Do YOU doggie daycare?

October 20, 2017
Brendan Howard, Business Channel Director

Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for dvm360.com, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.

Pets can benefit from training, boarding and day care owned by a veterinarianthe DVM is the expert, after all, not pet service and pet retail staff somewhere else. Just figure out if this chance for pet enrichment for your clients is the right fit for your veterinary hospital's philosophy, staff and location.

For decades, veterinarians have considered-if only for a fleeting moment-the possibility of doing doggie daycare in, or right next door, to the veterinary hospital. It's a commonsense fit when it comes to medicine. The boarding and daycare facility is owned by a doctor of veterinary medicine, who's right next door to address issues that boarding staff identify while pet owners are away on vacation or at work.

Boarding data, not boring data

The dvm360 Clinical Updates: Pet Enrichment Survey was sent in September 2017 to subscribers of dvm360, Vetted and Firstline. The survey garnered 864 responses with a margin of error of 3%.

46% say they offer BOARDING SERVICES at their veterinary hospitals.

Of those, here are the percentages that offer these environmental enrichment strategies for BOARDING pets ...

67% access to toys

55% room to play

45% access to unique environment and/or outside play

21% play or interation with other animals

27% other sensory stimulation

13% None of the above

10% Other

The biggest wrinkle? Veterinary team members and veterinarians didn't get into this business to manage and staff kennels, or run dogs around a yard and avoid dog fights.

And the reality is the profit margins on a doggie daycare are, of course, lower than profit from high-quality medical products and services. Compare the profit-per-square-foot power of a hospital to the same equation for the boarding facility and weep.

The intrepid, client-minded veterinarian or practice manager, however, sees the appeal in the adjacent or in-facility doggie daycare: better dog training, better behavior issue monitoring, better comfort with the veterinary hospital (it's not the spooky, scary place) and, maybe best of all, bonding with pet-owning clients who see the veterinary hospital as the be-all, end-all resource for help with keeping pets happy and healthy.

That's how the team at Bigger Road Veterinary Center for Pet Health and Enrichment in Springboro, Ohio, sees it ...

Sunshine through the roof, big views to reception and hallways, and pretty murals decorate the boarding and doggie daycare play area at Bigger Road Veterinary Center for Pet Health and Enrichment in Springboro, Ohio.

 

The fun, client-friendly design of the leasehold satellite of the Springboro location was built to accommodate boarding, doggie day care and puppy training Montessori-branded sessions (click here to see the practice's website page about it). And, yes, there is just babysitting, but also an emphasis on useful training while the dogs are there, according to business manager Jesse Dorland.

"We do counter-conditioning for nail trims, exposure to syringes, standing on the scale," says Dorland. "And we really encourage pet owners to come once a week to the group training classes, to learn what the dogs learn during the day, so compliance is better at home."

Team members, inside and outside the day care and training team, see value for the dogs being in the hospital, says practice manager Kelly Capasso.

"That work was all borne out of trying to reduce stress with Fear Free at veterinary visits, so these puppies all work over the medicine side," Capasso says. "That's a great benefit, bonding for pet and client to the hospital, especially for puppies."

Not the first time for this hospital ...

We've talked to the folks at Bigger Road before. Check out their facilities and learn more from them here:

• 2016 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition Merit Award photo gallery

• Case study: An in-depth look at how one practice does Fear Free

• Make veterinary visits a walk in the park for pets

• 3 steps to hack your retail area

Clients who use doggie day care and regular training services also spend, on average, more than twice as much each year as non-day-care clients, according to Dorland. And they spend more than the average client on medical services too.

But, training aside, what do you need for a successful boarding and doggie day care business alongside the hospital?

Capasso says, first, you need to hire anybody who's done it before. Pet retail and pet services are a different beast than veterinary hospitals, she says. Second, you need to know that margins are lower, and you really only turn a profit when your day care is fully booked.

"We've been doing it for two years, and right now we're up 100 percent from last year, so it's nice, new business growth," Capasso says. "But because of the margins on the space and the staffing, if you don't book, you don't make money."

The best surprise benefit? Cross-training.

"When boarding is slow, we can bring a staff member over to the hospital to cross-train," Capasso says. "It gives both sides an appreciation for what else is going on and lets boarding staff members really educate our medical clients about the benefits of training and day care."