The recession has not been kind to the pet industry. While their finances are in flux, pet owners are less likely to splurge on toys or grooming, and fewer vacations spell empty kennels at the boarding house. In fact, prospective owners are less likely to take on the financial burden of a new dog or cat to begin with.
As you can see in the video above, David Lang, owner of a Manhattan business called Pet Chauffeur, is keenly aware of these challenges. Fifteen years ago, Mr. Lang noticed that the subway system’s vast ridership included few dogs. Passengers can bring small pets on board in carrying cases, but owners of larger dogs cannot travel with their pets by subway, bus or taxi. Sensing he could fill a void, he founded Pet Chauffeur, a taxi service for animals, in 1996.
From his home office on East 36th Street, Mr. Lang coordinates a fleet of four orange-and-blue minivans and a staff of 12 dispatchers and drivers. Customers have the option of riding along with their pets, but many choose not to, leaving the drivers to learn their dogs’ idiosyncrasies first-hand. And dogs are not the only animals getting a lift: Pet Chauffeur has transported everything from leopards to bulk shipments of lab rats. But dogs are the most frequent riders, and Mr. Lang says the most popular destinations are veterinary clinics, grooming salons and boarding kennels.
The bulk of Pet Chauffeur’s $1 million annual revenue comes from its business in New York City, but its vans have traveled as far as Florida, and the company also coordinates the shipping of animals by air. Because many of his customers live in Manhattan’s tonier neighborhoods, Mr. Lang hopes to sell ad space on his vans to luxury retailers. “I got vans running up and down Fifth Avenue all day long,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want their perfume on top of a Pet Chauffeur?”
Despite these plans, Mr. Lang is wary of expansion. He used to run a boarding service and a pet supply retail Web site, both of which failed to weather the recent recession. He now concentrates all of his effort on transportation and has adapted his company to the new economic context in two ways: first, he targets high-end customers. In 2008, he came to the conclusion, “now’s the time to get rid of the people who don’t want to pay for our service anyway, and up the price, and go with the high-end people that want our service.”
Pet Chauffeur’s other post-recession adaptation is to collaborate with competitors. If Mr. Lang is unable to arrange a pick-up for a customer, he will refer that person to other companies Because the pet taxi industry represents such a niche service, Mr. Lang said, he’d “rather see someone go with the other guy than not go at all.” Mr. Lang added: “Anyway, we’ve got the best service, so they’ll come back to us in the end.”