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Dog sledding is a historic sport that captivates the imaginations of many, and it’s no longer limited to harsh winter environments. Dog sledding businesses let people experience this sport first-hand by offering dog sled rides and tours.
Dog sled businesses aren’t limited to cold places like Nome, Alaska (where the Iditarod ends). Innovative products and business owners are bringing these businesses to warmer climates and metropolitan areas, in addition to cold remote regions.
Who is this business right for?
Anyone who enjoys being outdoors and working with dogs might like running a dog sledding business. Ken, owner of Peace Pups Dogsledding, identifies the motivations of most business owners well. Dog sledding gets you outside in nature and you get to spend your workdays with dogs.
What happens during a typical day at a dog sledding business?
A day at a dog sledding business is full of activity. Business owners:
- feed and clean up after dogs
- play with and exercise dogs
- train dogs and introduce new dogs
- maintain and repair gear and facilities
Several times a week, business owners will take their team out for a run. Each run may be with or without customers.
What is the target market?
The target market for a dog sledding business tends to be vacationers. People on vacation have discretionary income to spend, are willing to spend it and are looking for activities to do.
Within vacationers, dog sledding businesses tend to attract active individuals who love the outdoors, winter and dogs.
How does a dog sledding business make money?
A dog sledding business primarily makes money by offering tours via dog sled. In warm weather, tours may be given on a cart rather than a sled. Offering cart tours helps extend what would otherwise be a seasonal business into a year-round one.
Some businesses also offer tours of their kennels, but many are willing to share their dogs with interested parties for free. Even those that do charge for kennel visits normally only charge adults a nominal fee and let kids in for free. This isn’t a major source of revenue.
What is the growth potential for a dog sledding business?
Running a dog sled business is time-intensive, and dog teams develop special bonds with their owner. For this reason, dog sled businesses usually have a single location. Business owners can’t work with teams in different locations.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful dog sledding business?
In order to run a dog sledding business, business owners must know how to mush, which takes time to learn. Business owners who aren’t familiar with dog sledding should:
- take at least one mushing class
- connect with dog sledding clubs and organizations
- find a dog sledding mentor
- read books on mushing
What are the costs involved in opening a dog sledding business?
The largest startup expense of a dog sledding business is acquiring dogs. A business can start out with a small team of dogs, but it will need at least a few.
To find dogs, business owners should talk with mushers and contact rescue groups. Retired racing dogs are usually well-trained but not free. Rescue dogs are a low-cost option but may come with behavioral issues. When purchasing dogs, Mushing recommends that business owners ask why the dogs are being sold and request a full refund if the dog doesn’t bond with the existing team well. When getting rescues, business owners, should be prepared to find the dogs different homes if they aren’t suitable for dog sledding.
In addition to dogs, business owners also need:
- sleds (and carts)
- gang lines, necklines and harnesses
- booties and thermal gear
- shelters and pens
Wikihow recommends having at least 1,000 square feet of pens for a team of ten dogs. Each dog would also need their own shelter. Of course, business owners also need land for these facilities.
What are the steps to start a dog sledding business?
Once you're ready to start your dog sledding business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your dog sledding business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your dog sledding business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. Save 15% when you create a business website with Weebly.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a dog sledding business?
When selecting dogs, business owners should consider Alaskan and Siberian huskies. Alaskans are popular among racers, but their racing advantages aren’t important for dog sledding businesses.
Hounds, which some mushers use, should be avoided. They require insulated houses and additional thermal gear in cold temperatures, which increases facility and equipment costs. They also aren't the classic sled dog that customers expect to see.
How to promote & market a dog sledding business
One of the most effective ways to market a dog sledding business is online because vacationers often research their trips beforehand. A professional website, active social media profiles and online reviews can help impress potential customers when they’re making plans.
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How to keep customers coming back
Testimonials form and pictures of previous customers can help convince prospective customers to book tours. These help customers imagine themselves on vacation partaking in the sport, and they can read about and see the fun that dog sledding provides.
How and when to build a team
Dog sledding businesses may be one-person operations, or they might have small teams of employees. When hired, employees may help care for dogs, maintain facilities and gear, and handle customer inquiries. Employees don’t usually take the place of dog team’s leader, though.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a dog sledding business business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Certificate of Occupancy
A dog sledding business is generally run out of a physical location such as a lodge. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a dog sledding business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your dog sledding business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
Dog sled businesses charge several hundred dollars for a tour. Peace Pups Dogsledding charges $300 per person for one-hour tours and $550 for longer lessons. Kennel visits are just $20 for adults and free for children.
What are the ongoing expenses for a dog sledding business?
The ongoing expenses for a dog sledding business are substantial. They include the cost of:
- providing dogs with veterinary care
- purchasing food for dogs
- repairing and replacing equipment
- maintaining facilities
Additionally, new dogs must be acquired as older dogs are retired from sledding altogether.
How much profit can a dog sledding business make?
A dog sled business can bring in a sizable revenue, but much of this isn’t profit. A business that had two people tour five days a week might bring in $3,000 weekly That has to cover all of the above ongoing expenses, though, and most businesses aren’t fully booked during the warmer seasons even if they have carts. Thus, the winter earnings must cover all year-round expenses.
How can you make your business more profitable?
There are three main ways that a dog sledding business can increase revenue and profits. In addition to standard tours, businesses may give longer tours. Multi-day tours that involve camping can attract dedicated mushers who are traveling, and one-day tours that go to a destination (e.g. a restaurant) can attract couples on dates. Many businesses also get into breeding dogs, although some business owners have ethical concerns about this.