Holiday Barn Pet Resorts: Built on Vision & Values
Profile of Success
By Kathy Hosler
Photos by James Haskins Photography
When Emerson and Kathy Hughes of Glen Allen, Virginia founded Holiday Barn Pet Resorts in 1972, their focus was to provide a safe and healthy place for people to board their pets.
As demand for their services grew—including training and grooming, which was added by request of their customers—the Hugheses decided to open a second location on the other side of Richmond. That facility, which was completed in 1980, had a lot of improvements and innovations. It was one of the first completely indoor facilities. That really enabled them to control noise. It was fully air conditioned, had a radiant heat system in the floors, back-up power and more.
Both locations thrived, and in the following years, the Hughes family added more new, pioneering expansions to their resorts.
Emerson and Kathy’s son, Michael Hughes, is now the official “Head of the Pack.” He shares with us a little bit about how their business and facilities have changed over the years.
“When we designed the resort layout, we realized it was a lot safer and also easier to develop a campus-style site,” says Michael. “So, rather than building a 35,000 sq. ft. warehouse, we’ve added eight or nine separate buildings. It’s almost like our own little town.
“We know that a lot of illnesses in pets are airborne,” Michael continues. “Having a campus-style facility dramatically decreases the possibility of transferring disease from pet to pet. Also, if you have something like a heating system failure, it’s only one problem in one building—not your entire facility.”
In the 1990’s, Holiday Barn began expanding its facilities and evolving the scope of services to meet the increasing demand for luxury pet services. Pet owners no longer wanted to board their pets at just a kennel—they wanted their fur kids to go to a resort!
Holiday Barn broke ground in 2013 for their breathtaking, state-of-the-art Midlothian location. It has almost 34,000 sq. ft. under-roof and 18,000 sq. ft. of play space. The original Glen Allen location has 26,000 sq. ft. under-roof and approximately 15,000 sq. ft. in play space. And each facility can accommodate up to 375 pets.
Highlights of these expansions include a spectacular bone-shaped, in-ground swimming pool, doggie daycare pavilion and play yards, luxury dog suites and beautiful cat condominiums. The buildings at both facilities have plenty of windows to let in lots of natural light.
“We developed and built our luxury and presidential suites with designated bedrooms for the dogs that give them a lot of square footage, doggie beds, TV’s, chandeliers and more,” shares Michael. “We still have traditional kennel space enclosures with access to a personal exercise area. And, we even have a cozy cottage option where multiple pets from one family can stay together.
“We also designed buildings specifically for cat boarding,” Michael continues. “They have custom-built, floor-to-ceiling cat condos with built-in aquariums to help keep the felines occupied, a private potty area and several different levels to explore. There is even an outdoor ‘catio’ for their enjoyment.”
Luxury housing is only the beginning of the amenities, activities and programs that the guests of Holiday Barn can enjoy. Swimming, play times, special treats, private walks and spa treatments are some of the extras the pets can also participate in.
“We have a high level of customization,” says Michael. “There are a multitude of activities and add-ons that we can guide our customers to based on their pet’s personality and the owner’s interests.”
Launched in 2003, daycare has become a huge part of their business. They have approximately six daycare yards per facility, and can stagger groups between resting and playing, so they can handle between 120 and 130 dogs per day at each location. Most of the outdoor daycare areas have synthetic turf, so there are no muddy paws to deal with, and the areas can be sanitized daily (or more often if needed).
Recently, they began to offer enrichment programs to the pets that board and attend daycare. They find that enrichment activities provide the mental stimulation that is key to a happy, healthy pet. Customized puzzles, games and challenges that stimulate dogs’ brains provide an appropriate level of exercise, and strengthens the human/pet bond.
“Training has always been a big part of our service,” says Michael. “We know that it is such an important part of a relationship between pet owners and their dogs. Training isn’t just about teaching a command; it’s about how a dog and its owner can work together. It’s an investment of time and money that should last the life of the dog.
“We have found that individual training is more successful for the owner and the pet than group classes. We assess each dog and determine the owner’s goals, then we develop a customized program for them,” shares Michael.
The resorts also offer grooming at each location. Their services run from a basic bath to full-service breed trims and pampering spa packages.
“We couldn’t operate our resorts and provide our many services without our fantastic team members,” Michael says proudly. “Holiday Barn Pet Resorts has a set of values that has always guided our company; ‘Compawssion’: Providing genuine care and concern through our thoughts, words and actions; ‘Pack Spirit:’ Working and playing together for the success of our organization; ‘Furrmazing’: Enthusiasm for everything we do; ‘Purrrsuing Learning:’ Constantly striving to obtain and share knowledge; and ‘Best Paw Forward’: Doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.”
There are upwards of 150 employees on the resort’s staff. From day one, these values are instilled in each new employee as they go through training. A new “Pack Member’s” first week on the job is not actually spent working. They receive safety training and attend a leash-handling class. Then, they spend a full shift in each department. That gives them a chance to see how the overall business performs. The following week, they go to their own department for training.
The Hughes family feels that continuing education of their employees is crucial to the continued success of the resorts.
“We actually bring in an outside consultant who presents a leadership class to help them become stronger managers for our team,” shares Michael. “We also have an education tuition assistance program. Depending on the curriculum a staff member wants to pursue (pet groomer, dog trainer, etc.), we will fund a portion or the entire amount of the education for that person. And our leadership team attends as many conferences as possible. Holiday Barn pays for them to go and also compensates them for the time off work.
“At the end of the year, our team leaders get together at a retreat,” continues Michael. “We put the financial performance of the business (revenue, costs, etc.) out there for these leaders to see. Then we make decisions as a team on how we are going to better operate the business over the next year. Every department comes up with its own goals.
“This year is different for us because of COVID-19,” shares Michael. “We actually had to stop business for a while except for boarding some dogs and cats for healthcare providers who were helping with the coronavirus. With our core team of leaders, we developed safety protocols and procedures. When the state of Virginia posted their requirements, we were already in compliance.”
Recently, Holiday Barn Resorts revamped their website. “We see our website, www.holidaybarn.com, almost as a portal for consumers to come in and see what our business is about,” says Michael. “Because of COVID-19, we really can’t do in-person tours. But, through our website, we can give tours of our boarding facilities, tell about the services we offer and share fun videos of pets enjoying our facility.
“Social media, like Facebook and Instagram, is a very important, reinforcing part of our business,” Michael states. “We have one staff member who manages all of our social media and website needs. We post lots of content and pet photos, and our customers and followers love it!”
Since 1972, Holiday Barn Pet Resorts has received countless local and national recognitions for their outstanding service to their clients, their pets and the local community. They have been featured on NBC’s Today Show and were declared one of the “Top 10 Places to Pamper a Pooch” by The Travel Channel.
The visions and values that founded Holiday Barn Pet Resorts almost 50 years ago have continued to be the driving force behind their unparalleled success.