Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Bit of Time To Relax ... Before the New Dog Daycare Facility Opens!!!

Hah, yeah right!  Relax...  I have other pressing to-do items that, if I choose to sit down and write this post, will force me to yet again work until past midnight, but it truly is enjoyable for me to write when the purpose is to get things off my chest & out of my head, so this is definitely a "recess" for me.  This post is long, so I broke it down for you:
  • Searing, Hot, Fuming Mad
  • In the Beginning, There Was A Daycare Dream
  • Found A (Tiny) Spot!
  • Loans ... or Angels?
  • Getting That Permit
  • Becoming A "Boss"
This is an update to a previous post, The Big Move, where I anxiously shared how I would have to find some other place to offer Daycare for my clients.

I admit, the tone of that post may have been a bit bittersweet (or just bitter), but hey, I was in shock!  The announcement from my significant other, Doug, that he was deciding to put the kibosh on Daycare (which accounts for approximately 85% of Après Pooch's business), knocked the wind out of me.  What?  No warning?  That's it!?

Okay, maybe not just bitter.  I was mad.  Searing, hot, fuming mad.

We're not even going to go into the temporary damage that decision did to our relationship.  :)  But you can imagine, I'm sure!  I felt as if I was given the choice of either having my business, or having him.  Believe it or not, my knee-jerk reaction was an overwhelming sadness that I would have to give him up!

Après Pooch is my baby, my passion.  It represents three years of 80+ hr workweeks and sacrifices such as putting friendships and family time on hold.  I really want to go home to Nebraska for a visit (yikes, I'm tearing up already!) but the business isn't quite ready for that yet.  I just can't leave for more than two or three days, which isn't enough time to visit with even one part of my family.  Getting closer by finally having a fantastic group of Sitters to help me out, though!

So, yeah, I was mad.  How could I give up all of this?  Sure, I could offer just dog walking & other pet sitting out of my clients' homes, but what about those that need a place for their pup to go?  We don't have a lot of options locally (although three cheers to Amanda with the Long Valley Dog Retreat for working to get her own facility up and running!) so what were my clients going to do now? 

I felt like I was about to let everyone down.

How Did I Pull This Off, Again?

The new Daycare is happening!  * ok, so I don't technically have the permit from the Town in hand, but it's a tiny step away.*  No "Grand Opening" date yet, but we're looking at early March 2011.  And now that I'm thisclose to that date, I have to sit back in awe and question how in the world things worked out like this!

For those that don't know my "backstory," before I ever knew that people got paid to walk dogs, or that there was a job called "Professional Pet Sitter," I dreamed up opening a daycare here in Mammoth.  I started my research in 2007 by joining the PSCA (Pet Care Services Association) and researching for hours and hours (usually not while at my other jobs working days at a restaurant and evenings at a book store).  Started a self-taught course in writing up a business plan with an 800+ page guide that, I'm proud to say, I read cover to cover and filled out meticulously... more than once! 

Then that dream was put on hold when I realized that all of the obstacles I would face (Financing, Available Location, Major Use Permit with the Town of Mammoth, and Finding/Managing Employees) were just too much for me.  I wasn't ready for those things!  Me?  Manage employees?  What right did I think that I could do that, when I hadn't even managed my own schedule yet as a pet sitter!

So ... when I was told "You can have your business, but you can't have it here," I thought back to the difficulties I faced in 2007/08 and all of those obstacles.  Put aside my self-doubt and decided that at the very least, and since it was the easiest and least time-consuming of the obstacles to determine whether I would get a "Yes" or "No," I would go out and search for an Available Location.

And I found a spot!

No, it's not the fanciest or the most impressive or the biggest ... in fact, I think the new APPS facility may be The Smallest dog daycare in the history of daycares, excluding In-Home daycares.  I'm fine with that.  Be sure to let me know if you find one smaller!  :)

I know that this is just a temporary situation until I can move into (and afford) a larger space.  Interested in my ultimate goal?  Check out the video below to see the Après Pooch "Dream Location" ... 5 years, perhaps?  I want the space on the far left of the building.  3500 sq. ft and tons of windows lining the side (which you can't see, unfortunately) letting in natural light and fresh air.

I know.  Some daycares have 3500 sq. ft playrooms!  But my goal is for quality, rather than quantity.  Sorry for the cheesy music, not my doing!  The realtors must have put this together.


I'm not going to go into this much, other than to say that I put the time and the effort in to try and get a loan on my own.  I've got my 45-page business plan, complete with a mission statement (see below); the analysis of my target market, my competition, the pet care industry (as well as the ski industry) as a whole and locally; I did the risk/profit analysis and projected my financials in pretty stark detail over the next 10 years; I've got a marketing plan, an operations & hiring plan, a community & volunteer plan, a technology plan.

All this, and because of that little snafu that says, "You must produce a minimum of two years' tax records in order to be eligible for a loan" ... I couldn't get the loan.

So.  To my investors, those who have contributed large or small amounts towards the start-up costs for this daycare, thank you!  A very public Thank You.  Don't they call these people "angels" in the investing world?  Yeah, you are. 

Major Use Permit with the Town of Mammoth

Overcame this one, too!  First of all, I didn't have to deal with a "Major" use permit after all (saving me $10,500 - no kidding, the Town's planning department charges that much just for a review of your permit application... that doesn't even guarantee that you'll get it!).  Just had to apply for a "Minor" one.  Still pricey, but I'm not complaining!  The main reason is that rather than being located in town near residential or commercial areas, I've chosen a space in the Industrial Park at the entrance to town.  The nearby construction shops are much louder than a few barking dogs could ever be! 

I'd also done most of the work through the hundreds of hours (I'm pretty sure the grand total hits somewhere between 700-900 hours) that I put into researching and preparing my business plan, figuring out how I wanted to run this daycare.  Did I over-do it a bit?  Ya'll know I did, because that's how I do things.  Did I have to edit like crazy?  Of course.  But without ALL of the info I collected, I couldn't have been so clear on the final product, and putting together the Use Permit application wouldn't have been such a breeze.

The town employees kept saying, "Thank you for being so thorough.  This is great."  I think they were impressed, if I do say so myself!

Finding/Managing Employees

This is the scariest part of all for me.  When we move into this space, we're looking at hosting up to 10 large or 15 small dogs per day.  There's no possible way that I could take care of everyone myself.  I'm pretty much maxed out at three or four.  More than that and I can't give the pups the attention and time they deserve.  There's not enough space in the play room for everyone to get the exercise and stimulation they need, so the plan is to head on over to a nearby trail and take everyone out in "shifts" (groups of 2-3) so that they can play and romp and really experience the Sierra Nevada.  This is more than I was able to give most of the Daycare pups at my own home, I tell ya that much!

So I've been working to find a crew that can help me provide walks outside of the facility (which will keep limit the amount of potty inside, I hope!) and I may be looking to hire a part-time employee as early as this summer, depending on how busy we continue to be this winter.  I honestly hadn't planned on hiring anyone that soon... but reality is setting in to where I'm realizing that I can't take my max # of pups per day myself when I've also got to take care of all of the administrative work... and continue to work on the planning for the Grand Opening.

Another Thank You goes out to my other "angels" (Dinah, Angie, Amelia and Jennifer) who have helped me out with Daycare and Pet Sitting Visits when I just couldn't handle all of the work myself.  You've allowed me to continue to offer fantastic pet care for my clients even during this expansion.  I'd hate to have to leave my clients hanging without another option.  Thank you for putting up with my adjustments as I work to figure out the best systems for communication, scheduling the jobs, getting you the info you need, and gettin' you paid!  :)

AND a thank you to those who haven't quite taken a job yet, since they are only available for the dog walking once we get the facility up and running.  I hope that I'm able to express loudly enough how important you are, though!  Because without the trust that I have Sitters (Victoria, Olivia, Angela, Sherri & Silvia) to back me up when things become chaotic, I really would be frightened out of my wits to open up those doors.  I couldn't conceive of getting started without knowing that I have Sitters whom I can trust to help me care for my clients' beloved dogs from Day One.

And A Final Thank You

... to Doug.  I love you so much more because of what we've been through over the past year, crazy as that may sound.

Now I'm tearing up again!

The Après Pooch Mission Statement:
Our mission is to maximize the mountain town experience for our customers by caring for their beloved dogs as if they were our own.  We aim to be known as the premier pet care provider in the Eastern Sierra.  We do this by offering quality, convenience and support to our clients, all the while providing a social, community environment for their dogs.  Our goal is for moderate growth, annual profitability, and consistent results, measured in tail wags and panting tongues. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jax, Naz, B & Mika

Jax was a trooper, and kept up pretty well with our group of big pups!  So funny to watch him run around in the videos below, hopping around like a little rabbit (in a little blue outfit!).  Naz kept slipping and sliding all over the place, since there is a layer of ice under some of this fresh powder.
But she had a blast!  They all did.  What a great experience, for all of us, to look out on that field of smooth, blank snow ... and then to rush out and tear it up by running through it!  :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pet Blogger Challenge

One of the blogs I follow is Boulder Dog, whose author recently took the "Pet Blogger Challenge," and it inspired me to do the same.  The purpose of the challenge that I'm taking away is to re-assess why I'm putting the time & effort into the blog.  Which is something that's been clanking around in my head for awhile now.  So, here we go!

Much better than HBO.

When did you begin your blog?
July 2010, but I've not really done much with it until the past few months.

What was your original purpose?
Well, I wanted a place where I could work out some of my own questions regarding what was ok in terms of working with our clients' dogs, many of whom I spend only a few days with per year.  I don't want to use dominance methods (which I'll admit are pretty quick/temporary fixes, even if somewhat abhorrent), and yet I don't spend enough time with the pups to use positive reinforcement methods, which tend to take a longer amount of time to connect with the pups (not always, though!)

Then I found Neil Sattin's Natural Dog Blog, and I thought, "Here we go!" This, in combination with a bit of the other methods, can really help me to become a better pet sitter!

And that's the key.  I want to provide the dogs who stay with Après Pooch with the best possible care, the best experience.

Bella has been a bit "naughty" lately about hopping up on the couches uninvited.

Is your current purpose the same?
Wow, I have to admit... No, it's not.  Hmm.  Interesting!

The blog is now used as a place where I can post report cards (including pictures and videos) for clients' dogs.  I've completely left off any sense that the blog is for the dogs themselves and how I work with them.  Hmm.  Perhaps it's time to start a totally new blog for my clients' report cards.

How do you blog?
Well, my current technique is to schedule dates (at least once a week... yes I know it should be more often) when to post in my Google calendar.  And I've been pretty good about that.  Since I have little to no traffic (rather, I send my clients a link to the blog for them to check out their report card), nah, I'm not worried about losing readers.  :)

Are you generating income from your blog?
No, not directly, but it's part of my marketing and customer service efforts, so indirectly?  Yes.  I'm not concerned at all right now about trying to generate income through things like ads, etc. 

Spookie (my dad & stepmom's new addition)

What do you like most about blogging?
Marketing isn't all about the "sales push" anymore.  It's about gaining the trust of our clients, which is really important in the pet care business!  This blog is a way for me to share who I am and what I believe in.  A place to admit my shortcomings, to share my successes, and to encourage others to work on their own relationships with their dogs.

What do you like the least?
Having to learn it all!  It's quite time-consuming to learn the difference between and techniques of blogging, tweeting, facebook(ing), etc.  But we're getting there!

How do you see your blog changing in 2011?
I like the idea of going "back to my roots" and focusing more on my relationship with the dogs.  I'll definitely be creating a separate blog soon just for client notes. 

So glad I took this challenge!  I recommend it to others, because it'll help you gain a bit of clarity, which is a wonderful thing in our chaotic lives.

Go Take The Challenge yourself now! 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dogs & Town Government

I've always been interested in politics, both local and national.  But now that I'm moving forward with the daycare, these things are now directly connected to me, since the fate of Mammoth Lakes affects the fate of our success.

Below is my comment that I posted to the recent LATimes article titled, "Mammoth Lakes fears financial ruin after legal judgment."  Wow, what a doomsday title!

Frustratingly Uncertain

Ok, I get the whole idea of clearing out the town staff; replacing them (temporarily) with a group that's a bit more "proven" (an understatement). Financially it makes sense.

BUT!  Please wait until I receive my use permit application to open up my new dog daycare facility!  :)  The planning department has been working on it for three weeks now and I'm just days away from receiving my permit.  I know it's technically an advertisement, but I get the comment, "Oh!  I wish I knew about you the last time I vacationed in Mmmth, I wish I could've brought my dog!"  ... so I'm going to risk being reported and give out my website:    :D

As for what's going to happen here for the businesses, it's frustratingly uncertain.  We're now compounding the 2007 recession, the 2006-08 lower-than-average snowfall (222", 334" and 470"), and the housing market "throwback" to 1999 prices... with the potential threat of higher taxes and loss of amenities for our guests (visitors to town).  Part of the reason Mammoth is so attractive are things like our bus & trolley services, our SUPER (but probably expensive) trails system, and the multiple cultural events for the community.

If we lose those, I don't know... hey, at least we got 209" in December!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Chester & Monty's Mid-day walks (January)

One more picture!  :)  They were pretty tired on their last day.  Lots of playing with friends will do that to you!

Look!  You can see Mmth Mountain in the background!  :)  This was taken on the big snowpile behind the condo.  Beautiful days for these "walks"/play sessions.

Yep, Monty definitely was "into" Bella.  She thought he was pretty hilarious, too!

C & M would chase one another back and forth across the snowpile... then C would stop for a break and give a big shake of the head... if I didn't move out of the way, I'd get sprayed by slobber!

The boys were so good.  Thanks for letting me watch them this week!

Zelda's January Daycare

Out at the old Sherwin's (unofficial) off-leash dog park.  Z met a boxer out there and the two of them played quite a bit of chase (her favorite game!)

We also visited Shady Rest park, where Z and my Bella sprinted around, jumped into the powder, and enjoyed the beautiful day.  Check out Z's frozen whiskers at the end of the video, as well as in the picture below!

The "Mammoth Shot"   :)

More sprinting: