10/23 update: As the public awaits a preliminary report on an accident cause, two recommendations after a 2015 crash would have affected the recent one.
Barking Up The Right Tree
Founder and Chief Happiness Officer Paul Ozner wanted to combine the logistics of his former job as a controller of a fleet of 65 vehicles for a company that delivered 13,000 meals a day to senior citizens, charter schools, and daycare centers, with his love of animals.
As a pet owner, he realized busy professionals, seniors, disabled individuals, and people who were just plain lazy didn’t always have the time or energy to bring their fur babies to grooming and vet appointments. After doing research, he discovered 30% of new residents in D.C. don’t drive, and the licensed dog population had increased by 60% over three years.
“It just screamed ‘There’s a need for a service,’” he says.
So, he took the fleet management knowledge he had acquired working his previous job and made it his goal to meet the highest standard of care: The Animal Welfare Act mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because animals are very sensitive, he wanted his business to reflect happiness and make owners feel at ease.
Clients can rest assured their pets aren’t being manhandled by strangers — they are being cared for by fellow animal lovers. Rapid Paws is approved by both the USDA and the Transportation Security Administration. “If you are moving pets, you want to live up to the highest standard you can,” Ozner says.
Working Man’s Best Friend
After 10 months of beta testing, Rapid Paws officially went live on April 1. The company provides just about every service imaginable: Airport pickup, interstate transportation, and trips to the vet, breeder, groomer, or daycare.
It operates two Nissan NV 2500 high-roof vans that are completely climate controlled with supplemental HVAC and stand-by power generation. Ozner says he is pleased with the vehicles because they are great to brand on and promote good air circulation for the animals. Workers clean the vehicles daily, but sanitize crates after every use with a veterinary germicide and disinfectant.
Ozner has arrangements made to rent extra vans if he ends up needing them in the future, and assuming business ends up booming, he has a longstanding relationship with Enterprise that would enable him to swap out his two current vehicles for a fleet of seven.
In the pet world, there isn’t really a need for on-demand transportation services. Rapid Paws is near-demand: give them at least a two hour heads-up, and they’ll be ready to roll. “It’s not like you have a collie who says, ‘Mommy, I have a strong urge to be groomed. Take me outside and call a cab — I’ve got to get my hair done, let’s go!,’” Ozner jokes.
If the service can be described in one word, it would be “reliable.” He takes pride in the fact if he says they’ll be there, you can expect them to be on time. The company only transports cats and dogs, but if there’s a large enough demand for creatures of a more exotic nature, they’ll look into it.
As far as managing the fleet goes, Ozner uses Insight’s Street Eagle GPS system and Limo Anywhere software. Customers are able to book online or through the Rapid Paws app, available on both Apple and Android devices.
Rapid Paws pricing is simple and fair: A trip of five miles or less is $25, five to 15 mile trips are $40, 15 to 25 miles is $60, and anything above 25 miles is $60 plus $1.55 per mile after that. If you plan on moving two or more pets, it’s $10 per extra animal. The company offers contract rates as well, and is flexible and willing to make deals with customers.
Sit. Stay. Type.
Ozner is a self-proclaimed “student of social media.” While Rapid Paws has multiple accounts, he’s more concerned with discerning what he wants the company to be and stand for. A McDonald’s franchise operator for 17 years, he understands how to make use of media, but is trying to learn the new toolkit first.
“Each channel has its own customer, and each customer has to be spoken to in a way that resonates appropriately through social media. I think that takes some training,” he explains. “I want to be able to properly address the questions potential clients have: Who is Rapid Paws, and can we trust these people?”
This desire for transparency is refreshing. One innovation he’s taking advantage of is Periscope. For those who are unfamiliar with the app, Periscope allows one to “go live” via cell phone or tablet. You can stream video and audio to any viewers who join your broadcast.
“People have baby cams and nanny cams. This is pet cam. I’m trying to build trust by allowing the customer to see not only their pet, but my driver as well,” he says. “It’s like saying, ‘Hey, take a look. We understand your concerns.’”
Using this technology is cheaper, simpler, and more effective than trying to hook up a CCTV system and gives doting pet parents piece of mind. Ozner believes this feature will be especially appealing to owners wh
Who’s A Good Driver?
Rapid Paws takes driver training seriously. Ozner collaborated with a Canine Good Citizen and Schutzhund trainer to develop a syllabus each driver is required to go through (12 total training hours). They must then pass a practical and written exam to earn a certificate of completion. For added reassurance in the early stages of the business, Ozner chaperons every trip to ensure everything goes according to plan.
He’s also looking for veterinary technicians for a premium service called “Vet Tech Assist,” where customers can request to have a vet tech on the ride along with your animal. He believes this will help address a fundamental fear for some owners.
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