Dana Hood does more than just get to know her clients on a first-name basis. She's unabashedly affectionate with many of them, because that's what it takes, she says, to get ahead in her line of work, where the clients are drooling, four-legged creatures with names like Meatball and Hercules.
The TLC Hood and her staff at For the Love of Dog , a Denver-based dog daycare operation, shower upon their canine charges is one facet of a service-centric approach that has helped her 7-year-old company and others like it thrive in an, ahem, dog-eat-dog marketplace. For the 100 or so animals that spend time there on any given day, For the Love of Dog is designed to be a tail-wagging experience. Dogs have their choice of indoor and outdoor play areas, play structures, an engaged, experienced staff, and even a doggie treadmill and swimming pools and misters to cool down the pampered pets during hot weather.
Those kinds of perks matter to people who are paying $20 or more to drop off their pets for the day. "Everything about our place is tailored to the dogs," says Jason Pulelo, co-founder of the Barker Lounge, a daycare operation based in Roselle, N.J., with franchises in suburban Philadelphia and Atlanta. "Our margins weren't as large as we wanted, so we brought in an animal behavior specialist who helped us with a dog management plan, and that's made all the difference. We're enriching dogs instead of just occupying them, and their owners could not be happier. As a result we have a bunch more repeat customers."
Both the Barker Lounge and For the Love of Dog were profitable virtually from the beginning, largely because they cater to people who view their hounds as full-fledged members of the family and want them treated as such. "Owners won't drop off dogs with someone who they feel doesn't love dogs," Pulelo says. "It's not about getting as many dogs in a room as possible just to make a quick buck."
Successful dog daycare operations aren't all about the dogs, Hood explains. To stand out and stay profitable in an increasingly crowded marketplace--more than 3,400 organizations were providing dog daycare services in the U.S. as of 2009, according to the Pet Care Services Association--it's important to cater to the public's growing desire to spend money on their animals. The amount Americans dish out for their pets has nearly doubled in 10 years, to an estimated $45.4 billion in 2009, including $3.4 billion for services such as boarding and daycare, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Hood says she views the public's growing appetite for pet products and services as an opportunity for her daycare business to tap new revenue sources while helping her clients scratch the itch to coddle their animals. She's added services such as grooming and anesthesia-free teeth-cleaning, and also has opened a retail section at the front of her facility, where customers can purchase high-end organic food and treats, beds, toys, ID tags, and assorted other goodies.
"It's a great way to take advantage of a captive audience," she explains. And just as importantly for dog lovers like Hood, it's a way to keep those tails wagging.
David Port is a freelancer based in Denver who writes on small business, and financial and energy issues.