Setting Your Boarding Business Apart from the Rest
By Craig McAllester
Some of his questions have been a bit atypical, likely because—rather than being a boarding kennel owner—he is a veterinarian. I have enjoyed his interest and inquisitive nature, especially from his veterinary perspective. Now, this is not to say I have all the answers; far from it. But I have been working in the small animal care industry long enough, that, if I don't know the answer, I don't know who does.
During our design process, the doctor has asked me all the typical questions that come up often regarding air quality, floor finishes, what to do for drains—or not, what to use for kennel enclosures, what is a safe hallway width for the kennel, and more. Today, however, he asked some questions that I don't get all that often.
These were more about the kennel business, rather than about the building itself. He was wondering about the rate of return with regard to the size of the enclosure. In his first draft floor plan we had three banks of stacked kennels that could house five small dogs each. My thinking was that these 15 kennels would be used for overflow of smaller dogs on those long holiday weekends when the kennel was at full capacity. At lesser capacity, the larger kennels would be used for all sizes dogs. His concern was that he felt that he needed more space for larger dogs.
On the second draft, he had me eliminate the three banks of 15 kennels, and rearrange the configuration of the larger kennels to accommodate larger animals. In doing so, we were able to increase the total number of large dogs by only three. He gave up 15 to gain three! When he considered that, when at full capacity, these 15 smaller stacked kennels would free–up the larger kennels for bigger dogs, the first design started to make more sense (or dollars, as it were to him).
Another area of concern in today's email was the cost per–night boarding. How was he going to compete with all the other kennels in the area who have a lower overnight stay rate? Likely, most of his competition uses some unskilled labor to keep their rates low. His staff are all veterinary technicians and nurses who would be paid far more per hour, and he must recoup those salary costs.
When thinking about this, I remember another client who gave me a list of nine different sizes of kennels that she wanted to use in her new facility. Her thinking was that she would have nine different price points and that way, she would have the right price for everyone. The trouble is, every customer now had to make a decision as to which price point they wanted to purchase. That decision takes time at the reception desk; time that most people don't have.
I tend to keep the sizes to a minimum. By doing so, and separating the costs substantially, makes the choice easy. If the penthouse is too high, then a lesser cost room for the night is the answer. But still, how was he to compete with his low–cost competition?
As I continued reading his email, he also wanted to know what other amenities or services that I felt he should offer in order to better compete. Adding things like grooming or training will always help. Those services could be subleased, and their owners would be advertising, bringing business to his business—free advertising! Additionally, the trainer could be using the daycare rooms during off hours when they are not in use.
The boarding trend lately shows that most kennels are using luxury boarding to help grow their businesses. Setting aside 10 to 20 percent of the total boarding capacity, and making a separate luxury kennel ward, allows kennels to charge more money per night for a little larger room and perhaps a cookie on their pillow. If there is one thing that my past clients have told me most often, it would be that they wish they had more luxury boarding kennels.
After telling him about luxury boarding, he was surprised when I told him that I thought he should refrain from including luxury boarding in his business model. If he were to include luxury boarding, he would be competing with his competition once again. My thinking here is that when his boarding clients compare his facility to his competition, apples to apples, the one thing that sets him apart is his veterinary practice—his main business. Each boarder would receive daily care and time outside in the turnout yards under the supervision of an animal care professional; something the competition could not provide.
Another area he could consider is retail. When working with clients, I tell most that they should offer a small amount of retail in their lobby. I also tell them that they should only offer the very best product they can find.
Some years ago, when we lived in Phoenix, we were shopping in Scottsdale. I bought a $75.00, ultra–supple, rolled leather collar for our dog Rebar (The World’s Greatest Dog). He probably didn't need a new collar, but once I had it in my hand, the quality stood well on its own, I simply had to have it. I tell clients all the time, don't compete with the ‘Marts’, the K–Marts or the Wal–Marts, of the world. Your retail goods should stand on their own merits. You could use a local artisan to make collars, bowls, clothing or whatever.
These unique services and products, things that cannot be bought elsewhere, will quickly set you apart from the pack, making your kennel ‘the place to go’ for pet boarding and services.
Craig L. McAllester, President, Craig L. McAllester, Inc, kennel designer, has been designing veterinary hospitals, boarding kennels, animal shelters, police, military, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Border Patrol working dog kennels, here in the United States of America, and in countries around the world, since 2003. Craig may be contacted at 877-234-2301. [email protected] www.KennelDesignUSA.com