If you have a head for business and a love of dogs, a doggie day care center may present the ideal business opportunity for you. According to the American Pet Products Association, more than 46 million U.S. households have at least one canine companion. As owners seek ways to pamper their pets when they cannot be with them during the day, demand for day care is growing, according to Pet Business Central. For many pet owners, their dogs are part of the family. To claim a slice of this profitable market, you must offer a service that delivers everything the dog owner wants -- and more.
Design a market research questionnaire to determine the level and nature of demand in your area. Ask owners what arrangements they currently make for caring for their dogs in their absence, how frequently they need that care, and whether they would be prepared to consider day care. Determine how much owners would be willing to pay for a full day-care service. As a guide, day-care charges range between $12 and $38 per day in 2012, according to CostHelper.com. Include a section asking respondents to indicate where they live, where they work or study, and how far off the commuter route they would be willing to divert to deliver and collect their dogs. Also ask how much owners would be willing to pay you to collect and return their dogs.
Distribute your questionnaire to dog owners. Network with local pet service providers, including veterinarians, pet store owners, groomers, trainers and behaviorists. Offer to include their business details in your promotional literature if they are willing to gather responses to the questionnaire on your behalf. Deliver questionnaires in neighborhoods where large numbers of commuters live. Arrange to collect the completed forms on a specific date, and offer a small doggie treat in return for each response. Invite respondents to include their email addresses if they would be happy to receive further information.
Analyze your research results. If there is sufficient demand, decide where you should locate your facility and the size of premises you will require. The ASPCA recommends between 75 and 100 square feet of play space for each dog, and you will also need to accommodate a client reception area, quiet area, isolation space and employee facilities.
Ask local real estate agents to provide you with details of potentially suitable properties. Warehouse premises, which can be subdivided to provide separate play areas for large and small dogs -- as well as the other spaces you require -- are ideal. An outdoor play space is a bonus, and vehicle parking facilities are essential.
View the properties on your short list. Note any necessary alterations, including the installation of fully washable flooring, internal partitions, secure gates and fences, temperature-controlled systems and alarms. Make a note of the cost of buying or leasing the premises.
Calculate whether your short-listed premises are financially viable, based on the number of dogs you could accommodate, costs of premises and alterations, the fees your customers would be willing to pay and your likely overheads. To complete your calculations, obtain indicative quotes from suppliers, contractors and utility companies. Remember to incorporate employee costs, insurances, licenses and administrative costs. Pay anonymous visits to other day-care centers to get an idea of what is involved and the expenditure necessary to run the business. Be conservative -- underestimate your income and overestimate expenses.
Check requirements for zoning, licenses and permits for each of the properties on your short list. Use the search facility on the U.S. Small Business Administration website to assist you in this.
Produce a business plan incorporating your research results and viability calculations. If you have more than one property on your short list, include figures for each at this stage. Include a business overview, an outline of your plans for the business and financial forecasts. Consider engaging an accountant to review your figures.
Review your financing needs. Approach lenders and potential investors, if necessary. When you have secured the necessary finances, negotiate for the best deal on the premises of your choice and obtain the best possible price from contractors for any planned alterations.
Acquire your premises. Engage contractors and oversee their work, keeping a close eye on both quality and costs. Design a facility that is practical, secure, easy to clean and visually appealing. Consider also the appropriateness and costs of soundproofing, particularly if you have neighbors close by.
Buy toys, play equipment, beds and blankets, first-aid supplies, leashes, bowls, cleaning equipment and office supplies. Imagine a typical working day at your day-care center, and make a note of everything you are likely to need, including supplies and facilities for both guests and employees.
Obtain necessary licenses and permits. Arrange coverage through a pet service insurance specialist. Contact utility providers to ensure that all necessary services are connected and operable in readiness for your opening. If you are offering to transport dogs to and from your facility, check that your auto insurance covers this, and buy cages or safety harnesses for your vehicle.
Recruit employees. Ideal candidates will have a passion for dogs, experience in the pet service sector, and some expertise in reading dog body language. According to the ASPCA, you need one staff member to supervise 10 to 15 dogs, but you will require additional cover for walks, feeding, meeting clients and potential emergencies. Arrange training with a certified dog behaviorist.
Set up a website. Include photographs of your facility, staff profiles, price information and details of the services you plan to offer. Include an online inquiry facility. Network with other pet service professionals, and include reciprocal links. Email your website link to potential customers, including those who provided positive responses to your research questionnaire.
Establish a relationship with a local veterinarian, and seek advice on minimum vaccination requirements and any other health issues you need to consider. Incorporate these requirements in your registration paperwork. Ask a dog behaviorist to advise you on assessing the suitability of dogs for day care, and build his advice into an assessment checklist.
Draw up client contracts and veterinarian consent forms. Include client undertakings to keep vaccinations up to date and to administer regular flea and worming treatments. Other necessary paperwork includes a health checklist, emergency contact information, instructions on administering prescribed medication, details of feeding routines, and a declaration that the dog has never attacked either another dog or a person.
Invite friends and family members to bring their dogs along to test your facility for a day. Keep numbers small but follow, as far as possible, the planned daily routine at your center. This will give you the opportunity to spot anything you may have overlooked and take remedial steps before opening your doors to the public. Feedback from friends and family will also prove invaluable.
Set an opening date for your business. Post details on your website and on social networking sites, and try to gain the interest of local radio stations and newspapers. Devise and promote an opening offer -- for example, one free session for the first 15 clients to book five full-day sessions. Organize a launch party. Invite other pet-service business owners, potential customers and local employers whose staffs may need your service. Engage a photographer for the event. Post pictures on your website, and send copies to the local newspaper.
Do not take on dogs that have not been neutered or spayed.
If you prefer to start small, you may be able to adapt your home to accommodate a few dogs during the day, subject to zoning approval.
Consider offering additional facilities, such as grooming or massage if you have the available space and expertise.
While no formal training or certification is required to run a doggie day-care center, participation in behavioral courses, in particular, will help you to maintain a safe environment and give you a competitive edge.
- Two Dogs image by ziggyhendry from Fotolia.com