Listening with a Deaf Ear

Kennelwood Pet Resorts

By Kathy Hosler

“The most exciting thing for me is that, from day one, we have been an evolving, growing business – and creativity has been part of our heritage,” states Mr. Alan Jones, the president of Kennelwood Pet Resorts.

“Kennelwood was the brainchild of the late Donald Danforth, Jr. He was a true visionary – just like his grandfather, William H. Danforth, who founded the Ralston Purina Company in 1890, but even Donald could not have predicted the changes and growth we have seen in the industry for the past 38 years.”

Kennelwood opened in May of 1974 in St. Louis, Missouri. With 300 indoor/outdoor accommodations, it was one of the largest businesses of its kind in the world. It offered boarding, grooming, training, pet transportation, and pet supplies.

From the very beginning and continuing to this day, listening to their clients’ wants and needs led to the creation of many new services. When clients began to ask if they would offer pickup and delivery service, they did… but they did it in a unique way. Pets were picked up and then returned home in a limousine complete with a uniformed driver.

This was another comment often heard from boarding clients: What does my pet do all day when he is here? That led to the creation of the Play School Fun Course. Six activity stations were created in a park-like area of the kennel property. As members of the Kennelwood Pet Activity Staff walked each pet, they would stop at each station and do a different activity with the pet – play, brush, treat, train, etc. Owners loved the idea and soon over 80% of the boarding pets were signed up for Play School.

More extra services were introduced. Afternoon Yappy Hour became an instant hit. Pets were served Frosty Paws frozen treats and Famous Fido cookies. Busy Bones (Kong toys stuffed with treats and peanut butter) kept the pets happily occupied during their stay.

People want to spoil their pets, and these extra services can really increase profitability. By the mid 1980’s, extra services income almost equaled the boarding rate income.

As their business grew, Kennelwood opened satellite locations about 20 miles from the main facility. They were referred to as Pet Depots, and they offered grooming, training, and pet supplies. They also served as drop-off/pickup points for pets going to the main kennel for boarding.

Today, Kennelwood Pet Resorts have eight locations that serve the St. Louis area. Three of them are the full service pet resorts that offer overnight boarding. They can house 750 overnight pet guests and, depending on the season, have up to 220 employees.

Kennelwood has something that most other kennels don’t: a marketing department. The Director of Marketing is Chris Danforth, son of Donald Danforth. It has been said that the #1 rule of marketing is to “first get their attention.” At Kennelwood, they do lots of creative marketing with television advertising, website coupons, and by participating in community events.

Kennelwood also gets their attention in a big way with Big Al. Big Al is a statue of a huge Golden Retriever. He can be seen atop many of the Kennelwood vehicles and outside of some of the facility entrances.

Training is offered at each of the Kennelwood locations. They hold group classes, Board’n Train, day training, private lessons, and even in-home training. One of the most common concerns pet owners had was how they could train their pet to always stay in their yard. In response to that widespread need, Kennelwood became a dealer for the Invisible Fence Brand of pet containment systems. “This is a great add-on service for a boarding kennel,” says Alan Jones. “It solves a problem many pet owners have.”

Another concern that some pet owners had was about leaving their pets at home alone during the day while they went to work. “A real game changer for our industry was the introduction of Day Camp,” says Mr. Jones. “We always offered daycare and playtime, but there was no mixing of the dogs. In the 1990’s, we started Day Camp with small groups and lots of supervision… and the dogs loved it!

“The proof is in the pulling,” states Mr. Jones with a wide smile. “We want the dogs to be so excited to be coming to Day Camp that they are pulling their owners into our building. The owners love to see their dogs happy, and when they pick them up at the end of a full day of play, both owner and dog can go home and relax.”

Another huge improvement for many in the pet care industry is the use of computers. They can help a business run more efficiently and smoothly, and Kennelwood is proof of that. “All the information on every pet we care for is right at our fingertips,” Mr. Jones continues. “Our website,, allows people to get information about all the services that we offer, take a virtual tour of our facilities, make reservations, and much more 24 hours a day.”

At Kennelwood, pet owners can select from many options in boarding accommodations, with themes of cabanas and seaside suites, to lodges and villas. Instead of charging by the size of the pet, they charge by the type of accommodation the owner selects, and they keep their rates the same all year round.

Another unique service that Kennel-wood offers is a Free Pet Sleepover for pets that have never boarded with them before. “We want to expose people to the quality of service we give, and we want to see how the pet reacts in a boarding situation,” says Mr. Jones. “That free sleepover night helps relieve anxiety of the pet owner and helps us to determine if the pet has any issues in a boarding situation.”

Throughout the years, several well-known industry icons have been instrumental in Kennelwood’s growth. Mr. Jones, says, “Judy Bremer-Taxman is a real dynamo and a great personality. She was with us for years and helped us grow our grooming business. Joe Zuccarello was just a kid when he came to work with us. He had the personality and drive. He was a real stand-out and got promotion after promotion. He grew with the company.”

Woody, a black Labrador Retriever, is the mascot that you see on the Kennelwood website. He is the “spokesdog” for Kennelwood. Woody represents everyone that is or has ever been connected to Kennelwood – from Mr. Danforth, Judy Bremer-Taxman, and Joe Zucarello to the highly-skilled present day staff.

That brings us to one of the most important factors in Kennelwood’s success: their staff. “For more than 25 years, we have recognized and rewarded employees who go above and beyond. We have an employee idea program, the three stars of the week program, and on the anniversary of them joining our workforce, each employee gets a monetary bonus,” says Mr. Jones.

“It is these staff members that provide the ‘Kennelwood Experience,’” he continues. “Ours is an ‘experience business’ – if clients don’t have a good experience, they probably won’t be back. We want every touch point to be special for each guest, from the initial phone call until they return home with a well-cared for pet.

Being involved in community service projects for the betterment of pets and people has always been an important part of Kennelwood. For many years they have partnered with the Humane Society of Missouri. Kennelwood recently opened a grooming salon inside of the humane society. They do a lot of grooming of the society animals, which helps them to get adopted – and a portion of the regular grooming proceeds go to benefit the shelter pets. The 2012 Santa Comes to the Pets Christmas Photo Day raised $4,000 for the humane society.

Kennelwood is actively involved with Dirk’s Fund and provides free boarding to the rescued Golden Retrievers in their program. In 2009, Kennelwood created the Mimi Alert program. It is a free service that helps missing pets and their owners reunite. They will send out an email blast and photo of the lost pet to all of their clients in the area where the pet was lost. They also have a Pet Matchmaker program that helps pair people with the pet that is right for them – be it a little puppy or an older rescue dog.

Kennelwood has an enthusiastic team that competes in Pedal the Cause. It is a bike ride to fund research to find a cure for cancer. In 2012, the Kennelwood team raised over $10,000 for Pedal the Cause.

Kennelwood’s commitment to providing outstanding service and care to the pets, their owners, and the entire community is evident in everything that they have done for the past 38 years. The owners can tell them how pleased and satisfied they are, but the pets just have to show them as they happily drag their owners through the Kennelwood doors. After all… the proof is in the pulling!

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