Animal Aunts Ltd Celebrate their 35th Anniversary
Cast your mind back
Star Trekking by The Farm was number one in the charts, Three Men and a Baby was top of the box office and a tiny baby called Zac Effron had just been born. The year was 1987 and lots of other exciting things were happening. A talented young lady from Hampshire was looking after pets and livestock for local people. She was doing such a great job that soon she couldn’t keep up with demand. Then Animal Aunts was born – with the help of a government Enterprise Allowance Scheme. The scheme gave a guaranteed income of £40 per week to unemployed people who set up their own business. What would £40 get you these days? Not even half a tank of fuel!
In the ensuing years Animal Aunts went from strength to strength, delivering services throughout the UK and abroad. What is the secret to that success? Gillie McNicol creator of Animal Aunts and Manager to this day says “professional pet sitting in the Client’s home wasn’t a ‘thing’ back then, but the demand highlighted it was a much-needed service. People like having someone come to their home to take care of their pets as it allows their pets to maintain their routine and the presence of someone in the house provides additional security.”
From the very beginning Gillie and her growing team felt it was imperative to set certain standards to ensure they were providing a high-quality service that encouraged repeat customer and word of mouth advertising. These standards were to become the key to the success of Animal Aunts.
First and foremost, it was about recruiting the right calibre of Animal Aunt. It was as important then as it is today that anyone who became an Animal Aunt had a wealth of experience taking care of animals. Aunts do not have to be skilled with all animals (that would be too much of an ask) but that each Aunt has experience with specific animals.
The team at head office led by Gillie then work very hard to match the needs of the Client up to the skills and availability of the Aunt. Can you just imagine what that was like for them before the invention of Google maps?
Are these experienced Aunts tricky to find? They should be, but the team have not had to advertise for Animal Aunts in decades. Why? The job of an Animal Aunt is a highly sought after role that allows people to spend time with animals – which is always good for the soul, to meet new people and explore different places whilst on their daily dog walks. Where do we sign up?
Once a person has passed the lengthy interview process and (these days) has a valid DBS certificate they are then ready to take on work. Gillie says “once a Client has been matched to an Animal Aunt the next key to the success of the sit is for there to be clear communication”. Again, in 2022 this is an easier task than in 1987 when if someone missed your call to their landline phone, they missed your call! The Aunt and Client will liaise to agree upon all the requirements of the sit. This level of communication has always been important but during the Covid pandemic has been essential to reduce risk for all.
Animal Aunts offer to sit for multi – animal households. Gillie says one of her very first bookings was a small farm with 2 Labradors, 2 cats, 4 ponies and a few calves that needed bucket-feeding. “By providing a service for multi-animal households we are reducing the worry of placing your much-loved pets in different settings, where they miss each other as well as their routine.”
The next success criteria is the ability to send a replacement Aunt should the Aunt become incapacitated during the sit or the Client is delayed from returning home. With an army of over 200 Animal Aunts in the team there is always back up should something crop up. The team have been frequently called upon to extend their sitting services as the world started moving again following the pandemic.
It hasn’t been plain sailing, in fact, the last two years have only reminded us how unpredictable the world can be. Animal Aunts have faced many challenges in their 35 years of business including recessions, volcanic ash closing air space and the impact of the 9-11 attacks. The Covid pandemic was the only challenge that meant Animal Aunts (like so many other business) had to close the office for the first time ever, with only a very few bookings!
Gillie explains that the final key to their success is loyalty. She says her vast team of Animal Aunts are all incredibly proud of what they are part of, showing loyalty to both the company and their Clients. When you start working with Animal Aunts it can often be a job for life. Both Janet Donn and Tracy Hemmings have been Animal Aunts since the very early days.
The Clients also show an incredible loyalty, Gillie puts this down to the love of their animals “they wouldn’t choose to leave their furry family members with someone who didn’t love them and that’s why they keep coming back to us year after year. We even now have the grown up children of our original Clients on our books, as well as lots of second generations Aunts!”
What next for Animal Aunts?
What are Gillie’s future plans? More of the same top-quality service! Gillie loves her job and even throughout lockdown was to be found pottering in the office ready to take calls from any Aunts or Clients who just needed a chat. She says “retirement is a thought on the horizon. But when I do eventually retire, I will hang up my Animal Aunts fleece knowing I had the privilege of doing a job I loved every single day, making the best of friends along the way. I got onto a good thing and didn’t let go. There are not many people who are fortunate enough to say that!”.
You can find out more about the service provide by Animal Aunts here.