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In the "Mews"

Entrepreneurs’ Passion For Pets Leads to Pet-Care Business

From the September, 2006 print edition of the St. Louis Small Business Monthly
By Courtney Vogt

Tammy Tvetene, left, and Cindy Berndt, opened
Critter Sitters of St. Louis in 1994.

While working in corporate America, Tammy Tvetene would regularly travel to New York City twice a month on business. While she enjoyed the travel, the lifelong pet lover and owner was always let with the stressful question: What can I do with my pets?

Tvetene usually asked family and friends to care for her four pets. Inevitably, the time came when she was left with no pet sitter, and she found herself thumbing through the yellow pages for kennels.

“I just knew there was a need for alternative pet care for people who owned pets and needed to travel,” she said, “At that time, pet sitters weren’t as well known. There was a pet-sitting service listed under kennels and it said ‘no cages, we’ll love your pet just as you do.’ It was such a great idea and I thought there was a huge opportunity for this type of service because I had four pets and I didn’t even know it existed.”

Tvetene left corporate America and vowed to build a company that could help relieve pet owners’ stress. The result was Critter Sitters, a pet care business that Tvetene and her sister, Cindy Berndt, opened in 1994.

Critter Sitters offers the pet community professional pet care in the pets’ own homes rather than a kennel. Twelve employees service areas within a five-mile radius of their homes to accommodate more than 500 clients. Under this system, employees are familiar with the area they are servicing, which personalizes the service and provides pet owners with peace of mind that Tvetene thinks is important in the industry.

“When we’re at the homes, we give the pets food and water, we exercise them and give them lots of TLC,” Tvetene explains. “Our customers are paying us for 30 minutes, but it’s really whatever they need.”

Critter Sitters has become more than just pet sitting in the past 12 years. Other services are available as well. For instance, within the service agreement pet owners can outline reasonable tasks for the sitter to perform around the home, such as watering plants and bringing in the mail. Tvetene and Berndt’s other sister, Beth Oppermann, is a master dog trainer, and in 2005, in-home dog training became available. Additionally, a pooper-scooper service was recently established.

Tvetene says that competition in the pet sitting industry continues to increase as the pet community becomes more aware of the service. However, she points out that more companies are advertising and raising that awareness, which is resulting in more clients at Critter Sitters.

Tvetene said that the company’s unique qualities help to set it apart from the competition. For example, employees are employees of the company itself—they don’t work through independent contracts. Tvetene says that gives them better leverage to raise the standards when looking for employees and delivering pet care.

“We understand that we’re in the business of delivering peace of mind and not just pet care,” she says. “It’s just really important to people when they’re out of town that they don’t have to worry that somebody isn’t going to be there as contracted to be.”

And to make sure that each animal is cared for when it is scheduled to be, Critter Sitters uses an online program called No Pet Left Behind. Tvetene explains that clients are emailed confirmation of their reservation and the sitters and dog walkers go online each night and check their schedule. “They check off that every visit was completed so that no pet is left behind. I’ve found that the system gives pet owners more peace of mind. There’s no chance that someone won’t be there to care for their pets”.

What does Tvetene feel is the most influential factor contributing to Critter Sitters success? “Our staff,” she says without hesitation. “We have this amazing group of animal lovers who truly want to treat these pets as their own. I’m always astounded by the above and beyond attitudes of our employees.”

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