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How to Set Up a Dog Boarding Business

Madhushree Kelkar
Setting up a dog boarding business can be a financially and emotionally fulfilling venture. If you are wondering how to set up a commercial dog kennel, read on.
As per the information sourced from the American Boarding Kennel Association (ABKA)―now called Pet Care Services Association (PCSA)―the US and Canada have about 1,600 kennels, which annually offer services to millions of pet owners.
Today, commercial dog kennel business or dog boarding business has become a popular profession to earn good money. Apart from the monetary benefits, it is also a very emotionally satisfying business.
Pet owners who have to travel, leave their dogs at these boarding houses for a few days. Here, the dogs are looked after, fed properly, and are given the care in the absence of the owners. Today, a large number of people own dogs and need to avail services of a dog kennel from time to time. Hence, this business is a very lucrative venture.
However, you will need a foolproof dog boarding business plan to make it successful. Not only is it a great option for self-employment, but it can also help you to contribute your bit towards a noble cause. So, here is in-depth information about setting up this business.

Study the Dog Boarding Market

Conduct market research before starting the business to know about the scope and feasibility of the venture. If you find that there are too many dog boarding facilities in your area, then it is better to go ahead and start one where there is limited competition. You may get better response, if your facility is located in the city rather than the countryside.
Only if you find that you will be able to earn a good living out of this business, opt for it. Also, offer additional services that can set you apart from the competition. But remember, if the cost-benefit analysis and market study are not showing good results, there is no point in starting this business.

Source Finance

There will be a large amount of investment involved in this venture. Hence, try to work out the business structure and financial requirements with the help of your CPA (Certified Public Accountant).
You may have to apply for a loan with a bank, or you can even get an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan. If you find that starting a kennel from scratch is blowing up your budget, it is advisable that you buy an already-existing facility. This will come with an established facility as well as a loyal customer base and its own market share.

Necessary Paperwork

You will have to check the licensing, zoning, and insurance requirements for starting this business. You must comply with all the local and federal rules and regulations.
Register your business, and get the tax ID. Know about the taxation procedure for this type of business. Remember, there may be certain zoning restrictions that will not allow you to start this business from home. You may require certain permits for starting your own dog boarding facility, for which you should speak to the local authorities.

Location and Interior Design

Finding the right location is crucial because the number of dogs you will be able to house will be directly proportional to the amount of space available. Hence, search for a building which will be able to accommodate many.
However, ensure that they have an ample amount of space to stay and play. Ideally, it should be more than a square yard for each dog. Ensure that the building has a backyard with benches where animals will get to relax, play, and run. They may feel restricted and sick if you keep them in their kennels all the time.
A separate place should be allotted for the dogs to relieve themselves. Also, there should be a proper sewage system for disposal of waste. Ensure that the kennels are well-lit and ventilated. Keep space for reception, staff quarters, and office rooms.
Ensure that the fence is high enough so that the sound does not disturb other people who stay around the facility. You may also use a noise reduction or soundproof fence for this purpose. Arrange rugs and carpets in each pen.

Order Supplies

You must conduct a research for all the supplies which you would require for setting up the kennel.
You will need items which will ensure the safety and comfort of the dogs as they will be spending time with you. This will include pens of varying sizes to fit dogs of different breeds, fence-like separators to create playing space for dogs, stainless steel feeding and water bowls, dog food, toys for playing, dog beds, carpets and rugs, etc.
Try to maintain an adequate stock of supplies so that you may not run out of them. Having an inventory detailing software will definitely help you out with keeping a tab on the stock. You should ensure that the supplies you order are of good quality and do not pose a threat to the life of dogs or cause any kind of accidents.

Fix the Services

It is important that your website or brochure clearly defines the services you will be offering at the dog boarding. Apart from looking after dogs while their owners are away, you can also offer a number of other services, which will help you gain more business.
You will have to fix the services you offer and promote them through various schemes. For example, you can offer a package deal where you give some kind of discount on the pet grooming and training services. Arrange to offer a special playtime for the dogs.
There may be a few sick or injured pets who may require special veterinary care when their owners are away. Tie up with a good local vet to provide medical attention to these pets. Offering this kind of service will help you to move ahead of competition.

Decide the Rates

Undertake a competition analysis to understand how your dog boarding facility is better than the others. Try to study their rates to understand the market standards. Initially, try to keep your rates a little lower than them, but not so low that you may end up making losses.
Having exorbitant rates in the earlier days will drive the prospective customers away instead of attracting them. Give discount for first-time visitors as an opening scheme.
List out rates for each service, like pet's overnight stay, food, pampering, grooming, training, etc. If a dog needs special attention which will require you to allocate a resource for him, you can charge a higher price.

Hire Help

More than the services you offer, what will matter is having a caring staff who can look after the dogs.
If you think that you will be running a one-man show, then you are absolutely wrong. You will need to hire a number of helping hands to look after the needs of the dogs.
Imagine what will happen if you are unable to pay attention and a dog runs away from the kennel. You will be answerable to the owner. Hence, to avoid this, hire employees who are experienced in dealing with pet dogs.
While interviewing them, try to test how they get along with a pet dog. If they come across as dog haters, careless, or unfriendly, avoid hiring them at all costs. You can recruit people undertaking veterinary assistant programs, dog rescuers, volunteers, or just plain dog lovers.
Remember to pay them according to industry standards, and give them practical training for handling dogs. You may require to recruit staff that will work in shifts as the dogs will require to be looked after 24/7. Hence, hire good people who will prove to be great assets for your business.

Promote and Advertise Your Business

It is important that you promote and advertise your business effectively. Let us start from the opening. Try to make it grand, and get a local celebrity to inaugurate the facility. Arrange for a walk-through in the facility so that people will know how you intend to take care of their pets.
You may offer free pet grooming on the inauguration day and distribute coupons for the future. Initially, introduce new offers, discounts, etc., so that people will get attracted to your business.
Have a blog or website, and update it with pet videos and photos from your facility. Create pages for your business on all social networking sites, and keep updating them with interesting content. Keep your followers engaged through these pages. Have a 'pet of the week', and put his photo on your website.
Also, advertise in local magazines, websites, newspapers, etc. Encourage people to write testimonials about your kennel. Also, once they start giving referrals to other dog owners, your business will flourish.

Safety Considerations

Give utmost importance to the safety of dogs. You will be held responsible for the time they will spend with you. Understand the temperament of dogs before letting them out to play in groups.
Ensure that the dogs do not sneak out and run away. It is better that you ask the owners to deliver their food, instead of giving them food at the kennel. The owners will be familiar with the feeding pattern and tastes of the dogs, and it will be best to gather all the information about them.
Get in touch with the vet immediately if you find that a pet is not keeping well. Keep a detailed note of all the medicines administered to the dog and their timings. Take the owner's number when he will fill the form for leaving his pet at the boarding facility. You may want to reach him in case of an emergency.
Ensure that the pens are latched properly, and keep them clean and hygienic. Ensure that the pet is safe, healthy, well-fed, and does not feel lonely.

Additional Services

It is often observed that the most important periods for this business are holidays and summer season as many people make trips during this time. At times, they have no choice but to leave their beloved dog at a boarding facility. Hence, offering additional services during days which do not have much business can help earn a decent amount.
You should not restrict the ambit of your services to just the boarding facilities, and you must also undertake pet services like doggie daycare, pet grooming, pet spa, pet behavior training, etc. This will help earn an income throughout the year.

Business Expansion

In this kind of business, your reputation will matter a lot. A single mistake on your part can route all your customers to your competitors. Also, as you deal with their beloved pets, it is important that you undertake proper safety measures.
Try to create goodwill by ensuring that the dogs return in a happy and healthy condition to their owners after staying with you. This will lead to the owners referring you to others.
Apart from this, increase the scope of pet care services that you offer. Try to establish your name as 'one-stop shop' for anything related to pet care, boarding, and grooming in your locality. Slowly and steadily, as your client base will expand, try to set up a counter for selling dog food, toys, feeding bowls, leashes, collars, etc.
When you have enough money, you can become a part of a franchise or seek corporate partnership for business expansion. If you do not want to work under someone else, you can always start a chain of facilities for your own brand. You can also have similar boarding businesses for animals, like cats, horses, guinea pigs, etc., and even for some exotic birds.
Now that you know how to set up a dog boarding business, incorporate all these steps to come up with a great facility. You will require to have organizational and management skills, planning skills, foresight, innovation, etc. But given all, what you need to have is genuine compassion and love for dogs.