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Meet the entrepreneurs taking the lead in pet services
Economics

Meet the entrepreneurs taking the lead in pet services

4 min. 19.01.2016 From our online archive
While the trend for treating pets like people may have some thinking we've gone barking mad, in Luxembourg a growing number regard it as a business opportunity and a rare chance to work with animals.

(JB) We treat our pets as if they were family members, often lavishing them with the best foods and services available and even buying them clothing.

But, while the trend for treating pets like people may have some thinking they've gone barking mad, in Luxembourg a growing number regard it as a business opportunity and a rare chance to work with animals.

Indeed, services for our furry friends have been mushrooming in Luxembourg in recent years, from the dogwalkers and petsitters to groomers and new animal therapies such as massage, acupuncture and physiotherapy.

Nathalie Janssen gave up a well-paid career in banking to train and open animal physiotherapy firm fitdog.

I will never the salary I made in banking. But it compensates because you feel you are making a difference for the animals and the owners

“I will never the salary I made in banking. But it compensates because you feel you are making a difference for the animals and the owners,” she told wort.lu/en.

Nathalie, who first moved to Luxembourg in 1998, discovered the world of pet physiotherapy while seeking treatment for her dog.

At the time very few places offered this service so she quit her job to study for two years in the UK.

Nathalie opened her practice in Steinsel in April 2015, by which time more pet physiotherapy clinics had popped up.

“Yes, it's competition but that's good because people need to get the word out that this exists as an option for dogs and cats,” she said, adding that part of her job involves raising awareness in the veterinary profession about the many benefits the therapies she offers can bring to cats and dogs.

Her clinic offers manual treatments, electrotherapy and it is the only a small number of clinics in the country to offer hydrotherapy using an underwater treadmill. Eight months in and the start-up is going well.

“You have to give yourself two to five years which is a long time period to see if it works out. But, so far, so good!” she said.

Childhood dream to work with animals

For Dorthe Bradt, reaching the end of her work contract in 2014 was a blessing in disguise. It forced her to fulfil her childhood dream of working with animals by launching dogwalking and petsitting firm 4 Paws Walking with friend Jan Hesketh at the end of 2015.

While looking for work, Dorthe began walking dogs voluntarily for the animal shelter in Gasperich, an activity which she loved. The business idea followed when she joined the Fit4Entrepreneurship course offered by Adem.

“It's a physical job. We easily walk 20 kilometres a day

“It's a physical job. We easily walk 20 kilometres a day. The farthest I walked was 28 kilometres,” she said, adding that having worked in an office, she relishes the chance to be able to work outside.

Mother-of-four Jan has always had dogs and is a keen walker. “Dogs are easier than kids,” she joked.

4 Paws Walking is one of about a dozen dog walking companies in Luxembourg. But running such a business is not just a walk in the park and requires training and qualifications.

Both will take a dog first aid course; Jan has a dog walking licence and Dorthe has a licence for walking listed dogs. Dorthe is studying dog behaviour and hopes eventually to take the dog trainer course.

While they cannot yet live off the proceeds, they have not struggled to find the clientèle, from working dog owners to people with disabilities or recovering from surgery.

“This industry definitely has potential for growth. People realise more and more that it's nice to come home and find that the dog has had that one long walk of the day that it needs so they have more time for the family and it's more relaxed when they get home,” Dorthe explained. The ladies added that because dogs are walked in small groups, the experience helps pets develop social skills.

Pet information and services online

But not all pet-related services require actually being with animals. Having tried and tested a number of pet services in Luxembourg when they moved here three years ago, pet lovers Brie Witherspoon and her husband, Giovanni Mecca, saw an opportunity.

“We wanted a business that doesn't require a lot of capital but is something we've knowledge about and skills in...There is so much stuff geared towards pets, it would be so nice to have a one-stop shop where everything is in one place,” she said.

In September, they launched Petopia.eu, a website listing information about pet service providers in Luxembourg and the Greater Region, customer reviews, an e-shop and relevant articles.

“We didn't struggle to find places to list. It was easy listing the ones we know and then I asked friends and colleagues”.

The website raises the profile of small pet-related business, many of which cannot afford to open a physical shop or do not have a web presence. The site also has a tool enabling people to book appointments with listed service providers.

We're learning that the pet industry is bigger than we thought. It's continuously growing

“We're learning that the pet industry is bigger than we thought. It's continuously growing,” Brie said.

The couple, who continue to work full-time jobs, hope eventually that the site will be a money-maker and, if it proves successful, they intend to roll it out to other countries and cities.

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