Skiptown’s Innovation Success Story
Are you an owner of a pet care facility looking for forward-looking solutions that are COVID-19 proven, Millennial focused, technology-driven, scalable, and a lot of fun? If so, we think you can learn quite a bit from Skiptown. This story is based on an interview with Niki Chimberg who is Skiptown’s Head of Product, which includes all their products, service offerings, and technology.
Skiptown launched in August 2020 right in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic in one of the most competitive pet care markets in the country, in Charlotte, NC. Skiptown focuses on making lives easier and better for pet parents and uses technology for a better experience for both the dogs and all people involved. They are targeting Millennials and Gen Z who live an on-demand lifestyle, and who love making dogs a joyous part of their lives.
Their business is divided into a pet care side, and a dog focused bar side designed for optimal socialization for canines and their humans. Their pet care side of the business is focused on daycare and boarding, with no training nor grooming services as of today. Within 6 months of launch their overall business added 10,000 human clients and 12,000 pet guests, of which 1,500 are on the pet care side, and the remainder on the dog focused bar side. Based on this success, they have started expansion plans into Dallas and Atlanta. Hopefully this amazing success will inspire you to read on to learn more.
Many other Charlotte boarding/daycare facilities were experiencing revenue declines of 25-40% during 2020. The primary difference between these companies’ performance and Skiptown’s can be attributed in large part due to Skiptown’s understanding and focus on their clients’ experiential and technology unmet needs.
Skiptown’s research pointed out that many pet care businesses are not necessarily designed to enable the client to interact with their pet in a fun way at the facility. They noticed that many businesses are dog friendly, but not dog focused. As an example, some breweries welcome dogs, but do not cater to the dog having the best experience. Furthermore, they noted that that most pet care facilities do not have a place where you can socialize with your dog. Also, very importantly many pet care facilities ask clients to communicate using their method of choice as opposed to the client’s preferences. For example, the facility offers phone numbers when the customer wants to text, and also ask that they use a computer to email them vs. an app which the customer might rather use.
Skiptown provides an experience where clients can see and participate in their dog’s fun, have fun themselves during the experience, and communicate with the technology they prefer. Skiptown also focuses on convenience in virtually every aspect of the client experience.
A big part of their business is a 20,000 square foot dog focused bar area where clients come in with their dogs after the pets have been checked for their vaccines and spay/neuter status. The humans can socialize with other pet parents over wine and beer while their dogs play with other dogs in the exact same space. The whole area is also supervised by Skiptown employees to make sure that the dogs behave. To further reduce liability with the dog focused bar, they do not admit minors, spread people and dogs out over a large area, and provide outsourced food options to go with the drinks, e.g., food trucks drive up and serve right next to the bar area.
This bar is a big driver of their overall volume of 10,000 clients and 12,000 pet guests. The key here is that the pet parents have fun, but the dogs have even more fun which everyone sees, and the experience is a gift for the dogs. Obviously, this drives a lot of cross selling and participation in the pet care side. This also encourages people to come back and visit more often even when there is no need for boarding or daycare. For example, this gives them the opportunity to offer timely human themed events and/or promotions on a regular basis, giving them many more options to draw in and delight existing and new clients.
The dog focused bar area also delivers some unexpected benefits for the dogs playing there. Niki told the story of a client with two dogs, one extroverted chow chow mix who loves other dogs, and a maltipoo named Macon who originally hated other dogs. That said, after Macon visited the dog focused bar area with his Mom and dog brother on several occasions, he evolved due this socialization process to now loving to play with other dogs. What a great success story of using socialization to put a dog in a place of transforming their life for the better, and now with the ability to make and enjoy a lot more furriends in a fun environment whether on the bar or pet care side of the business.
So, let’s say you own a facility which does not and cannot invest in real estate for a dog focused bar. No problem at all says Niki. Skiptown made it very clear that having a bar as a feature is NOT required to have this success. Rather than focusing on the feature of the bar, they pointed out that the reason for success is the benefit of having a standout visual and physical experience with your dog where you can observe how much fun your dog is having. As examples, you could host clients at events at most pet boarding/daycare facilities in an existing place in the building or outside where they get to interact with the dogs, share a drink, and achieve the exact same fun results. The key is showing the client all the fun the dog will have, which can be difficult to accomplish with just a quick tour of a facility. These events could also have the benefit of having participants show their experiences on social media. Niki shared another example of showing clients how much fun their dog can have is marketing the mental enrichment programs you may already offer at your facility. Skiptown offers these as well but hasn’t yet had the time to market them.
On the pet care side of the business, i.e., daycare and boarding, the current results of this approach in March 2021 are that Skiptown is fully booked most days in daycare with 110 dogs, and last weekend had 55 boarding dogs out of a capacity of 70. Given these results after just 6 months, they are ordering 90 more runs and adding two more play yards. Skiptown views this a great opportunity but also understands it can be a problem if they can’t keep up with the growth and not meet their client’s needs.
Skiptown is using technology to continue to drive more growth, with the foundation being their custom app. It enables you to book any service, monitor your dog’s time at the facility, to share photos on social media, etc. The app allows you to communicate with Skiptown by texting and/or email which has been a huge success with most clients texting with Skiptown. This really helps client integrate the brand into their lifestyles.
Skiptown also uses technology for marketing to drive new client growth. Existing clients love sharing photos of their dogs at the boarding/daycare facility with their friends over social media which they receive on the app. Skiptown can then reshare them via their Instagram account to fully leverage these great experience photos. Skiptown now has 8,300 Instagram Followers who not only post and promote Skiptown actively to their friends, but also many use the DM function to contact Skiptown with all sorts of questions. This makes Instagram another customer service tool for the brand.
Other marketing learnings are that in addition to strong social media, Skiptown has learned to build a good partnership with local media, who often help promote what Skiptown is doing as dog care is growing everywhere, and pet parents need to know about these innovations.
Tied closely with technology is Skiptown’s focus on making the client experience as convenient as possible. This includes texting and using Instagram DM to communicate with clients. To build on these initial successes, they are adding even more convenience benefits with ongoing upgrades of their custom app. For example, they are rolling out soon the app functionality of “I’m here now for drop-off in parking spot number X.” New functionality will also let them promote and be able to order new add-on services on the app as well.
It is important to note that having an adaptable staff is key for success. As Skiptown is constantly learning and adapting, whether it is with the offerings, the technology, and/or the marketing, it is key to have staff who are good with change and enjoy constant learning as well. This starts at the top with Niki having done virtually every job there is at the facility at one time or another to be sure that she knows exactly what is needed and expected from the greater team.
Related to their staff who are primarily Millennials, Skiptown says that environmental sustainability is important to them. All food serving bowls are biodegradable and recyclable, the poop bags they use are biodegradable, and all cleaning products are earth friendly.
To achieve Skiptown’s exponential growth, other boarding/daycare facilities may need to tweak the design of their experiences so that they can participate more in the dog’s fun, and communicate with technology their customers are most comfortable using. Part of this may also be ensuring that the design of the facility and all the equipment used is at or above industry standards.
Another learning from Skiptown is that they do not see the need to discount vs. other local pet care facilities, as it is truly the quality of the experience, and the value in that, which is driving the tremendous growth. Furthermore, they point out that in Charlotte, and many more areas around the country, there are more dogs than facilities can handle. As such, they don’t view other local facilities as competitors, rather as potential friends, or partners. They are quick to point out that most pet parent clients value location and convenience, so different facilities are sourcing customers from different pools.
As a local client and vendor to Skiptown here in Charlotte, my family will continue to enjoy the great services and experiences their team provides. If you would like to learn even more from them, please contact them via their website at skiptown.io and observe them on social media at instagram.com/skiptown.clt/.