FETCH Pet Care Looks to Virtual PBX

The idea for FETCH! Pet Care started with two dogs, a cat, and a late, poorly-dressed pet sitter who didn’t instill the utmost confidence in Paul Mann, a software CEO living in Berkeley, California. “I took one look at him and refused to give him my house keys,” said Mann. “It seemed impossible to find a reliable, trustworthy pet sitter with the proper training. Not only are you inviting them to enter your home while you’re out of town, but you’re also entrusting them with the livelihood of your pets. I knew that there must be many other pet owners who faced the same challenge.”

Mann started FETCH! Pet Care in 2002. In less than four years, the San Francisco Bay Area-based company has quickly grown to become the nation’s largest provider of professional, bonded and insured pet care services. Key to FETCH! Pet Care’s growth has been its strategy of offering low-cost, turnkey franchise opportunities throughout the U.S.

According to the 2005-2006 National Pet Owners Survey from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 63 percent of U.S. households, or 69.1 million homes, have a pet. The organization estimates 2006 U.S. spending for pet services, including grooming and boarding to be $2.7 billion, up from $2.5 billion in 2005.

In this booming marketplace, FETCH! Pet Care grew rapidly. Mann found that supporting over 50 franchise owners and their thousands of customers challenged the company’s existing telephone communications.

Previously, customers searching for pet care services had to go to the FETCH! Pet Care website or their local phone directory to locate a local franchise, or they could call the main corporate number. The company’s dispatcher would then pass messages to the appropriate franchise. “We liked the personal touch a dispatcher offered our callers,” said Mann. “However, the dispatch office’s work shifts left gaps in our service, and if staff members were out of the office, they had to remember to forward incoming calls to the dispatcher. Also, it was clumsy to have the dispatcher take messages for the franchises. Clients couldn’t get immediate scheduling.” As the company grew to service over 900 cities in 18 states, Mann realized he needed to provide customers with a central, toll-free number that would provide instant automated call routing to the appropriate franchise.

Mann, whose background is in business operations for companies such as IBM and Estée Lauder, looked for a technology solution to solve the age-old problem of effective customer communications. Companies researching phone systems may consider purchasing a standard PBX (Private Branch Exchange) system, requiring the company to purchase, install and manage their own phone equipment. But for Fetch! Pet Care, the traditional PBX system would not solve their problem, as it would not allow the company to route calls outside corporate offices to franchisees.

“From past experience, we knew not to bother with a traditional PBX system,” said Mann. “On top of the acquisition, setup and maintenance costs involved, a traditional PBX wasn’t ideal for a distributed business such as ours, nor would it scale easily or at the rate we needed.” FETCH! Pet Care currently signs on an average of 5-10 franchises per month.

Search for a Communications Solutions
Mann decided to search for an alternative to traditional PBX systems. His staff conducted a thorough competitive analysis of different options, and ultimately selected a hosted PBX system from Virtual PBX Inc (www.virtualpbx.com), the company that invented hosted PBX phone systems. A hosted PBX system delivers PBX functionality as a service over the Public Service Telephone Network (PSTN) and can be managed via a simple browser-based interface. “Upon examination, we liked what the solution had to offer,” said Mann. “The service would tie together all of our remote offices under one number, but would not require us to purchase and install costly phone equipment.” Mann discovered that Virtual PBX offers the functionality of a traditional PBX, but callers are routed through the Virtual PBX system to any phones in any locations, not just to phones inside the main office. The system ensures continuous phone support, never greeting the caller with a busy signal.

For the company headquarters, Mann chose Virtual PBX’s Small Business Service, ideal for offices of 1-25 people. The service offered the big business phone system features Mann required, such as call-routing and conference calling, with the ability to scale with the company. “We didn’t need to purchase extra phone lines in order to prevent customers from receiving a busy signal or being put into voicemail,” added Mann.

As part of his turnkey franchising, Mann offers the franchises the option to sign up for Virtual PBX’s Small Office/Home Office solution to field local calls. This entry-level service provides offices of up to three people a professional image with sophisticated call-handling features, such as follow-me calling and the ability to receive voicemail messages as email attachments.

Implementation of the hosted PBX service at the company headquarters took only one business day, and included custom configuration and special routing to accommodate the franchises. “I listened to phone menu examples from various companies, and had a good idea of what I wanted our phone system to do,” said Mann. Customers who now call 866 FETCH ME are given a menu of options, one of which is to enter their zip code, which then routes them directly to the appropriate franchise office.

To retain the personal touch for its customers, the company continues to utilize the central dispatcher for its company-owned San Francisco territory, along with three of its Bay Area franchises. The dispatcher is also available nationwide for problems that cannot be resolved by the phone system menu options. “Some customers want to check in with their pet’s caregiver every day,” said Mann. “They may find it more convenient to call our toll-free number. The virtual phone systems also give our franchises the option to have calls routed appropriately when caregivers are away from the office.” This fall, the company plans to roll out a central dispatching service for all of its franchisees to utilize.

Poised for Growth
FETCH! Pet Care has been using its Virtual PBX System since January of 2006. Mann also uses the Virtual PBX’s reporting tools to analyze call volumes, wait times and call locations. “These tools help us more readily identify locations that may be in need of a franchise office,” said Mann.

“My advice to other small business owners is to consider Virtual PBX if they want improved communications and a professional corporate image, but don’t want the acquisition and maintenance cost of a traditional on-premise PBX,” said Mann. “The service has greatly improved our cross-company communications. More importantly, it has helped our customers get the pet care they need in a timely, reliable manner.”

Greg Brashier is vice president of marketing at Virtual PBX. www.virtualpbx.com
Copyright 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Print page