Our Top 10 Tips for Starting a Doggy Daycare or Kennel Business
We really love dogs (and cats), they’re presence brings joy and comfort. Owning a dog means unconditional friendship.
As a companion, they give all they have and ask nothing in return; but, owning a dog does mean extra responsibility. We have to feed them, keep them safe and clean, and sometimes, when travel or emergencies disrupt our normal care we are faced with the challenge of who will take custody of them.
Enter boarding kennels. Kennel businesses, like doggy daycare, offer to take care of our best friend and manage our pet related responsibilities while we are away. Every year, millions of pet owners rely on the services of knowledgeable boarding kennel operators to provide safe, dependable, and secure pet care and, as an industry, the future has never looked brighter.
Factors like increasing pet ownership (especially relating to adoption) and progressing consumer preferences toward pet care has caused the industry to nearly double over the last decade. Currently, the demand for high value pet services like doggy daycare is at an all-time high.
If you’ve ever considered starting a dog daycare or kennel business, now might be the time. If done properly, owning a kennel business can be quite lucrative; and, though this type of business may not be for everyone, providing a safe and secure place for peoples pets can offer a very rewarding career to those that love pets and their parents.
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How to Start a Pet Boarding Business
Chances are you didn’t just stumble across this article and decide it sounded like a captivating read. If you’ve made it this far, we assume that you have spent some time thinking about starting a kennel business and were led to this article while doing research.
We understand that there is a lot of information on the web about owning a business and it can be quite overwhelming, especially when you are just getting started. We created this guide with the goal of helping you begin this journey. What makes us qualified to advise you on starting a dog kennel business, you may ask?
For starters, our company was born out of the needs of animal shelters and, in addition to previously owning a kennel and dog training business, we have spent 20+ years developing relationships with shelter and kennel professionals and the surrounding pet community. Suffice to say, this experience has helped us deeply understand some of the key success factors (and mistakes) in opening a kennel business or doggy daycare.
Below are our top 10 tips for starting and operating a successful dog boarding business.
1. Learn the industry
Chances are you are already familiar with the animals you intend to care for and their basic needs. This is an excellent start but, sadly it may not be enough. Understanding the industry demands, the target customer, the potential pitfalls, the competitive landscape and a host of other factors will play a major role in the success of your business.
In fact, in his book Small Business Management, Michael Ames list this “lack of experience” as the #1 reason small businesses fail.
Before starting your kennel business it’s worth taking the time to interview active professionals in the pet care industry. If you can afford to, apply for a part time job with a nearby dog daycare to learn some of the day to day habits of successful business owners. Or, simply volunteer time at your local SPCA or animal shelter. All these options could provide invaluable experience and knowledge of the industry and save you time, money, and headaches in the future.
2. Decide on a location
The old real estate mantra “location, location, location” could not be more true for business success. Poor location is one of the top reasons we have seen otherwise fantastic businesses close their doors.
Location is particularly important for doggy daycares and grooming businesses where clients will be dropping off their dogs more often. Having a location that is in their neighborhood or on the way to work is a great selling point.
When considering a location some key questions to ask yourself might be:
- How much space do you need?
- How many kennels do you intend to operate?
- Is your covered space sufficient?
- Plan on 100+ sq. ft. of covered space per dog
- Is your outside play area big enough?
- Will you have space to expand?
- Will your pet business be home based or will you need to find another location?
- Check your local ordinances, does your city allow you to operate a boarding business at home? What about your HOA? Neighbors?
- If you are locating your business elsewhere, will you rent or buy?
- Is there existing structure or will you need to build?
- What is the local market like?
- Is there demand for your service?
- What is the competitive landscape?
- How many pet owners vs how many other kennels are there in the area you intend to serve?
- What is the impression of area you intend to place the business?
- A business in an area of town that is considered higher end may cost more but will likely be able to charge more as well?
- When you think about the general area you’ve chosen, what immediately comes to mind... Is it the “dangerous” part of town? The “up-and-coming” part?
- Locations are not immune to judgement and chances are, if you have opinions about an area others will too and the will tend to associate your business with these opinions, however untrue they may be.
You’ll also want to investigate local laws, regulations, permits, licensing and insurance requirements. Consider reaching out to a local commercial insurance agent and discuss specific insurance requirements for a boarding kennel.
You will likely need a kennel license and vendor license but, don’t take our word for it, every location is different. Contact your appropriate state, city, and county offices regarding licensing and taxes for new businesses. The Small Business Administration is a great place to start answering some of these questions.
3. Create a business plan
When starting a small business one of the most important steps you can take to ensure your success and avoid future hiccups is to create a business plan.
A business plan is fundamentally a road map and, like any road map, it only works if you stick to it.
Starting a business without a plan is like waking up one morning and while driving into work you decide to take detour across the country to see the top sights. Needless to say, without planning and a guide it wouldn’t be long before you were terribly lost.
A business plan can be as simple or complex as you choose, but it should be specific. It should also be flexible because, just like in any good road trip, things happen.
There are hundreds of great resources online for creating a generic business plan. With the boarding industry in mind, we have created a free outline to get you started—sign up below.
4. Create a budget
As a new business owner every penny counts. Managing your credits and debits may not be what wakes you up in the morning but, if mismanaged, they will certainly keep you up at night.
Depending on your needs a budget can be as straightforward as a 2 column spreadsheet or an elaborate software application. Regardless of the scope, here are a few recommendations to ensure a positive experience:
- Separate business and personal finances - Creating a budget should start with opening a business bank account. This helps protect your personal assets and allows you to manage specific business-related income and expenses.
- Estimate income - Sales are the cornerstone of any business, do market research and try to estimate (as accurately as possible) your projected sales. It is wise to err on the conservative side when estimating sales and as time goes on necessary adjustments can be made based on previous performance.
- Determine fixed costs - If sales are the cornerstone of business then fixed costs are the foundation that it rests. Get to know your operating costs intimately as these expenses will not change no matter how well (or poorly) the business is doing. Managing these costs properly can be a huge investment in the future of your business. Some examples are rent, utilities, taxes, etc.
- Determine variable costs - Variable costs increase as sales increase. For instance, As your doggy daycare grows you may need to allocate more of your budget to sanitizer every month or as things slow down you may need to adjust your advertising. Knowing and anticipating these costs is important to maintaining a stress-free budget.
- Account for one-off expenses - Another smart budget practice is to pad the budget for one time, unanticipated expenses. Perhaps you do everything on a single computer and it suddenly stops working, having a little extra in the budget for this type of expense can be a real lifesaver when every expense is of utmost importance.
- Make continuous adjustments - Budgets are not based on exact science. Be prepared to make changes as your business progresses.
5. Obtain supplies
Unfortunately, you can’t wait for the first customer to show up to start building your kennel. In conjunction with your budget and business plan, it is important to start creating a plan for supplies.
When starting out you will need essential items like kennel materials, office supplies, and pet related items but don’t forget to prepare the less considered supplies like cleaning materials, and items that keep you in the office as opposed to running to the store. Additionally, be sure to spend the time it takes to fix broken fences and remove hazards before accepting any clients.
As you grow, evaluating various suppliers and developing relationships with those companies can go a long way in saving you time and money.
6. Decide what services you’ll offer & set your prices
Decide on what services you will offer. Will your kennel simply house customers’ pets while they are away or will you provide additional value (such as grooming, etc)?
Research your competition, are their 6 pet groomers in your area, but only 2 boarding kennels and no doggy daycares? Even if you plan to board animals overnight, you’d be wise to set yourself apart by also having a doggy daycare.
Don’t forget to research your competitors' pricing to make sure you’re not over or undercharging. Unless you are providing exceptional value it may be hard to set your prices at the high end of the market as a new business.
But remember, you are providing a valuable service and deserve to make a profit. Review your operating expenses and start-up costs, evaluate the market and set a fair price for your services. Don’t shortchange yourself by trying to “undercut” the competition.
7. Promote your business
You could build the greatest doggy daycare in the world, in the best location, and have awesome pricing but, if you don’t tell anybody about it, it won’t be around very long. Needless to say, while planning your kennel business it’s extremely important not to overlook marketing.
The great news is that promoting your business doesn’t have to be hard. We recommend these 5 things for marketing your new pet business:
- Branding - Choose a great name, protect it, and invest in creating a memorable logo and branding, something that will stick in potential customer’s minds. Consistently employ this branding on all your marketing collateral.
- Community - Get involved in the local pet community. Introduce yourself to veterinarians, pet store owners, and other pet-related business. Get involved with your local chamber of commerce. Go to dog parks and pet friendly restaurants, hang-out where pet parents do. We would also recommend hosting a grand opening and inviting friends from the community to come and see what you have to offer.
- Business cards - Create some quality business cards (inline with your branding) and give them out to everyone you meet. Creating word of mouth is a lot easier when people remember your name. Canva has hundreds of business card templates so that you can design your own.
- Digital - Invest in a simple domain name, a well designed website, and optimize your content for search engines. In today’s digital world, more often than not your customers’ first impressions will be based on your website and social media presence. Additionally, make sure to add your business listing to major search engines like Google and Bing. This will go a long way at helping people find you online.
- Signage - The last suggestion is the most low-tech but one of the most overlooked. Put up a good quality sign that is visible to the road. Something simple, that is easily readable by passing traffic. A sign serves two purposes: One, to advertise to customers in your immediate area and, two, to help new customers find you when they bring their pets.
8. Keep good financial records
Few things will doom your business faster than mis-managed books. Investing in a business accounting software like Quickbooks or Propetware can mean a world of difference in ensuring the future of your business. Start recording transactions on day 1 and develop a consistent routine so that you don’t become overwhelmed as the business starts to grow.
The practice of keeping good records will give you unparalleled confidence in making decisions for the future of your business; and will go a long way in keeping you in good standing with the IRS and lending institutions.
9. Find great employees (and keep them)
In the beginning all business responsibilities will likely fall on your shoulders. Starting out you will work extra hours and forego vacations but, hopefully, as time goes on there will be room in the budget to hire additional staff. Having a staffing plan that outlines certain benchmarks and requirements for adding employees is very helpful when you reach this point.
Once hired, be sure to provide adequate training and improvement opportunities. In fact, according to The Business Journals lack of growth is the top reason employees leave their jobs.
When the business starts growing it is a great time to start planning the future and begin to expand—slowly. As your business grows it can be tempting to treat yourself, and you should, but be sure that you have a plan in place to invest part of your earnings back into the business.
If you are operating a doggy daycare, perhaps now is a great time to start considering a move into doggy “night” care as well. If you are currently offering boarding and don’t offer additional services, expanding into the grooming industry by offering services such as bathing, haircuts, or pedicures may be the right move. Maybe now is time to start brainstorming a second location.
As a caveat, don’t feel pressured to expand too fast. If you have achieved a level of success that you are comfortable with, the best business decision just may be to continue to fine tune your existing service and processes.
The fact of the matter is that starting your own business is hard work but it is some of the most rewarding work you will ever do. This is especially true when your co-workers are perennially happy and greet you with tails wagging.
We hope this article has provided some helpful insights and suggestions for your undertaking. We would love to hear about your future success, please stay in contact and share how you’re doing from time to time; and we hope you’ll consider Wysiwash for all your upcoming kennel cleaning needs.