Can you really teach an old dog new tricks? Jonathan Klein thinks you can and he's not just talking about his four legged clients.
The Los Angeles-based dog trainer who has owned I Said Sit! School for Dogs more than 20 years, started the business as an in-home pet training enterprise. Today, his company occupies a state-of-the-art 5,000 square-foot facility in Los Angeles, that provides dog training, doggie day-care and short and long-term boarding.
Despite competition from other trainers, Klein has managed to differentiate himself from his competition using by capitalizing on two things: his alternative approach to dog training and his understanding that to really build a business, he needed to target his message to those who really wanted to hear it.
A natural talent
Klein was working in sales and marketing when he discovered his talents as a dog trainer after finding himself with an unmanageable puppy. He began to take training classes, where he he was a natural at it. After reading numerous books on the subject and taking several classes, he became a professional trainer. Klein believes it was his love of animals and his inherent connection with dogs that pulled him toward dog training as a career.
“It really was a case of finding my calling. Working in sales was a job. Training was my passion,” said Klein.
When he first started his business, Klein said there were so many in-home dog trainers in Los Angeles that it was practically a fad. However, he was able to stand out and distance himself from his competitors — many of whom were not well-trained and simply wanted to make some money — through his unique approach to dog training. He uses the ‘causative approach,” which uses praise and rewards to encourage positive behavior, but never uses punishment in response to negative behavior.
“What happens is that, while a dog may behave, it is doing so out of fear, which can then lead to a host of other problems,” Klein told BusinessNewsDaily. “And who really wants their dog to be afraid of them?”
Though his effective training method certainly helped, this was not the only advantage Klein had in getting his business off the ground. His strong sales and marketing background gave him an edge when it came time to advertise.
“I knew that it was going to be word-of-mouth, not marketing that was going to drive my business,” said Klein. “The more I concentrated on my work and delivered results, the quicker my reputation grew. To this day, it’s the calls I get from people who have been recommended that let me know I’m on the right track.”
By "word-of-mouth," however, Klein does not mean that he just sat back and waited for the phone to ring. Instead, he took a very targeted and thoughtful approach to how he spread the word about his business.
"At the beginning I did a lot of networking that was targeted to a niche of people – vets, groomers, pet stores, breeders – I wanted to get the most reach for my efforts," Klein said.
While he could have advertised to a broader audience, where, perhaps half of the people owned pets, he, instead focused on groups that had a larger concentration of pet owners.
His background in sales also helped.
"I figured that no matter what I did eventually, I was going to have to sell myself, my business, my field to somebody else," Klein said, explaining his reasons for entering the sales business. Now, even after 20 years in the business, he's still putting his sales skills to work, even just to convince his clients to use the training techniques he's taught them.
Sharing those training techniques is another part of the marketing puzzle for Klein. He believes that rather than guarding the his recipe for success, his role as trainer involves sharing his techniques and encouraging clients and potential clients to embrace them.
To this end, the company send out regular email newsletters and employs both Facebook and Twitter to disseminate his message.
Still, in spite of the fact that he's sharing his training methods, Klein finds that customers still need his help deploying them.
"I want to help people by giving as much information as much as I can," Klein said. "But, 9 out 10 times, if you have a dog problem, you need a professional."
That's where he comes in.