Owning and running a dog boarding business is the dream of many people. They are lucrative, fulfilling, and important. But starting one can be a long and complicated process. Businesses that work with live animals have a lot of liability and a lot of paperwork to navigate. Facilities have strict requirements to accommodate dogs. It can all feel very daunting. But you can start a dog boarding business as long as you break down the process into steps and take it one day at a time.
Here are 13 steps that you can follow to help navigate you towards opening your very own dog boarding business.
The 13 Steps to Start a Dog Boarding Business
1. Do Market Research
The first thing someone should do before attempting to start any business is to conduct in depth market research. Market research can be conducted on your own, or you can hire a firm to do it for you. Market research will uncover things like the number of boarding businesses in the area, the typical cost of boarding, the overall demand for dog boarding, the best locations to set up a new boarding business, and more. If you do not know the market, you cannot tailor your business to fit it.
2. Decide What Type of Boarding Business You Want to Run
There are a variety of different types of dog boarding businesses, and you will need to choose what kind of business you want to create before you start. You will want to decide if you are doing long term boarding (one night or more) or daytime boarding. Do you want to run a doggy daycare or lodging for people going out of town? Do you want to have a membership or monthly fee, or do you want to primarily accept walk-ins? What kind of kennels do you want to supply? How many dogs do you want to try to take in at once? Do you want the dogs to have group play or individual walking sessions? All of these questions are important to narrow down exactly what kind of boarding you want to provide. Each one of these different types of boarding facilities requires different staff, different equipment, and different marketing down the line.
3. Create a Business Plan
After you have done your research and decided what type of boarding operation you want to start, it is time to create a business plan. A business plan is a document that lays out explicit goals for your business. It hammers down exactly what services you will be providing, what prices you want to charge, your budget, and your goals for the 1st, 3rd, and 5th year of being in business as well as your overall strategy for meeting these goals. Business plans are a necessity for two reasons. First, it helps keep you focused and on track as you start getting into the day-to-day operations. Second, business plans are essential if you plan on trying to bring in investors to help fund your business.
4. Pick a Name
Time for a more fun step. Pick your business name. You can be as creative or boring as you want, but you want a name that will stand out and let passing people know exactly what your business does.
After you have a name, it is time to incorporate your business. There are numerous different ways to start a business officially, but this is an important step. You need to register your business with the state for tax and liability purposes. The most common type of business is a limited liability corporation (LLC) which protects your personal assets and gives you some tax incentives. However, you can also start a franchise or a sole proprietorship. A sole proprietorship is not recommended for a dog boarding business because there is a lot of liability involved, and a sole proprietorship does not protect your personal things.
6. Find and Meet All Legal and Regulatory Requirements for Your Area
Next up is the onerous task of locating and meeting all regulatory requirements for your dog boarding business. This step is going to vary heavily from state to state and county to county. States all have very different requirements for businesses dealing with animals. You need to check zoning requirements, building permits, necessary inspections, fees, insurance requirements, and more. There is often a lot of paperwork involved with starting any business that deals in live animals. You might want to hire or consult a local business lawyer for this step to ensure that you have covered all of your bases.
7. Find the Perfect Location
Choose the location for your business. After going through all of the legal hoopla, you should know exactly what kind of facility you need to have to meet local code and what areas are zoned for your particular type of business. Using this information, you can locate and secure your perfect property where the dogs will actually be staying and playing.
Make sure the building can meet all of your needs. Make sure the location fits in with your business plan and your market research.
8. Stock Up
Time to break out the checkbook. Once you have secured your location, whether that is a lease or a purchase, it is time to start stocking it with everything you need to care for dogs. You will need kennels, play space, toys, medical supplies, a reception area, a quarantine area, food, water, bowls, grooming supplies, and more. After the physical property, this is the most capital-heavy part of the process. You are going to need a lot of cash to get a new business fully stocked.
9. Hire Your Staff
Another critical part of opening a business is hiring staff. You cannot be the only employee of your boarding business, so you are going to have to hire. Some boarding facilities have very few staff members, but someone needs to run the place at all times. When you hire, make sure you are following all of the local rules regarding hiring. Make sure you have a payroll plan and software in place to ensure that everyone gets paid on time and that your taxes are covered. You don’t need to go overboard on staff at the start. Hire only what you need to get by, and you can always add people later if the business is doing well.
10. Get Business Insurance
Since your business is going to be dealing with dogs, you want to have robust business insurance. You will need liability protections on multiple fronts. You need to protect yourself in case of injury or damage to any dogs on your watch. You need to protect your employees and yourself against dog bites or attacks. You should also protect your expensive equipment against damage, theft, or accidental loss. Insurance is always important for businesses, but it is doubly important for businesses dealing with live animals.
11. Market Your Business
It is getting closer to opening time. Before you open, you want to invest some time and energy into marketing your business. Consider running local ads. Put up flyers around your local pet stores and veterinary offices. It might be a good idea to strike up a relationship with nearby vets in general. Make sure people know your business exists, what it does, and when it is opening. You could create the world’s greatest dog boarding facility, but if no one knows it exists, people won’t come.
12. Set Standard Operating Procedures and Safety Plans
The last thing you want to do before opening your business is to set a standard operating procedure (SOP) and safety plan and go over them with your staff. There should be a rule in place for everything. Everyone should know what to do if a dog gets sick, if a dog bites someone, or if an owner doesn’t show up at their allotted time for pick up. Everyone should know what to do in the case of a fire, if an employee doesn’t show up for their shift, or if a dog gets lost. Each one of these situations needs an official response in an SOP document so that there is no panic or confusion if something goes wrong. A business can quickly melt if a problem arises and the staff panics. It can easily ruin the fragile reputation of a new business if you are not careful.
Finally, it is time to open. Whether you want to do a soft opening where you slowly start taking reservations or if you want to spend big on a grand opening blowout, it is time for you to open your doors. If you have carefully prepared and followed all of the previous steps, the opening should be an exciting time. After your opening, it is time to follow that business plan and get to work.
Starting a business is a daunting task, but it is one that can be done. It is easy to start a business if you do your research and break up the long list of tasks into manageable bites. Dog boarding businesses require some additional considerations and a lot of paperwork, but they can be extremely lucrative when they get off the ground. These steps will help guide you through the process of starting your very own dog boarding business.
Featured Image Credit: Jayme Burrows, Shutterstock