I grew up on a cattle ranch in Northern Nevada. I know how important animals are to human well-being. Some of the animals became an intrinsic part of my soul, so I understood how important animals are to the people who love them. I began showing and training dogs in 1976. I also began offering training classes for the public and youth in 4-H. In 1985, while I was at a dog show, my house sitter allowed my old, blind Schipperke, Star, to wander off. I know Star was looking for me. The house sitter didn’t tell me until I got home. I found Star in the gutter of the main highway. I was devastated. I knew, at that moment, I had to have a safe and loving place to leave my dogs while I was gone. I knew others needed it as well. I vowed to open a boarding kennel that would take care of the animals the way I wanted mine taken care of. From doing obedience classes, I was aware people drastically needed a place to come for boarding, grooming, and training. I had faith I could offer a service customers wanted. Secondly, I would offer the service or products with efficient operation and savvy marketing, and last but not least have a solid financial management framework. I was sure I could successfully do all three. The elements of success remain constant even when the world is changing around us (Pakaroo, 2014).
Planning the Business
Do not delay, the golden moments fly!
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
In the fall of 1985, I began planning my dream business. Planning is mandatory for business success. “If you fail to plan then you plan to fail (Sullivan, 1997) (p. 57)”. I had little business experience, so I knew I had to do my homework. The kennel business isn’t a common one, and not much is written on kennel startup. I began by visiting boarding kennels around the country. I learned from each kennel owners’ successes and failures. The kennel owners were all very open with me about what they would do differently the next time around or what they did that was successful. They shared copies of their boarding contracts and other paper work. They also shared ideas pertaining to pet food, and ways to make extra money. Many of them became my mentors and helped me through the years. Mentoring is a personal relationship, not necessarily a business one, but can play a large part in the success of the business. If the chemistry is right the relationship works well and can last a lifetime (Tyson & Schell, 2008).
I needed a name for my business. I wanted a name that would get peoples’ attention and make them curious. I couldn’t pick a name belonging to another business, because the owner might take legal action against me. I would be spending a lot of marketing money over the years and wanted to promote MY business and not someone else’s (Tyson & Schell, 2008) My two young sons, Brett and Beau, helped me decide on a name. They had many ideas and we finally came up with the name Brebeau Kennels. It was a unique combination of both boy’s names, Brett and Beau. The name satisfied everyone involved. It would also be the precursor in the names of my champion Golden Retriever puppies. That way, when a puppy accomplished a show title, everyone would know I bred the dog.
It wasn’t until I took the time to create a written plan that I realized the scope and magnitude of what was involved in starting a kennel business. In my head I had gone over the plan many times, in doing a written plan, I was able to examine the nuts and bolts of the business (Magos & Crow, 2003). A written business plan takes time to create, but you will be more than repaid by the insight you gain (Magos & Crow, 2003). The business plan would be necessary when approaching lending institutions or investors (Tyson & Schell, 2008).
Along with the business plan, I also created a mission statement. A mission statement is a powerful tool in clearly defining the purpose of the company (Pakaroo, 2014). My mission statement was short but provided measurable, definable, and actionable project statements which had an emotional appeal. My mission statement went in part like this:
“Brebeau Kennel’s mission is to provide the
customer with exceptional pet care
comparable to what they receive at home. We
also kindly groom the pets to the
customer’s specifications. We offer obedience and
show classes. We sell quality
pet food and supplies. We exist to attract and
maintain customers. Our services
will exceed the expectations of our customers.”
With a wealth of ideas and help from my contractor husband, I began drawing up some rough plans for the kennel building. Once I had the rough sketches, I enlisted the help of a drafting student who had taken one of my obedience classes. She did a fabulous job of drafting a set of workable blueprints and only charged me $100 since she was still a student. I then traded obedience classes to an engineer friend for going over the blue prints and stamping them with his official engineer stamp. I was ready to build. The only thing I needed was property to build on. Finding property close to town that would meet approval by the City and County might be tricky. I began the search for the perfect property.
I knew how important location would be for my business. I had heard the phrase, location, location, location, time and time again (Tyson & Schell, 2008). Finding a location, close enough to town to be convenient for the customer, and yet far enough out to be able to comply with zoning laws, would be very important to my success. I knew several people who had tried to open a kennel but couldn’t comply with local zoning ordinances. I learned the zoning laws in our area were extremely rigid and the zoning officials relished sniffing out minor infractions and enforcing their zoning ordinances to the letter. I learned, because of noise restrictions, zoning for a kennel had to be zoned light industrial.
Empty lot I built kennel building on-1986
A friend I grew up with was just beginning to develop a high-end industrial park on the outskirts of town. It was in the County, but had city sewer and water. No one had purchased property from him yet so he offered me an amazing deal if I bought two of the one acre lots instead of only one. I told him I would take them providing I could gain approval from the County and the City water and sewer department as well as the zoning officials.
Gaining County and City Approval
I knew I would be met with resistance, as others had, in an attempt to open a kennel close to town and especially using city sewer and water. I knew I better be well prepared to present my case at the County Commissioners meeting. I researched the effect of animal waste on a city sewer system. I called the state water and sewer engineer and he confirmed what I had researched, animal waste was compatible with the city’s existing sewer system. He sent a written recommendation to take to the meeting.
I had done a lot of planning on how to curb the kennel noise. I designed the kennel in such a way that only four dogs on each side would be let out at once. I knew it would be a continual rotation of dogs in and out, but if I wanted approval, I knew it was something I would have to deal with. Besides, handling the dogs more often would be better for the dogs. I knew I would need to present my business plan as well, so I got busy revising my business plan. I finally had a business plan I could present to my lenders as well as the city and county planners. Planning is an important element in the success of a business (Sullivan, 1997), and it is the most important element in getting approved by the planning commission.
I worked for the county for seven years and knew most of the County Commissioners and building inspectors. The Agricultural Extension Service Office where I worked was next door to the Elko County Building inspector’s office. Knowing everyone on the planning commission did alot to help my pre-meeting nerves. The meeting went well. I was able to answer and address all of their concerns. I had gained approval from the County and City. Now all I needed was financing.
I was in need of financing to get my business started. I realized I needed help selling my idea to lending institutions, so I asked my accountant to add his touch to my business plan. I had projected my yearly income conservatively, but it wasn’t proven yet. As I began my search for financing, I was met with resistance by all the lending institutions I approached. They had never lent money to a business such as mine before and were fearful It wouldn’t be successful. I had to resort to “bootstrapping”, which is defined by Tyson & Schell, (2008), in Small Business for Dummies as:
“The internal generation of initial financing, using
primarily your own personal resources, and
sometimes complemented by various forms of
equity investments or loans from family, friends,
and relatives” (p. 78).
The restructuring of the financial services industry made securing capital for the start up of my business very difficult (Tolbert, Mencken, Riggs, & Jing Li, 2014). The fact I was a woman under thirty was also a hindrance. My husband and I took stock of our assets and took out an equity line loan on our house and property to secure the money for the business property. My father agreed to lend me the money for the building materials and working capital, and my husband, being a building contractor, agreed to do the construction in his off-time. He also had a concrete license so he could do most of the work, but we still needed to hire specialty contractors. He secured all of the sub-contractors we needed such as plumbers, electricians, sheetrock, painting, tile, and sheet metal contractors.
Federal Regulations and Permitting
Deciding which type of entity best suits you and your business will require the help of an accountant. With the help of my accountant we decided to incorporate to minimize my personal liability, due to the high risk of boarding a person’s beloved pet. Incorporating is a complex task and new business owner should not take on the task by themselves (Sullivan, 1997).
The next step was applying for our tax identification number, or federal employer identification number (FEIN). The FEIN is a number used by the government to identify the business, which is needed over and over again on most important business documents (Pakroo, 2014). Setting up an account for federal withholding, social security and Medicare, allowed me to hire employees and collect the necessary federal taxes withheld from their paychecks. The FEIN number would also identify my business when filing my federal tax return. I also had to obtain a state and county sales tax permit. I had to get workman’s compensation insurance which was required by law, and liability insurance to protect my interest in case of injury or neglect to the clients or their animals. I was also required to obtain a county business license. I set up a business banking account as well. In obtaining all of the permits and licenses I was ensuring the business offered safe services and products that would not harm people’s pets, themselves, or the environment (Tyson & Schell, 2008).
I knew the importance of keeping good records. I met with my husband’s bookkeeper and ask her if she would be willing to become my bookkeeper as well. She agreed. She would do a great job because she was a certified public accountant and kept herself current on all the laws pertaining to federal and state reporting, as well as all new laws passed by the Internal Revenue Service. I had to learn the bookkeeping and accounting aspects of my business too. It is important for an owner to assist in the creation, and totally understand, the method of bookkeeping used in the business (Magos & Crow, 2003). It is imperative to monitor the accounting regularly. When I started my business, computer generated bookkeeping programs were not available. I used a very efficient ledger program designed by Safeguard Systems that was recommended by my accountant. With the assistance of my bookkeeper and accountant, I became familiar with accounts payable, accounts receivable, cash flow, assets, liabilities and net worth. I also had to figure the cost of goods, the percentage of markup on goods sold, amount of sales, and profit or loss. Since I would be doing retail sales as well, I needed to secure wholesale distributors, and learn more about the retail business.
I visited my attorney to help draw up the boarding agreement and hold harmless agreement. Together we came up with a boarding contract which would protect me as well as the clients and their pets. In the contract we drafted, the client agrees:
- Any toys, bedding, etc., are left at the pet owner’s own risk and the kennel assumes no responsibility for loss or damage.
- Any special attention items to this pet, over and above the normal attentive care administered to the boarding guests, will be an additional fee, listed with directions for such.
- Any, and any part of a day, that the pet is left in the care of the Kennel shall be charged for as a whole day’s boarding fee.
- Should any boarding animal become ill or seem to be in need of medical attention, we reserve the right to administer medication and/or use any available veterinarian. Any expense incurred shall be paid by the owner for such requirements.
- If for any reason the boarding animal dies while under the Kennel’s care, we have the right to order an autopsy with any available veterinarian. Any expense incurred shall be paid by the owner for such requirements.
- Customer agrees to notify this boarding kennel if there is any change in pick-up date. No boarding animal shall be released until all charges are paid in full. Any animal left uncalled for or unpaid for shall be disposed of five days after the scheduled pick up date as noted herein. Owners shall remain liable for complete boarding bill, as well as other charges in the care and maintenance of this animal. The owner or agent for this animal agrees to pay reasonable attorney fees incurred by this boarding facility in the collection of any boarding, grooming, veterinary or other charges incurred by the owner or his/her agent.
- Current vaccinations are required. Any pet which catches any disease that could be prevented by proper vaccinations is not the fault of this kennel and owner/agent hereby agrees to not hold this kennel liable for said diseases.
- Any returned check must be picked up and paid for in cash and the returned check fee must be paid at the time of check pick-up.
We also made sure prices were listed, and services described in detail. We decided to charge by the weight of the dog. We charged $8.00 per day for dogs under 35 pounds; $9.00 per day for dogs weighing 50-99 pounds; $10.00 per day for dogs weighing over 100 pounds; bigger dogs eat more and eliminate more. Cats and all other small animals were $7.00 a day. We could adjust prices if needed later.
Nuts and Bolts of the Business
Before I actually opened, I needed to research different types of pet food. I wanted a premium food which would the animals would thrive on, wouldn’t create digestive upsets, and make clean-up easier. I had been feeding my show dogs Pro-Plan which was one of the premium foods of the day, and after researching other options, I decided I would feed Pro-Plan to the dogs and cats I boarded as well. I approached the local feed store and they agreed to sell me Pro-Plan at 10% above their cost as long as I bought in bulk. They would also deliver which was a big help to me.
After researching cleaners, I found regular household bleach (sodium hypochlorite) to be one of the most inexpensive means of neutralizing parvovirus. It should be diluted 1 part bleach to 32 parts water (or 4 ounces of bleach to a gallon of water) to make it safe to use around animals, yet still be effective. I mixed bleach and dawn dish soap in a scrub bucket with hot water. The foam from the Dawn helped lift stuck on feces and the bleach killed any bacteria or viruses left behind. After hosing the solid waste down the drain, I would scrub each run, rinse with clean water and squeegee them.
Construction began in the summer of 1986. By late fall, 1986, The building was complete. Even though we were conservative in the construction of the building, it turned out beautiful.
The building was a pole building covered with colored metal and insulated and sheet rocked on the inside. Everything was painted and the floor in the kitchen, lobby, cat room, grooming room, and office had tile floors. The floor in the kennel area was polished and sealed concrete. The building was 60’ X 80’. Sixty-foot-wide and eighty-foot long. The first twenty-feet of the length of the building, included the grooming room, lobby, kitchen, office, and cat room. The last sixty-feet was divided length-wise into three twenty-foot-wide X sixty-foot long sections. The two outer sections held 32 kennels each, half of them indoor/outdoor and the other half strictly indoor. A walkway went down the center of each section with a gutter on each side of the walkway and kennels on both sides. The gutters each held four, four-inch drains. The runs were slightly sloped to allow everything to drain towards the gutter and the solid waste could be hosed down the drains.
One of the kennel sections
The middle section was open, but the floor plan was set up exactly like the other two sides. A walkway down the center with gutters on each side, with a four inch drain every twelve feet. When times were slow, the middle section could be left open as one big room, and if we were busy, we could set up temporary runs housing small dogs. During the slow times, I could hold obedience classes in the big open room. During our busy times, with temporary runs set up we had a total of 88 runs.
Doing obedience class in the middle section
Each run could hold several dogs if a multiple dog family was boarding. I think the most dogs I ever boarded at one time was 130 dogs and 50 cats. I was set up to board birds, and other small animals as well, and because I had two acres, I had pens and an arena outside to board and train horses.
Doors opened 1987- photo 1996
With everything in place, I opened in January, 1987. It is always good to open awhile before the grand opening to get all the bugs worked out. I planned to be open seven days a week since I had to be there to feed and clean up after the animals. However, I needed a groomer. I had a friend, Margaret Turner, who had been a groomer for years and was grooming out of her home. I met with her and she agreed to come to work for me. It was standard practice to hold 50% of their earnings to pay for rent, insurance, and supplies. She went to work for me the day I opened and left the day I sold the business. Margaret insisted I learn to groom with her. As it worked out, that was an extremely good idea. I worked alone in the kennel for three months without a day off, and learned to groom as well.
We had our grand opening in February, 1987 and it was a huge success. We had almost 1000 people in attendance. The local radio station did a live broadcast, and the local newspaper did an article as well. With each passing day we got busier and busier. The steady pace was beginning to take its toll, so I hired a person to work Sundays. It wasn’t long until I needed a couple more employees to work the kennel. I started grooming more and I soon hired another groomer.
Brebeau Kennels soon became a very busy, fast-paced business. Finding employees that were willing to do such demanding work was not an easy task. I grew up working on a ranch, but working at the kennel was the most physically and mentally draining work I have ever done. By the time I opened the Kennel 1987, I had developed, and had been teaching, the 4-H dog program for eleven years. Most of the 4-Hers were animal people and well aware of the work involved in caring for them.
I hired a lot of 4-Hers to work for me after school and on the weekends. I also hired young people from drug court. These people were so appreciative to be given a chance and a job, they worked harder, and were more dependable, than most people who had never been addicted. I spent a lot of time, effort, and money on my employees. We had informal meetings each week either over lunch or drinks after work. I showed my employees how much I appreciated them. I paid them well and offered incentives and advancement opportunities. My employees were very loyal to me and my business. A business is only as successful as the weakest employee. Most of these people worked for me for years. Working at the kennel with the animals kept them from going back to their old lives.
Being a perfectionist, I demanded the same of my employees. They were efficient, kind, and knowledgeable. I demanded the runs be kept immaculate. They were completely scrubbed each morning and then again each time a dog eliminated. I didn’t want the dogs to smell when they went home and I didn’t want the kennel to smell either.
checking in a client
I realized I needed to train my employees how to handle and manage the daily books and cash flow. I made it a policy the employees had to balance the books each night. We needed change in the till for the next day so the cash was counted and the excess put in with the bank deposit. I designed a balance sheet which made it easy to tally the daily transactions and count the cash which needed to match the ledger. I required two people do the check-out and each were to initial the check-out sheet. This was a method which worked very well for me and was designed to keep honest employees honest.
I developed an employee hand book which I gave to each employee when I hired and trained them. I tried to give examples of how to successfully complete all the paper work and answer any questions the employees might have before a problem developed. This was a huge factor in having loyal and responsible employees.
By the start of 1988, we had three full-time groomers (counting myself), and three kennel employees.
I eventually had as many as eight groomers, most of them working full time, rotating days off. A few of the girls worked only part time. The girls set their own schedules, and worked whatever hours they wanted. They paid me 50% of their gross which worked out well for both of us. I raised most of the groomers to a 60-40 percent split after they had been with me for a few years. This arrangement was a win-win situation for both of us. The girls had no overhead and I paid for all their supplies, and sharpening. The more hours they worked the more money we both made.
Ashley grooming on of my Aussies
Holidays were our busiest times of year. My employees took turns working the holidays with me, and I paid them extremely well on those days. For twenty-three years, I spent holidays at the kennel and celebrated the holidays with my family on a different day.
As the years went by, my business grew and so did my staff. My policies and demand for good customer service stayed the same. When I sold the business in 2010, business had increase to the point I had eighteen full and part time employees working the kennel at all times.
Running a successful business not only requires skill, and energy but a bit of intuition. I realized I needed to please my customers and keep them loyal. I realized it is a huge factor in a business’s long-term success not only to attract new customers, but satisfy and retain the repeat customers. Over the years I learned that word-of-mouth can be the best, or worst, advertisement for your business. If you have a happy satisfied customer spreading good word about your business, it will attract more customers. On the other hand, a disgruntled customer spreading negative experiences about your business can certainly tarnish the reputation of the business. People believe what customers tell them about your business, whether it is good or bad.
I learned from my mistakes and took my customer’s recommendations into consideration. I realized customer service was a huge factor in customer satisfaction. I spent time training my employees on customer service. I explained to them, that even though they were busy, they were to look up and smile at a customer who had just entered the building. I taught my employees to tell the customer they would be right with them as soon as they finished what they were working on. If the task was something that could be completed after the customer left, I instructed my employees to put it aside and take care of the customer. Tyson & Schell, (2008) describe customer service as simply solving a customer’s problems or meeting their needs, in a friendly and efficient manner. I won the local Chamber of Commerce customer service award several times which was very satisfying for me.
To make ends meet until the business became profitable, I began doing what I loved, teaching obedience classes on my day off and after work. It is important to help people develop relationships with their dogs. Relationships are crucial to human well-being. Human-canine relationships do not negate the need for human companionship, but the relationship with a dog brings us as humans tremendous satisfaction and helps fulfill the need for love and acceptance. For many, developing and maintaining relationships with dogs may be difficult. Although I was fortunate to have developed my relationship with animals early on, many people desiring relationships with dogs lack the knowledge and ability to develop the proper framework for a successful relationship. Many people need assistance in selecting a breed suitable to their lifestyle, training the dog to be compliant to their wishes, and are in need of the support necessary to help them bond with their canine. Almost everyone who attended my obedience classes became a boarding and grooming client as well. Teaching obedience classes was an easy way to secure future clients. Obedience classes helped pay the bills and recruit new customers for the kennel as well as help many people make well-behaved pets. I also developed an online obedience class.
Giving obedience lessons
I was showing and raising Golden Retrieversand Australian Shepherds. It was important for me to be the most conscientious breeder of Aussies and Golden Retrievers I could be. I didn’t want to be declared a puppy mill, backyard, or hobby breeder. I wanted to better the breed and produce smart, beautiful puppies. I promised myself I wouldn’t breed a dog which hadn’t earned its championship title, which proves the dog is a high quality specimen and complies to the breed standard in type and temperament. I also wouldn’t breed until both parents had all their health clearances, which includes hip and elbow, heart and eye clearances. I also did DNA testing for inheritable genetic problems. I didn’t want to breed two dogs which could potentially produce puppies with genetic defects.
Chase - One of my hampion golden retrievers-1988
Over the years, before becoming a professional judge, I was asked to judge many fun matches, 4-H shows, and obedience matches. I attended many seminars and workshops for judges. However, I never aspired to be a carded judge. Becoming a carded judge seemed out of my league, almost unattainable. But, in 1987, I was approached by a friend and fellow Australian Shepherd exhibitor, asking me to complete an application for my judging license. In the late eighties, the need for experienced, competent, Australian Shepherd Club of America judges in the Western United States was substantial. So, I began the application process. I began gathering documentation needed to prove my experience in the dog show world. Proof of dogs I had titled in both obedience and conformation was required. Letters of recommendation from clubs I had judged for were also required. I studied and reviewed breed standards, movement, conformation and obedience rules and regulations. I studied junior showmanship patterns as well as the rules and regulations governing juniors.
Finally, in 1988, I received my judging license. My judge’s number was 52 in the Australian Shepherd Club of America record book of judges. Licensed for obedience through open, regular and non-regular conformation classes, and junior showmanship. This was a very proud day for me. I felt very honored to be allowed to judge. Everything I had worked so hard for had been accomplished. I felt humbled knowing I had been chosen to make such important decisions. I feel my experience showing, training, and judging increased my credibility as a kennel owner.
I also started rescuing dogs. When people became ill or died, I would take their dogs and place them in forever homes. When the shelter had dogs they couldn’t adopt out or euthanize, they brought the dogs to me. I learned this practice was good for my well-being and earned me respect in the community for doing a community service. I also learned that the people who adopted my rescue dogs became life long grooming, boarding, and training clients. It was a win-win situation for all involved. The dogs’ and cats’ lives were spared, lonely people were given a wonderful animal, I felt good about what I was doing, and I was securing customers.
Dog Town Animal Resuce
The two emotions common to all who rescue animals are gratitude and compassion (Winegar, 2009). Compassion and gratitude are essential to mental well-being. Compassion and gratitude also open the door to kindness regardless of the species. Compassionate people dedicate their lives to creating a more peaceful world for all who share it. The benefits of rescuing animals are limited by fame or fortune, poverty or privilege, sexual preference or even politics or religion. Walter Kutchler, in Karin Winegar’s book Saved, (2009), said it best, “Animals are Gods gift to us, they take our heartache away and warm our soul. They essentially save us.” Being able to adopt a rescue at my kennel was another service offered to our customers and the community. Almost every dog I adopted out became a future client. Rescue animals need training, grooming and boarding.
It wasn’t long until our gross income was a high six figures. Unfortunately, I divorced and my two boys and I moved to town to live at the kennel. I was able to buy a modular home and put on the property. This worked very well for me because I was there 24/7 incase of an emergency.
For twenty-three years the business I built from the ground up was a huge success and supported me and my two boys. I worked long hours, holidays, and was never able to take a vacation without the kennel on my mind. The kennel’s success didn’t come without sacrifice. My marriage failed and I wish I could have spent more time with my children, but owning your own business has it’s advantages as well. I never had to have a baby sitter for my children, they were at the kennel with me most of the time. Also, I could treat my customers they way I knew customers should be treated, and I always had a place to leave my dogs where I knew they would be loved and well taken care of.
In 2010, I sold the kennel after twenty-three years. I had paid off the thirty year loan in fifteen years, so the kennel was mine, free and clear. I was able to offer financing to the prospective buyers which played a big part in being able to sell the kennel in a weak economy. I was able to carry the papers and charge 5 ¼% interest on the loan.
Opening my own business was the smartest business move I ever made. I must admit I made some mistakes in the beginning, but I learned from those mistakes, which was part of the reason for my success.