By David Serchuk
Owner David Lang started Pet Chauffeur four years ago with one goal: to create a recession-proof business.
At the time, Lang delivered prescription pet food for high-end veterinarians. The vets told Lang their clients lacked transport for their animals around Manhattan. Lang was surprised. “I didn’t even know there was a problem with it,” he said, “because I didn’t live in Manhattan.”
Lang realized that no matter the economy, people spend money on their pets. Then he took a closer look at his clientele and realized their problem: Few city pet owners drive and fewer cabs take Labrador retrievers.
For Lang, it made sense. If it’s hard for you to get a cab, try getting one for you and a rottweiler. Not to mention that most cab drivers won’t take any animals because the animals might “do business” in the car, he said.
Also, many cabbies have issues with pooch passengers.
“If you ask them, they’ll say dogs are dirty, and we will not put dogs in our car,” he said, adding, “I love it that they hate them.”
In just four years, Pet Chauffeur has gone from one van to 11, and the company’s 20 employees ferry from 20 to 40 people and pets daily.
Their orange vans carry animals either in crates or roaming in the back. Animals can also go with or without their owner.
Business has grown steadily. Lang said the company had $480,000 in total sales in 2002, up 20 percent from 2001.
Pet Chauffeur charges $25 for a trip of one to 40 Manhattan blocks, $30 for 40 to 80 blocks and $35 for 80 to 120 blocks.
One reason for the company’s good health, Lang noted, is that his clients are among the wealthiest New Yorkers. Robert De Niro and his Burmese mountain dog are regulars. Janeane Garofalo, Sean “P.Diddy” Combs and Janet Jackson also use the company.
Non-celebs use it, too. Bruno Lauder and his large poodle, Indi, use Pet Chauffeur to ferry them from his Manhattan home to his Queens business daily.
Last year, Lauder spent $12,000 with the company. Lauder uses Pet Chauffeur because Indi gets car sick, and the company’s drivers are trained to drive smoothly. “David spends a lot of time explaining to them that they cannot be race drivers when you drive animals around,” Lauder said.
While 90 percent of Lang’s business is dog owners, he will transport any animal. A giant bearded dragon lizard was a customer – in a crate the size of a coffin – as were a pair of chimpanzees.
Now Lang wants to expand. Last summer, the firm did long-distance pet-relocation drives on a trial basis, with a pair of bulldogs going to L.A. for $6,100
Pet Chauffeur also has gotten into international animal shipping. After September 11, this has become tougher since airlines investigate every package.
The company does all the paperwork and even books the tickets for its customers. This might seem excessive, but as Lang knows, some pet owners will do anything for their pets. Or at least pay someone else to.