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Interview with a pet company: Dogtopia Dog Daycare

Posted Nov 18 2008 8:02am

dogtopia For this week's installment of our series of interviews with pet companies we sat down with Amy Nichols, CEO of the Dogtopia Dog Daycare franchise. Amy discusses how she got started running her own pet business and the benefits of dog daycare, among other things.

1) How did you get into doggy day care and spas?

I have always been an animal lover – “rescuing” hurt animals, baby birds that had fallen out of nests, etc, and even worked at a pet store all through high school.  I thought I was destined to be a veterinarian, but was a bit distracted in college and not up for the challenge of chemistry and microbiology.  After college I got a job in telecommunications and set my sights on becoming a sales executive.  Six years later I had accomplished that goal and was earning more than I ever thought I would – but I was unfulfilled.  The job consisted of long hours and a lot of stress.  I figured if I was going to work that hard – it might as well be for myself.  I started researching pet businesses.  I knew I did not want to sell pets, and I knew I did not want to open a kennel.  I wanted to have a business where I could interact with the pets and provide them with a fun environment.  In 2001, dog daycare was a relatively new concept in the Washington DC area, but it had been around much longer on the West Coast, and had grown quite popular in Denver, CO.  I spent a full year researching dog daycare and developing my business plan, and in early 2002 I found the perfect space in Tysons Corner, VA.  It still took working with seven banks before I was approved for an SBA loan to perform the necessary construction, but June 15, 2002 we were open for business!

2) What do you love most about what you do?

What I do now is considerably different than what I did in 2002, but equally if not more satisfying.  I now spend most of my time helping our franchisees follow their dreams and open their own Dogtopia.  I still get to interact with the dogs, and our front desk staff knows to bring puppies back to visit me!  (Even on the toughest day, you can’t beat a puppy for bringing a smile to your face!)

I also really enjoy the fact that we are able to give back to the “dog community” by fostering dogs in all of our facilities.  I feel like we can have the best of both worlds – provide a great service to our customers and also help dogs by providing an enriching environment while waiting for their forever home. 

3) Why should people consider doggy day care if they haven't already?

Doggy daycare is not for every dog, but since dogs are pack animals by nature, most enjoy the social aspect very much.  We do conduct evaluations on every new dog to ensure that they are the proper temperament, but we find that most are very happy here.  We separate the dogs by size and play style, so that they are in a group where they are not only safe, but also feel comfortable.

Aside from the social aspect, the majority of our customers are breeds that require considerable exercise.  We live busy lives and often our dogs do not get the exercise they need to stay healthy and happy.  The number one reason dogs are surrendered to shelters are due to behavioral issues that could have been helped if they received more exercise. 

Dogs need mental and physical stimulation, and doggy daycare provides both.

4) How would you recommend people go about finding the right doggy day care for them?

I would recommend they first ask friends, family, or their veterinarian, but I would also suggest they check with the Pet Care Services Association. Their website lists all of their members and their locations.  PCSA members agree to uphold the highest of standards in their facilities, and I have found them to be a great association. 

5) What trends have you noticed in doggy day cares over the years?

There are a number of trends that I have seen evolve over the past ten years or so, but the most obvious is that there are more of us.  The most recent estimates puts the number at over 4,000 dog daycares in the United States!  In addition to growth, I have also seen the facilities trend to more dog safety and special features, such as rubber flooring and specialized heating, cooling, and ventilation systems.  Doggy daycare is here to stay!

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