Doggie day care businesses have become incredibly popular over the past decade (both with pet entrepreneurs and pet owners). Let’s take a look at some of the steps involved in starting a doggie day care business:
Name Your Business
Doggie day cares often have clever or catchy names. A quick Google search of doggie day cares yielded many memorable names such as Uptown Hounds, Howl-A-Day Inn, Barkefellers, Barking Lounge, Lucky’s Bed and Biscuit, Wags To Wishes, Dog Day Getaway, Paws Country Club, Waggin Tails, and Happy Hounds. (There are also several doggie day care franchises that you could become a part of if you have significant financial backing).
The most important thing to be sure of is that your business name doesn’t sound similar to others in your geographic area. You want a unique name that local customers will associate with your individual business. You should also secure the “dotcom” internet address that matches your business name so you can start a website (or prevent others from starting one using your business name). Any web hosting service (like GoDaddy or Dream Host) will provide a search box where you can check availability for your intended name.
Find a Location
Finding a good location is a critical step in the process of starting a doggie day care. The size of your space will determine how many dogs you can safely accommodate (be sure to check city ordinances and zoning regulations on this topic as well). Even though most day cares are “cage free” environments with dogs spending most of their time in group play areas, you will still need to have a kennel area to separate dogs for feeding or to give them a break from playtime.
Most doggie day cares separate dogs by size—small, medium, large—when they are in the group play environment to minimize the chance of injury. It is also common for elderly dogs and puppies to be separated from the main group play areas. Be sure your location can accommodate multiple group play areas if you plan to host dogs of all sizes.
If possible, try to find a location that will allow you to have both indoor and outdoor areas for the dogs. Interior areas should have air conditioning, and exterior areas should be at least partially shaded. It has become increasingly popular to include a splash pool or some sort of water feature.
Determine Pricing and Services
Most doggie day cares have full day rates ranging from $15 to $35 per dog depending on the services offered and the going rate in the area. Many day cares offer group rates for multiple pets from the same family, monthly package rates for frequent visitors, a free day (or days) for those who purchase multiple weeks/months in advance, or half day pricing. You could also consider a special trial rate for new customers, such as for the first week or month of using your service.
The best way to determine a competitive price is to call other businesses in your area to see what they charge. You may be able to find this information by doing a quick Google search online, since many doggie day cares have web sites.
Most day cares open at 6 or 7am for drop offs and remain open until 6pm or 7pm for pickups. It is common for these businesses to only be open during the Monday-Friday work week, though some offer limited weekend hours.
Additional pricing concerns may include establishing “late fees” for delayed pickups that go past usual business hours, the cost of overnight boarding (if offered), and the cost of any additional services like grooming or training. Some doggie day cares also operate a retail shop offering pet food, supplies, and treats for sale.
Doggie day cares do not require a great amount of equipment to function. Be sure to stock extra collars and leashes, bedding, toys, treats, cleaning products, and cleaning equipment. You will also need to invest in some kennel cages for the times when dogs must be separated. An on-site washer and dryer will prove useful for doing laundry, and you will need a dumpster or other waste disposal area. You should also consider purchasing branded items for employees to wear as uniforms (shirts, hats, etc).
Webcams have also become popular features for doggie day cares. Owners like to be able to check in and view their pets at any time of the day. If this is a possibility, there are many webcam options that could be set up in the group play areas at minimal cost.
Secure Permits and Licenses
Most jurisdictions require a business license to operate any commercial enterprise. Be sure to research the requirements and costs of licensing in advance. Zoning approvals may also be needed to operate a doggie day care in certain locations.
You (or your contractor) may also need to go through the commercial plan review process if you are renovating your building. Be sure you have all proper sign offs before making structural changes or you could be subject to large fines from your city or town.
You should also take out a comprehensive insurance policy to cover yourself against any injuries or damages that might occur on the premises.
Unless you are opening a very small doggie day care you will need to hire some staff members to join your team. You can choose to hire full time help, part time help, or a combination of the two. You will need at least one staff member for every 15-20 dogs, and many facilities have even better pet to caretaker ratios.
Try to hire employees with prior animal experience. Individuals who have worked as veterinary technicians, kennel assistants, dog trainers, pet sitters, dog walkers, or groomers tend to have the requisite knowledge of canine behavior. College students with an animal related major could also make good additions to your staff, especially in a part time capacity. It can be beneficial to have your employees become certified in pet CPR and first aid, as this can be advertised in your promotional materials.
Develop New Customer Protocols
Decide what the process will be for new customers when they visit your business for the first time. Be sure they are able to have a guided tour of the facility during operating hours and meet the staff members on duty. Conduct a behavioral assessment of their dog, watching carefully how it interacts with other dogs when introduced on a leash.
Ensuring that only healthy dogs enroll at the day care is also critical. Review the dog’s health records and vaccination history to be sure they are up to date on all necessary items (and be sure to consult a vet if you are unsure as to what should be required). Also have the owner fill out a detailed history for the dog’s file. This should include owner contact information, vet contact information, health history, allergies or special needs, age, breed, and any other pertinent details.
Develop a Marketing Plan
It can take a few months, but eventually your client base will grow based on referrals and recommendations. In the early stages you will have to rely heavily on your website, advertisements, and promotional materials.
Get a website up and running before you open the business. Most pet owners search the web when looking for service providers, so you will miss out on that business if you don’t have a web presence. You can also have a newsletter or coupons available on the site. Be sure to use large, high resolution digital images (preferably taken by a professional) on the website to showcase the facility, and try to get a few testimonials from satisfied customers during the first few weeks you are in business.
Send out flyers or postcards to homes in the neighborhoods close to your location (the post office can help with mass mailings to targeted areas). Post advertising materials in places where people congregate, like office complexes and supermarkets. Place an ad in any local magazines, newspapers, and church bulletins. Have a sign designed to place over your front door, and consider having a logo professionally made to use on the sign and all other advertising materials.
Networking with other service providers can be another great way to grow your business. Local veterinarians, dog trainers, dog bakery businesses, groomers, and pet shops might be willing to include your business card or flyer on their bulletin boards (especially if you are willing to reciprocate by placing their materials in your location).