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Exploring Life & Business with Melissa and Jeff Otto

Image Credit: Kristal Studios

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melissa and Jeff Otto.

Melissa and Jeff, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
Back in 2011, Melissa was finishing up an apprenticeship with a local dog trainer and I was a film critic writing for outlets like, Fandango and SyFy Channel. The initial business was conceived purely as a positive reinforcement dog training business called Pawsitively Perfect Pooches offering private and group training. At the time, I was just helping Melissa out as an assistant in the classes and by doing some photography work for the business. The inspiration for the business was our 100-plus pound silly big red Doberman, Badonkadonk (the red doberman in shadows in the images we submitted). He had a personality as big as his name.

Melissa met with the City of Santa Monica and soon became the official trainer for the city. Soon after, she also became the trainer for the City of Malibu. She taught all group classes for both cities for years. The business was growing fast and the responses we received in the community to Melissa’s work and our approach to dog training was very positive.

The business motto is “Giving your dogs the same unconditional love they give you” and we’ve always tried our best to live and breathe that motto in everything we do with our businesses. With this in mind, we soon realized there was a growing need for additional pet-care related services in the area. Our clients told us of their experiences, both good and bad, and we decided to add walking and hiking services.

We looked around at the walking businesses we’d seen around, often walking ten dogs at once and loading them into vans. Our aim was to respond to our client’s needs and offer a different approach to dog walking. Over the years, we’ve come to call our services “boutique dog walking.” Basically, we focus on single home private walks and small on-leash group hikes maxing at 4-5 dogs, dependent on size.

We’ve always been extremely picky in our hiring process. Our walkers must be very dog savvy and capable of handling all shapes, sizes and temperaments, especially since many of our dogs have come through our training programs. Many are also rescues and require special attention. We are licensed, our entire team is insured and bonded and we GPS track all of our walks and hikes.

Towards the end of the second year, I was pulled into the growing business more and more. Melissa and I knew we wanted to get married and have a family, so my globetrotting journalism career, working most nights and weekends, felt as though it would be difficult to maintain. I joined the business full time in 2012 helping out with hiring, marketing and new client onboarding.

From there, life happened. Our beloved Badonkadonk, our “first child” and the inspiration for the business, passed suddenly in 2012. As any longtime dog owner knows, this was a very difficult time for us, especially with him being so closely connected to our business. Our clients were incredibly generous and understanding during this time.

We got married in 2013. In early 2015, we had our son Jackson, just as our business was hitting record numbers. Our daughter Paisley was born in late 2016 and in late 2018 our 2nd daughter, Georgia, was born. We were in the very fortunate position to have a business we could largely manage from home as we raised our family.

Word of mouth on the business remained strong and we’ve always had incredible client loyalty. As we approach the ten years mark, several of our clients have been with us since the very beginning and a host of clients have been with us through multiple dogs.

As the walking and hiking business continued to grow, in 2019 we formed Best Dog Walks as an additional banner to better differentiate the training (Pawsitively Perfect Pooches) and walking (Best Dog Walks) and placed all our services under the Best Pet Services LLC.

Like many small businesses, we hit some tough times during the pandemic. We lost a lot of business, but we never fully shut down. We modified our services to offer contactless pickup and armed our walkers with plenty of masks, hand sanitizer and their own leashes. We’ve always considered our services completely customizable, so in many ways this was just another evolution of that.

Business has been returning bit by bit and we feel confident in saying that we survived the pandemic. It was a bit touch and go at times, but ultimately we did manage to keep all of our employees and avoid any furloughs.

As we near the last portion of 2021, we will celebrate our 10th anniversary in October. It has been an incredible experience. Our kids are now 6 (Jackson), 4 (Paisley) and 2 (Georgia). They all think it’s pretty normal to be around dogs all the time. In fact, we get some nervous looks when they walk our current Doberman, Blade, around our neighborhood. Even Georgia always has him well under control, cautioning him with a loud “No Blade” and yanking him back if he ever gets ahead of her.

We are currently focusing on an expansion to greater Los Angeles and Orange County.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Things definitely went pretty smoothly in the beginning, but there have always been challenges. In the beginning, in terms of the walking, we had to earn the trust of clients who were used to a single-person dog-walking business. Some were unsure of having multiple walkers coming into their homes.

As time went along, we were able to convince them that our hires were thoroughly vetted, experienced and reliable. In fact, they all had keys to our home and walked our dog.

Another challenge arose when the dog walking apps popped up. Suddenly we were getting calls asking for walks the same day. They didn’t want to meet us and didn’t care who walked their dog. We quickly realized we needed to differentiate ourselves from those services. We always meet our clients before offering service, as much for their peace of mind as ours. We have a lot of consistency with our clients. In recent years, we have modified our services to a subscription format. We even offer a free two weeks trial to get a feel for our services before signing up. And there are no contracts or commitments with our subscriptions.

The biggest challenge, by far, has been the pandemic. Within a few days in March, we lost more than half of our clients. Luckily, we had built a strong enough foundation that we were able to stay afloat. Some of our clients were incredibly supportive and a few even offered to keep paying for services despite taking a break from walks.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
Pawsitively Perfect Pooches specializes in positive reinforcement pet training. We don’t use choke chains or shock collars in our training. We offer private in-home training for those with busy schedules or very specialized needs. And we also have group training classes. Our privates are customizable to focus on whatever issues you have at hand, basic obedience, a new puppy, separation anxiety, leash aggression, walking issues and just brushing up on basics. We also offer Canine Good Citizenship testing either in a group setting or privately. Our classes are small (maxing at ten). We have puppy class for pups ten weeks to six months, beginner class for dogs six months and older. Intermediate is for dogs six months and older and have completed either puppy or beginner class. Canine Good Citizen is for dogs one year and older and have completed intermediate class.

Best Dog Walks is a boutique dog walking service focused on loving care, transparency and dependability. We keep it simple, offering 30 and 60-minute walks as well as small on-leash group hikes. All of our walks and hikes are GPS tracked and clients receive a full update with distance traveled, info on whether the pooch did their business or note, images, a personal note and a client-customizable checklist. We like to have a backup plan for the backup plan. With over 150,000 services performed in nearly ten years, we operate at a 99.9% conversion rate. There is no more dependable pet service business in the Los Angeles area. And we offer a free two weeks trial to try us out.

Our motto for both businesses is “Giving Your Dog the Same Unconditional Love They Give you” and we live and breath that motto every day. We offer the same kinds of services we would want for our pets. In fact, we do use our team for our own dog’s care. We listen to our client’s needs and feedback and constantly evolve our business to meet those needs. There are countless dog-walking businesses in Los Angeles, but we feel we offer something very unique and our clients are incredibly complementary and loyal.

What matters most to you? Why?
Giving our clients peace of mind when they entrust us with the care of their furry family members. Dogs are creatures of habit and we want to do everything we can to keep them on the routine they are used to. The best compliment we can get is when a client tells us their dog is leaping with joy when our team arrives for a walk or hike.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Jeff Otto

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