Sandra Blakley runs Dog Kidz Country Daycare & Boarding in Vero Beach, Florida.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Dog Kidz Country Daycare & Boarding LLC provides worry free pet care. My five acre property in the country includes a boarding house with large pens, not cages, and huge 26 foot private runs. The runs are carpeted in K9 antibacterial grass. The inside is airy, bright, very clean, and temperature controlled. We also offer daycare for both boarders and daily guests. Our daycare building has three separate playrooms with twin beds, toys, hiding places, colorful murals on the walls and streaming video. Parents can view their dog kidz at play from their home or work computer. The dogs are divided into groups by size and temperament. Each playroom has a dog door to a play yard with climbing equipment and pools. Cameras are out in the play yards as well. There is also a dog park with a gazebo, agility equipment, and pools. Finally, we do luxury baths, spas, and grooming.
When did you start the business?
In August of 2006 I started renting the property while waiting on closing which happened in November. We worked and worked and spent a great deal of money. Everything was long neglected. I put up a $100,000 worth of fencing on the property, added the runs, changed all the indoor gates, cleaned, painted, added a dog park, converted the residence to a daycare, and did extensive work on the guest cottage so someone could remain here in residence.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I spent 20 years in the citrus industry working for the largest mail order citrus company. I was the director of one of three divisions. My division sold citrus wholesale, most notably to schools, clubs, churches etc. who re-sold the fruit for a profit as a fund raising product. Much of what I did, running my division, was similar to running a small business so I believed that I could make the transition.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
This is a tough business in terms of city/county codes and neighbors who may complain of noise. While I did everything right in those areas, I still had problems with a county official who approved my fencing and then, after all $100,000 worth of fencing was up, decided they made a mistake in setbacks but refused to offer me any slack for it. Additionally, neighbors who moved in after me sued me for noise and cost me a great deal of money and heartache.
You must love animals to do this. That sounds obvious but I know of folks who run pet care businesses from grooming to boarding who don't really care about animals. It takes a huge amount of patience to deal with their messes and damage they do.
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
Spend only what you have to spend. With all the start up funds, it is tempting to go and do everything you imagine but you can run out of money way before the business is self supporting. I had a reputation for dead-on projections before I started this business but it took months longer than I projected before we hit a minimum income.
Temporary labor can be a great asset to an entrepreneur. Have you ever hired temps or contractors? Would you suggest this as a strategy for new business owners?
Yes. Not only are the payroll taxes difficult for a novice but costs are certainly much higher with regular employees. Not only that, but we are open 7 days a week, 12 hours a day but are very busy only in the mornings and the last few hours of the day. This is difficult to staff for with regular employees. Part time and contract employees work much better for this time of situation.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
We offered people what they wanted – a place where they can leave their dogs or other small animals and go off to enjoy their vacation without worrying. I did that by offering great facilities that are dog friendly but not silly or over the top. The place is clean, big, bright and we are thorough in checking vaccinations. Dogs have plenty of room, attention, comfort and are secure. Our motto is Run Free…Play Hard…Sleep Tight and we provide that. Folks genuinely feel like they are leaving their dogs at summer camp -- not a cell.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
The economy is been very damaging to us, no doubt, along with most everyone else. People travel less and their trips are shorter. The biggest surprise is that we have great difficulty bringing in daycare customers who are not boarding. Our facilities are far superior to the other dog daycares in the area but we are a little (few miles) further out. I was convinced that folks who were willing to spend the money to bring their dogs to daycare, would be willing to travel a few extra miles to come to a much better place but that has not been the case.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish I had not made so many improvements at first. I wish I had trusted my instincts about the bank I chose and had gone somewhere else. I wish I would have tried harder to find a partner. Doing this all alone…even as independent as I am, has been far more difficult than I ever thought it would be.
It sounds like you have a wonderful place for pets to visit. Best wishes in growing your business, Sandra.