Pet Care Plus A+ in Success
By Kathy Hosler
Photos by Johnny Burbano Photography
Early on I knew that if I worked very hard, lived very lean, and reinvested my money by training people to replace the jobs that I was doing—that one day I would be able to work as I wanted, not as I had to,” says Jennifer Stavrianos, CEO and Co-founder of Pet Care Plus. “That day has come for me.”
In 1998, Jennifer and her husband, Chris, opened Pet Care Plus in Chicago, Illinois. What began as a dog walking/in–home pet sitting business has grown into a full–service pet care facility that cares for about 150 pets a day.
In 1999, they rented a building and began boarding and grooming in addition to their home–care services. That first location was basic, but successful.
“We lived above our facility,” says Jennifer. “We always rolled up our sleeves and did everything we could and our business grew.”
Then September 11, 2001 happened. People were fearful and cut back on vacations and other non-essential spending which greatly affected their boarding business.
Jennifer, Chris and their staff worked very hard to get the business growing again. “Part of that hard work was to look for and apply for grants,” said Chris. “The paperwork can be very arduous, but the results can be very rewarding.”
Over the years they have received three separate $100,000 grants to help them improve and expand Pet Care Plus. They added daycare, put in state–of–the–art, all glass suites and even installed a swimming pool for the dogs. Their business prospered, but as hard as they worked, they still had their ups and downs.
“We learned from our mistakes,” says Jennifer. “In May of 2012 it seemed like we had an issue of one kind or another almost every day. That made us reassess all our procedures to see where we could improve.”
They revamped their screening procedures for temperament testing, the grouping of pets and the traffic flow. Now, they seldom have any behavior problems, and issues have all but disappeared. They also have a non–social program for dogs where traditional daycare isn’t the best fit.
In 2013, Chris and Jennifer decided to build a new facility. Finding a bank that was willing to help finance a small business proved difficult as they applied, and were rejected, for several loans. Undaunted, they kept trying until they found the right partner to help them buy their ‘forever home’. They were approved for an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan, and in 2014, they built a new facility just a few blocks from their existing building in the West Loop of Chicago.
The new buildings have 100 all glass suites, three indoor and two outdoor daycare playrooms, a heated 15,000 gallon in–ground pool, a grooming salon, retail area and more.
“We hired a construction management company,” says Chris. “It was more money, but it was the best money we ever spent. We were updated weekly with a timeline of every task that was being done, and were able to be an active participant in the process. Our CMC had built over 100 veterinary clinics and I believe part of our success is because of them. They were able to take their construction experience and our institutional experience and make a pet resort that is second to none.”
When the dog flu hit so hard in Chicago in 2015, Pet Care Plus was one of the very few facilities that did not have to close their doors. Chris and Jennifer credit that partly to the design of the facility that makes it easy to clean and care for. They also have five HVAC systems—one in the lobby area, one in the grooming salon and three that cover the rest of the facility. (By comparison, other facilities the size of Pet Care Plus only have one HVAC system.)
“It was a very frightening time,” says Jennifer. “We had over 100 dogs coming through our doors every day. We had relatively few cases, and we never had to close down due to excessive illnesses.”
The new facility that the Stavrianos built contributed greatly to their success, but they also hired a consulting company as they were moving into their new buildings. The consulting company helped them really look at all their policies and procedures, improve the ones that worked and fix the ones that didn’t. They then put those policies in place, and produced an employee and a management handbook to ensure accountability.
“I think one of the greatest things about going to the next level of success is that I am finally able to pay it back to my staff—some of whom have been with me nearing ten years,” says Jennifer. “Now they have life, health and long term disability insurance, as well as vision and dental coverage and a matching IRA.”
As their business grew, their staff increased to 35. Jennifer trained others to take over the jobs she was doing. Now she knows that the facility will operate the way she wants it to, even when she is not there. This leaves her free to pursue her passions of business expansion, and consulting other small business owners on personal and professional growth.
In addition, they continue to offer dog walking and in-home pet care services. Their business, in all categories, has been increasing by twenty percent per year for the last five years.
“What sets us apart is our exceptional customer service,” says Jennifer. “As much as our business is all about the dogs, it is also all about the pet owner. Like any service business, it is essential to constantly communicate with our customers. We make sure they hear from us in person, via email or phone, and on social media. Our number one rule is to under promise and over deliver.”
Pet Care Plus does this because they have found that the owners like reassurance and it keeps them from calling repeatedly to check on their pets. When owners receive an update and a photo, it gives them peace of mind.
“It’s our policy to contact the owner immediately if anything happens, such as a dog appearing ill or out of sorts,” says Jennifer. “We are really on top of things and feel that communication with the owners is important. We believe in complete transparency. We have an open door policy where clients can see anything and everything.”
“Our website, www.petcp.com, and our social media go hand–in–hand with our customer service,” continues Jennifer. “Millennials, especially, like to do everything on their phones – from making reservations, to watching their pet on our webcams, to interacting with other pet parents on social media.”
Chris and Jennifer recently hired a full time PR person to help them optimize their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram presence.
Currently their daycare is at full capacity. They are expanding their building upward by adding a second floor and putting in two new daycare rooms. In addition, they are in the process of looking for future sites, and are investigating franchising the Pet Care Plus model.
However, success is never just about money. It’s about working hard as a team, having the right partners who believe in you, following your dreams and making life better for others.
Jennifer and Chris Stavrianos are achieving every goal that they set for Pet Care Plus, and they are enriching the lives of their staff, countless pets and the owners who love them. When it comes to success, Pet Care Plus gets an A+ !