Q&A with Jeff Dickerson from 123Pet Software
What encouraged you to join the pet industry?
I’m a long-time pet owner and definitely somebody you’d call a ‘dog person.’ When I was offered the CEO role at DaySmart Software, I was most intrigued by the prospect of working with thousands of small business owners, many of them in the pet services industry. I’ve been in the software industry for many years, so selling solutions to help people manage their business wasn’t new to me. The idea of being able to empower small business owners to effectively grow their operations by spending less time on mundane tasks, and more time on caring for their customers, was really inspiring to me.
Beyond being able to help people, I also saw a real market opportunity within the pet industry. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), the annual spending back in 2018 – between pet products, services, food and vet care – was $90.5 billion. With consumers spending more on their pets every year, I saw potential to provide small businesses in the pet industry with more and better tools to help them capitalize on the booming market.
How does the overall pet industry compare today to when you joined?
Well, the APPA now projects that consumers will spend close to $99 billion on their pets in 2020. When I started here at the beginning of 2017, many in the pet industry were still managing their operations inefficiently. Writing down appointments with pen and paper, calling customers to confirm appointments, shoe boxes full of vaccination records—and doing finances long into the night was the norm for these business owners. I admit there are still some who are dependent on manual methods, but by and large, the pet industry has turned the ‘tech corner.’ Driven, I think, by consumer demand for online booking, text confirmations and integrated payments but also by the realization that automation is a better way. Synching every transaction in real time to QuickBooks beats spending five hours every month running reports and entering data.
The drive to digitally transform more pet services businesses – to power their success is what drives me in this job. DaySmart has different products to address the needs of several industries, but 123Pet Software is where we are making our largest investment and where we expect to see our greatest growth. With the right tools, these business owners can build engaging websites and social media presences, offer online booking and automate processes like financial reporting and basic client communications. Technology saves time, keeps operations organized and provides a clear picture of performance. Pet business owners, and their teams, are now eliminating time spent on routine tasks and instead doing more of what they love – serving their furry clientele.
Which pet industry trends have caught your attention and how is the company addressing them?
We recently surveyed 2,000 US consumers for a customer loyalty report and found that consumers are more loyal to the individual employees who take care of their pets than they are to a pet business. In fact, 76 percent of consumers would follow their favorite employee if they moved to another pet services business. This tells us that consumers are not prioritizing convenience of location, or service pricing, above their go-to pet groomer, boarder, trainer, etc. To that end, we’ve been really focused on how to help our customers prioritize attracting and retaining talent to differentiate their businesses. A key piece of this process is modernizing operations and investing in tools that make employees’ jobs easier. Not only will this improve job satisfaction, but it will also free up employees’ time so they are able to focus on fostering the valuable client relationships. Allowing employees to build that rapport within the business makes them feel secure and appreciated where they are.
Our software solutions enable this in several different ways, such as sending out automatic appointment reminders to customers so employees can focus on their in-store clients instead of worrying about no-shows and calling for appointment confirmations. This month, we’re expanding that with a two-way texting solution that will centralize text communications from clients within the business software. Our solution also manages the complex payroll scenarios that sometimes arise, so employees don’t have to worry about being short-changed or missing out on tips. To ensure employees are feeling appreciated, we also offer a Reputation Management feature which allows businesses to solicit online reviews from their customers, monitor the reviews being posted and respond to reviews from a simple dashboard. This sense of transparency lets employees see the impact their work has on customers.
How is the company setting itself apart from competitors within the pet industry?
Many of our competitors offer limited support options and sometimes even charge for system training. With 123Pet, we make sure every user is trained on the system by having access to a comprehensive Knowledge Base which offers free training videos, how-to’s and FAQs. We also have dozens of customer success experts who are available via phone, email and chat support, six days a week. Rather than outsourcing our experts to non-employees, we pride ourselves on hiring and training our customer success staff in-house so we can offer our users the best customer service in the industry.
When Covid-19 struck, we knew we had to restructure our operations to support our small business customers who were forced to shut down. We worked with each business to ensure they got any billing relief they felt they needed, and that they understood how and why they should be communicating with their clients at a time like this. We also taught them how to better use the software tools they had under their belt to maintain some sort of revenue stream – offering gift cards, selling products and looking into their business reports to see where they might be able to cut costs. Overall, investing in the people across the organization – employees, partners and customers – has set us apart from our competitors.
Who has been your biggest advocate and supporter?
I have been fortunate enough to have had a couple of mentors that guided me through different stages of my career, but one that does stand out was during my first CEO position at a company called eCredit. On the Board was a gentleman who retired as the CEO of GE Capital Finance, an $80 billion division of GE, and had taken me under his wing. I described an opportunity that I saw in the market that I wanted to go after. I felt it was the right move at the right time for the company, and I seized the opportunity. I soon became disenchanted by the lack of my team’s passion at making this move a success. My mentor said he agreed with the move and complimented me on the detailed work that went into its planning and execution, but then asked how much effort I had spent bringing my management team into the opportunity so that they would feel that they are part of initiative, and not just worker bees carrying out someone else’s idea. He reminded me of the importance of earning ‘buy in,’ and making people feel that they are part of the decision-making process whenever possible. I really make that a big part of my process now – some decisions I alone have to make, but making ‘decision discussions’ more inclusive, has made the results more effective.