A Business Perspective on Living Wages and Rising to Meet the New Minimum in Ontario

We are so excited to hear the discussion about minimum wage in Ontario that's been going on recently, because we decided to pay a living wage to our professional dog walkers when we launched Walk My Dog Toronto in January 2016. We are glad that all employers will now have to step up and pay decent wages as well.

Before launching Walk My Dog Toronto, I had just left my position working in communications for a prominent union, SEIU Healthcare. Over the course of my time there, I spoke to many members, attended protests, and wrote articles about the Fight for 15 campaign and the need for a minimum living wage in Ontario.

So, when I started my own company, I had to look at the numbers long and hard and make sure that I would apply my values to my new venture. I knew I had to pay a living wage of around $15/hour, even though the minimum wage in Ontario was quite a bit lower, and I was staring down the challenge of building a business from scratch.

Labour costs at Walk My Dog Toronto are by far our biggest expense. Our team members are are full employees, which means that we pay the hourly wage, including travel time, plus taxes and paid statutory holidays. In pet care, like many industries, we have what we call low margins per service. This means that each service we offer isn't as immediately profitable as you would find in some professional services. There is a limit to how much we can charge for a dog walk, so there is a limit to how much we can pay our staff.

dog_walkers.jpgFrom a financial perspective, it was not the easiest decision to pay what we have, but from a management perspective, it was the best decision I could have made. We feel good knowing that we're paying a fair wage, and more importantly we have attracted excellent employees who are responsible, affectionate, trustworthy, and take very good care of our clients' pets. We have a great team and I wouldn't change it for the world.

With minimum wage rising across the board, there are questions about how much wages will rise for people who are currently making around the living wage. We have plans in place to increase wages according to how long our staff has been with us, and we are able to pay more commission the busier and more efficient we become. The minimum wage raise will therefore impact us as well, but we have done our best to plan for it ahead of time. 

For any companies who, up until this point, have relied on paying the current minimum wage or a less than living wage, I recommend finding ways to be more efficient and to create more business to balance out this new expense. In the long run, everyone will be better off for it.

Gilleen Witkowski is the owner of Walk My Dog Toronto. We do on-leash neighbourhood dog walks and in-home pet care services while you are busy or away. We always email you a cute GPS-tracked report with a map and photos.

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