Today I have an interview with Elizabeth Bublitz, President of Pawfriendly Landscapes. Elizabeth works with pet owners to design pet friendly backyards that they can enjoy with their pets. They can also complete the project construction work if you live near Golden, Colorado.

1. What kind of business do you run? a complete landscape design/build company that designs yards for dogs and their humans.

2. How long have you been in business? 10 years on Sept. 4. We started Sept.4, 1998.

3. Why did you choose to start a pet care business?

I always felt it chose me. I have always loved animals and plants and decided to go into landscape design after college in the early ’90s. I was “just” a landscape designer who kept hearing people complain about their dog destroying their yards, etc. so I contacted my childhood vet and asked her advise about specific situations. She gave me her input, we applied her techniques, combined with my knowledge of landscape material and plants, and voila, we began to create “pet friendly yards.” I was always an oddity in my industry because everyone was improving landscapes with new outdoor kitchens, pergolas, etc. but we were catering to the dogs. Anyway, a few years ago, we began to be taken seriously by suppliers (they’d call us and ask if we could try new products, etc.) and our clients weren’t calling anymore asking, “what do you mean pet friendly?” they simply “got it” and called to say, “we need you guys, my dog destroyed the yard.” One of the biggest compliments came from Lowe’s Home Improvement in 2006 when they called and said we were the nation’s only pet friendly landscape company and would like to feature us on their “Lowe’s For Pro’s” site. We changed our name at that point from Home & Garden Landscapes to Pawfriendly Landscapes because we needed to trademark our trade secrets so nobody would steal them. Anyway, it was blessing, our new name tells people exactly what we do!

4. What advice would you give someone about to launch a new pet
care business?
It’s a lot of work but very rewarding! If you love what you do, you’ll survive. If you’re not taken seriously at first, stay with it, I’ve noticed the world is evolving and considering pets as part of the family (finally!)

5. What has been the greatest challenge in growing your business? So many! Good employees are hard to find, but worth it when you find them! They will be the best support you’ll find. Also, don’t get discouraged if things don’t go as planned, many times they don’t because there are better options, always see decisions that didn’t work out as new opportunities. Promote at every opportunity. Many times I kicked myself because I would invest to a certain market which I thought was a bust and years later people told me they had seen me in that market. It proves it’s always a good idea to stay in front of people, sometimes it will be a real bust but you never know!

6. What are the pros and cons of your profession? Pros: People do not relinquish their dog because they can have a beautiful and functional yard. My audience is the best – they know what’s important (their dogs) and I’m not being called out to outdo the “Joneses.” My crews and support staff are amazing – all animal lovers who love working in with our philosophy. I meet many amazing people, some I would have never met because of our niche.

Cons: I hate the administrative part of it – the business side to me is so boring. As an owner, this seems to be all I do – I don’t make much time for a personal life (I’m sure many people do) but it consumes me all the time. I don’t see that as bad, but people around me always remind me to do other things outside of my company, it’s too hard, it’s always on my mind.

7. What daily tasks do you enjoy most? Meeting with clients. They love their dogs so much, I really love it. Then I get to draw up a custom design based on their dog’s needs. Very rewarding and fun!!!!

8. If you could have done anything differently what would it have been? I would have offered national pet friendly landscape designs a long time ago. I started offering them last year due to popular demand and I think of all the people I could have helped since day one.

9. Did you have a mentor or business coach? If so how did they help you? Not a business coach, but my bookkeeper keeps me in check, I have lots of small business owner friends and my childhood veterinarian who helped me write my book. They are like a support group when I feel down about business or have general questions. They’re always there – it’s very nice!

10. What form(s) of marketing have you found the most effective in
reaching pet owners? Helping shelters. I have always helped shelters and that’s where most of my clients hear about us. It was a complete accident, but it is how many people hear about us. Very nice audience.

11. Do you offer clients incentives for giving referrals?
We mail out thank you cards with free passes to our local botanic gardens. We do offer discounts to people who support animal shelters by adopting their pets from them.

12. At what stage of your business growth did you choose to take on help? 8 months into it. Back then, the economy was great and people were moving to Colorado in an abundance. I had to bring on a staff. Very scary to trust people with my company but I had to do it.

13. Did you choose to use employees or independent contractors? Why? At first subcontractors, then I brought them “in house.” We’re back to using both, some subs some employees. We have so much work, I needed to bring on more crews.

14. What have you found is the best way to find new staff members? It’s hard, it is so very hard. Nobody tells you this and I was always trusting. I’ve been burned a lot so I’m not very trusting with employees anymore but thankfully, since I’m wiser, I can choose wisely. I have chosen wisely and for the past few years, I’ve had the best people. I know the difference now between good and bad and it is huge. But in life, nothing takes the place of experience so when I hear a small business owner is getting burned by employees, I tell them it happens to all of us and if people say it has never happened, they’re lying. But, after going through so many them, you really find great people! Just stay with, create limits and watch them very carefullly for the first month. Some people interview great but deliver very poorly. Let them go immediately and call the second candidate, the right person will be found. It’s all trial and error.

15. What have you done to differentiate your business from your local
competitors? Everything! Nobody else caters to the pets and my colleagues still chuckle at me because I don’t have minimums but that’s not my philosophy (many like high end jobs only) I want to cater to the pets.