But, if they are big dogs that pull on the leash, we are going to have to split them up for the safety of the dogs and staff member. In that case, they each get a shorter walk. Alternatively, the client can request a longer visit, say 40 minutes, or an hour. We also have many clients that have multiple different types of pets. The dogs need one thing, while the cats need their litter boxes cleaned, food and water refreshed, then maybe the turtle needs a snack, and the hamster needs its cage refreshed. We’ve found that the clients really like that approach. It makes it very clear what amount of time is spent doing the ‘must do’ items and what time is available for play and cuddles.”

Over the next few years, Julie was dedicated to growing her business by providing outstanding care for pets and building strong relationships with her clients and staff. She shared her golden rule, “I never hire anyone who I wouldn’t trust 100% with the care of my own pack, and if that changes, we part ways. Also, treat everyone as family – staff and clients, human and animal.”

In the summer of 2021, Julie moved to Michigan. Despite being hours away from her staff and clients, the strong relationships she’d built allowed her to continue to manage the business from afar.

“For me, the relationships I’ve built have been hugely important. None of this would be possible without clients trusting us and without my staff who are fantastic. I’m picky about staff – I ask them to do a lot, but I respect their boundaries. My staff are my eyes and ears in the field, so we try to communicate as much as possible. Just recently we had our best month yet; to show my appreciation, I gave each staff member a $25 gift card. I try to treat them fairly and well. For example, making sure they have time off, and during holidays, we pay extra for the entire week of a major holiday. We have a higher demand for business, and I know my staff members want to be spending time with their families, so I try to make their time worthwhile. Little things add up and matter!”

When it comes to growing her business, Julie shares that referrals have played a huge part in their success. “When I was still in Delaware, we were in a Facebook group for people looking for pet care, so I shared our information. There was another lady, Jocelyn – I kept seeing her come up a lot too, so I introduced myself to her, and over time we built a relationship. We get a lot of referrals from her, and it’s great to see us each do our own thing and support one another. Just recently, we got a new client, and they talked us up so much in their community that we now have six clients in their neighborhood that they referred! It’s awesome to see that people are happy and spread the word.”

Julie’s connection with Jocelyn from the Facebook group is what led to her introduction to Tara, the owner of ‘Get Your Wag On’, the business Julie used for her market research before launching The Pack Pet Services. Julie considered it to be the premier pet care business in the region. In April 2022, Tara contacted Julie to say her she wanted to sell the pet services side of her business. “There’s always a risk since clients have the option if they want to transition or not. Luckily, everyone has transitioned, and we still have a few people trickling in. From a business perspective, I thought maybe 75% would, because people may want to look at other options. At that same time, I was also contacted by two other business owners that were retiring and decided to take on their businesses too. It was a huge undertaking, transitioning all the staff and clients over, but it’s been a fun and exciting challenge.”

Between the acquisition of Get Your Wag On and a period of organic growth, The Pack Pet Services, LLC, saw over 50% growth between April and June of 2022.

Although Get Your Wag on already had pet care software in place, Julie decided to transfer all her clients to her pet business software, PetPocketbook. Each client was invited to join PetPocketbook where they could create a profile and begin requesting appointments with Julie and her staff

Julie shared a little more about the transition process. “It would have been impossible to navigate the rapid growth we experienced this past summer without PetPocketbook. There is always a learning curve for everyone with every new software solution, but we were really impressed with the percentage of clients that easily transitioned to booking appointments through the app. The messaging function makes it very easy to communicate with one, or all clients at a time. From a business perspective, it’s great being able to track revenue from the real time invoice count, and output from the real time staff pay tally. Visibility of when staff arrive for an appointment, complete an appointment, and submit the report card, is a set of features our clients love best. Then from the owner’s perspective, it gives me that extra layer of accountability, and if necessary, a ‘red flag’ if something hasn’t gone as planned.”

On the business side of things, Julie explains that the automated billing in PetPocketbook helped save her time and makes it easier for clients to pay for services. “I love that I don’t have to create invoices anymore since they’re created automatically in PetPocketbook. It seems that close to 45-50% of folks pay though PetPocketbook with credit cards which is awesome since those payments are tracked automatically. And it’s great that since we accept checks, PayPal, Zelle, and everything else, we can keep track of those payments within PetPocketbook too.”

In summarizing her experience with PetPocketbook Julie shared, “June 2022 was our first month having all the newly acquired clients on board. We saw 60% increase in net sales over our best month ever which was a good month from taking new clients of our own. At that time, I was thinking wow that’s crazy, and now I know how much more we’re capable of! Right now, we’re sitting at 350 clients that we serve. At the end of last year my goal was 100 and we had 103. There’s no way we could have done it without PetPocketbook. This has been something I wanted to do since I was 18 years old. I still remember the conversation I had with my mother about it.”

Julie caring for a goat

Along with tremendous growth comes challenges. Julie explains, “I had to come to a decision point. For me, it was when we were growing and getting a lot of business, and I got to the point of not being able to handle it all by myself. It came down to, do I have enough business, or do I want to take on staff and grow more? That was a huge decision point. You have to trust your reputation and everything you do to someone else. I was fortunate to find Allison, my senior staff member who has been amazing and has become a really good friend. She’s taught me about business, staffing, and how to grow. She helped me figure out independent contractors vs. employees. We now have 22 part-time staff. Only the week of Christmas did I have to turn down a client because we couldn’t meet their needs. My staff always comes though. What I found is that we created a family atmosphere – everyone takes care of each other. It’s amazing to see what we have achieved together.”

In October Julie, and her partner Halena, took a road trip from Michigan to Delaware to host the first annual company appreciation dinner at Tokyo Steak House. For Julie, it was an opportunity to meet so many of the staff that she’d only previously talked to on the phone. Julie and Halena also picked up their new English Labrador Retriever puppy, Mia.

The sky is the limit for Julie and her team at The Pack Pet Services. If you’re wondering what’s next for them, Julie just recently started up her new location in Michigan, 2 Chicks and a Farm Pet Care Services! In speaking with her earlier this summer she shared, “I’d love to bring The Pack to Michigan! There’s definitely a need for good pet care in the area. This summer, it’s been on the back burner as we work through a busy time, but our plan is still to bring it to Michigan. Right now, I’m not sure what it looks like, and if it will be the same as what we have in Delaware. It’s possible we could explore other options like a boarding facility. I’m excited to see what the future looks like for us.” It’s so exciting to see them make that dream a reality!

Congratulations to Julie and her team! We can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the future, and we’re so proud to have been a part of it all!

Are you ready to streamline your pet care business like Julie and her pack? Book a demo to get started with a free, 60-day trial of PetPocketbook!

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