This Couple Wants to Spread Paw & Order Across the Country

At Patriot Software, we’re committed to providing accounting and payroll software that lets small business owners keep their time and money for what they love: running their business!

Our #PatriotSpotlight customer success stories celebrate and inspire U.S. small business owners across the country. For our July small business spotlight, we spoke to Steve Sentner, who co-owns Paw & Order Dog Training with his wife, Elissa Weimer-Sentner.  

Paw & Order is a Pittsburgh-based dog training business offering certified in-home training and board & train packages. Averaging a near 5-star rating, Paw & Order’s reputation has paved the way for the quickly-expanding business to open two upcoming franchises in New Castle, Pennsylvania and Greensburg, Pennsylvania! 

Can you tell me a little bit about what you do and offer?

Well, we’re dog trainers. My wife is the head trainer, and she started her company in 2013, which is actually how we met. I hired her as a dog trainer in 2014, and then we got married. 

In 2016, my wife changed the name of her company to Paw & Order. At that point, I quit my corporate job to rebrand the company. I created the logo and website, so now I manage the business portion while Elissa (and the other dog trainers) handle the dog training. We just launched a franchise of our business right before COVID hit and recently closed with a second franchise. 

Services we provide include in-home dog training, board & train packages, and group classes. Our packages are at a flat rate, and we offer a lifetime commitment. 

small golden puppy in training With our in-home training, one of our trainers goes to the client’s home and works with their dog in their own environment. Our trainers typically only need to visit the client five – six times until they’re fully trained. If the dog is still struggling, our trainers go out additional times as long as they are putting in the work. With our Board & Train package, the client brings their dog to our home, which is on a 14-acre farm, and we train it fully within 2 – 4 weeks.

We also offer some free events for our clients who have gone through the program—we consider our clients as part of our family. We have a private Facebook group where our trainers will organize pack walks or other get-togethers at a bar, local trail, or lake. We went kayaking in downtown Pittsburgh last summer. And last year, we had a little party for Halloween where the dogs came in costumes. We’ve had as many as 30 – 40 people at an event! 

The pack walks get our clients additional training and a chance to meet people in the community and make friends. We’ve made friends through this, and so have our clients.

two dogs wearing life vests on a boat overlooking the lake

Why did you decide to start a dog training business?

My wife got involved because she was military police. Another veteran was looking for dog trainers across the country to start their own business, and he would train them to be a dog trainer. So, she went through his schooling, came back to the Pittsburgh area, and started up what became Paw & Order in 2016. 

I decided to join because it was a no-brainer for me. I worked in corporate America with two large companies over the span of 15 years. I was tired of it, so when the opportunity came for us to be able to do it on our own and expand (which we have been able to do) I signed on. 

What’s your favorite part of running your own business?

Working from home and setting my own schedule. I don’t have to deal with the corporate BS, sit in meetings, or listen to things like, Think outside the box. 

I get to sleep in. I have no commute. I used to have to take the bus downtown to work. It’s a dream come true to be your own boss (really my wife is the boss). 

What are some of the biggest challenges of being a business owner?

Dealing with employees can be difficult, which we found out the hard way. We try to please everybody all the time, and we found that we were too lenient with some people. We let things go, and have recently realized we need to put our foot down and let people know we are their boss.

From the back-end perspective, things can get crazy dealing with HR logistics and legal stuff. As a small business co-owner, I know all of the compliance things can be a lot to handle. 

One of the biggest challenges for us was when we brought on our first official employee. We had 1099 contractors, but when we brought on an employee and started paying them, we had to handle taxes. When I used Patriot for the first year, I didn’t have Full Service, so Patriot wasn’t handling the taxes for us. When it came to the end of the year, we realized we owed a lot in back taxes. Thankfully, the IRS was very understanding of us since we were a new small business. 

After that, I leaned on Patriot Software to pay our employees’ taxes on our behalf, which was a huge burden off my shoulders. And then in 2019, Patriot instituted the 1099 contractor payment feature, which has been huge for us! 

small black and brown Pomeranian licking his lips

How many hours do you typically work per week?

I can tell you my wife can work anywhere from 40 – 70 hours per week. Between her driving and training, there are a lot of hours. That’s gone down lately because we just brought on another employee, which has really helped my wife. But sometimes, we get a potential client who really wants my wife to help, which she’ll do.  

I don’t clock in and clock out: one job I have is wearing many hats at the business. My other job is taking care of the house and cutting the grass [14 acres!] for the dogs. So, I would say my hours dedicated to Paw & Order are probably 20 – 30 per week. 

How does Patriot’s Full Service payroll help you run your business?

The biggest time savers for me are the taxes and paying 1099 contractors. I’m so happy you guys added that 1099 contractor feature. I no longer have to spend time cutting checks to contractors now.

I don’t have to spend more than a few minutes every other week to run payroll. I find the platform is easy to use. And, support has been really good any time I’ve had any issues. 

How do you adapt business to handle things beyond your control, like COVID?

Luckily, COVID hasn’t really hurt us as far as demand. A lot of people have been getting “quarantine dogs.” Although we had to temporarily stop business to comply with the lockdown, we were slammed as soon as restrictions were lifted. Business has actually picked up, and I think it’s also because a lot of people are stuck at home with their dogs and realizing they are not well trained. 

The only changes now are that our trainers have masks and hand sanitizer, we don’t touch or shake hands with clients, and trainers ask to wash their hands when they arrive at a client’s house. 

What are you most proud of when it comes to your business?

I’m most proud of my wife, actually. She started this thing. 

We get a ton of referrals, and that’s because of our reputation, which starts with my wife. She has a great reputation, and we’d be nothing without her. She’s a very impressive woman—everyone who meets her says so. 

I’m proud of her and proud of our reputation. The vast majority of our reviews are 5 stars, with the very few negative reviews coming from people unable to hire us because we’re outside the service area. 

The second thing I’m most proud of is the website, which I built. The majority of our leads come from the website.

paw and order owners with their dogs

What’s the best piece of advice you could give to someone thinking about starting their own business? 

I’m a marketing guy—that was my background. To me, organization is going to be one of the biggest things. You need to be organized and know what you’re doing in regards to managing the business. 

I think there are three solid things that you need to do to run your business and be successful. I see a lot of contractors who have the first, but not the other two:

  • Being good at your trade. Whatever it is you’re doing—selling something or providing a service—be the best at it. I know my wife and our trainers have that, and we’re the best in the business.
  • Marketing. What a lot of companies don’t do well is marketing. They don’t know how to build a website and don’t want to pay someone to do it. They might have a social media page, but don’t keep up with it. 
  • Communication. Communication is so key with potential clients and existing clients. I get so frustrated when I reach out to a contractor and they don’t get back to me for days. They’re busy, but if you want to make a good name for yourself, you have to get back to people as soon as possible. We have an office manager who takes calls on the weekend. Even though she isn’t working, she’ll get back to people as soon as possible.  

I would also advise any small business owner to get an accountant. Our first year, our office manager was managing our accounting. But by the time it came to taxes, we had so many things wrong, and we had to hire an accountant to clean everything up. 

Connect with Paw & Order:

Featured image courtesy of Chuck Beard.

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