In 2015, Matt and Jolene Urbanic opened Dogtopia North Austin. Before the opening, Jolene was an international sales manager for companies in the Austin and Cleveland area. Matt served as a marketing executive for a large global brand and several different startups in various industries.
They decided to marry their business experience with their love of dogs, which is how Dogtopia North Austin was born. Matt and Jolene learned a lot about how to start a doggy daycare over the years. Today, they’re sharing some of those hard-earned lessons with you.
A crucial part of knowing how to start a doggy daycare business is understanding the finances involved.
Create a business plan
If you are serious about starting a dog daycare business, the first thing you’ll need is a business plan. “For any small business startup, it is important to have a firm grasp of your financial plans,” says Matt. “By having that deep understanding, it will allow you to identify how much money will be needed, and you can provide the right documentation to the bank. We also highly recommend you put a business plan together. The plan helps consolidate your thoughts, strategy, and financials in one place.”
Know how to price services
Start by calling around town and asking what your future competition is charging for comparable services. A good rule of thumb is charging between $18 and $32 per day. Of course, this price varies based on the location and specific services offered. You may consider offering monthly membership plans or a discounted rate for each additional pet.
Pay attention to permits and local requirements
There is no federal licensing requirement, but each local area will have specific location requirements and zoning regulations. When you are searching for your facility, make certain you know the local ordinances for the city and the county. There can be subtle nuances in the zoning that may require you to get an exception from the local government.
It is also important that your future landlord understands what type of business you will be running. Clear communication upfront will ensure that everyone is on the same page about the long-term plans for the space.
Get insurance and mitigate liability
Because you’re dealing with other people’s pets, there is a high level of liability. Investing in business insurance is incredibly important. Find a local insurance provider who can explain the liabilities you may face and help you find the right insurance plan. You should also prepare release forms to protect your business from accidents and injuries.
The location of your doggy daycare will play a critical role in its success. This means you need to be strategic about where you set up shop. “In a consumer-centric business, like dog daycare and boarding, location is critical,” Matt explains. “We spent nearly nine months looking for our location. There was one key that the business development team from Dogtopia told us – ‘Make certain you love your location. Do not settle for a location just to move faster.’”
When scouting potential facilities, consider the local competition, the location costs, and dog ownership rates in the area.
Equipment and Amenities
People don’t want their dogs to sit in a cage all day. To go above and beyond, be sure that you have the best pet care equipment and amenities available. Get supplies like high-quality dog food and treats, beds, grooming products, and toys. Also, consider providing extras like dog training and grooming.
Be sure your daycare facilities are up to snuff. Invest in a high-end HVAC system to keep the dogs happy and comfortable. If you are renovating an older space, work with a contractor to ensure the floor is free from holes and seams. Make sure there are no environmental issues or contaminants that could affect the dogs.
Hiring Your Staff
The people you hire must be experienced and good with animals. Your team will be the first thing new customers notice about your doggy daycare center. As such, their knowledge and friendliness will be instrumental in whether or not your customers return.
“In this industry, what we have found that is most important is our staff,” Matt says. “Having a great staff leads to creating an amazing customer experience for each and every pet parent.”
Beyond that, make sure you make it easy for your staff to do their jobs. Invest in software for your team to take internal notes, manage reservations, and perform check-in and check-out procedures.
Franchising vs. Starting from Scratch
When you’re thinking about starting a doggy daycare, you must consider whether you want to start from scratch or franchise. Starting from scratch may grant you a higher degree of control, but franchising has many benefits. Matt and Jolene had a very positive experience franchising with Dogtopia.
“Franchising offered several benefits that we liked,” Matt shares. “When it came time to begin operations, Dogtopia was an invaluable resource. They educated us in many key areas, such as playroom management, evaluation processes, cleaning procedures, and employee training. Their past wisdom and experiences saved us much time and money in the long run.”
Marketing Your Business
Your doggy daycare is nothing without good marketing. You want to get your daycare services in front of the people that matter most: pet owners. Start by putting up fliers in dog parks, pet supply stores, and local clinics.
You should also build a strong online presence as early as possible. Create a website and be sure your business is featured in listing services like Google Business. Use SEO and educational articles to rank for keywords related to your business. This approach will help you reach people searching for daycare services in your area. Finally, make your contact information accessible so people can find you online and set appointments.
Matt and Jolene adopted a multi-pronged approach to marketing using these tactics. “We have taken an approach of leveraging multiple marketing channels to get our message out to the customers,” Matt says. “The digital channel is certainly one of the most efficient and cost-effective channels to promote our business."
"We use social media to highlight our many events, post pictures of the pups, and even create virtual tours and informational videos for customers," Matt continues. "Facebook and Instagram are the go-to social media sites we use the most to promote our business. If you have an advertising budget, paid search (like Google) can be a great way to level the playing field.
Another great way to get your name out there is by giving back to your community and attending local events.
“We support our local community as well,” Matt adds. “Because we have kids in high school, we sponsor their teams and organizations throughout the year. Not only does this generate great local brand awareness, but it helps us with recruiting young folks to work at our location. Local events can also be an effective way to get the message out.
"You do need to be smart and selective in what events to participate in," Matt adds. "They can be expensive and time-consuming, but, if the event is done right, you can generate an enormous number of leads locally in a short period of time.”
If you love animals and want to turn this passion into a full-time career, consider opening a doggie daycare. Start reaching out to local business owners, daycare operators, national franchises, and financial advisors. The sooner you get the learning process underway, the sooner you can turn your dream into a reality.