Operational Overhaul

A Manhattan pet business owes its success to training its humans.

 STORY BY PAMELA MITCHELL

Talk about a dream job. Not only do employees at Camp Canine get to spend time with some of the cutest pets in Manhattan, they also take part in training and development that set them — and the business — up for success.

This investment in human resources has helped the boarding, daycare and grooming facility increase revenue by 300 percent since 2012, when new owner Tania Isenstein began its physical and operational overhaul.

Camp Canine
New York, NY

URL: nycampcanine.com.com
OWNER: Tania Isenstein
OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2012
AREA: 5,000 square feet
EMPLOYEES: 10 full-time,27 part-time
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/
CampCanineNY

“The training of our staff is all about taking excellent care of our guests,” she says. “I’m a believer in the concept that you do well by doing good. If we take care of our pups, kittens and clients, it will lead to great results.”

Set High Expectations, Help Employees Meet Them

Staff members at Camp Canine have clearly defined roles within specific departments. Training starts with an orientation by Isenstein herself.

“One of the first things we do is discuss our mission and core values. I find it to be very helpful. You can’t expect someone to know what your vision is if you don’t tell them.”

Next, employees apprentice with a supervisor, learning on the job but with appropriate support. Dog handlers, for example, spend their first two weeks just getting to know the pups — there are as many as 100 on any given day. They then spend two weeks on walking protocols. In the final two weeks of their apprenticeship, they begin to strike out on their own to graduate from the program.

Departments hold monthly training sessions as well. General topics include animal body language for daycare and boarding staff, customer service for receptionists, and client management for reservation specialists. Employees throughout the company also take part in training from human capital management provider ADP and from business consultant Laura Laaman and her Outstanding Pet Care Learning Center.

“Laura does extensive training with our reservation specialists, including coaching calls,” Isenstein says. “That team reports directly to me, and I meet with them every week to go over leads and discuss bookings. One of the most important things to me, after excellent care of our dogs and cats, is excellent care of our clients. So I’m super hands-on in that area in particular.”

Reward Hard Work and Innovation

Isenstein takes pride in promoting from within — team leaders and supervisors in daycare and boarding have all risen through the ranks — but she rewards employees in other ways as well.

Those who have been with Camp Canine for more than a year qualify for the annual holiday bonus.

“The amount depends on how we perform as a company and how the individual performs. It’s at least $100 and can go into the thousands,” Isenstein says.

Each month, the staff names one of its own “Top Dog,” a title that comes with $100, a trophy, and shout-outs in the lobby and on social media. Employees also earn $25 and bragging rights if one of their entries in the suggestion box gets put into practice, such as the recent idea to mark cat water bowls as a way to gauge if guests are drinking enough.

Innovation and hard work get rewarded in the moment, too, providing immediate positive feedback.

“If we see a good thing happening, we’ll give the employee a $10 gift card to Amazon or Shake Shack or some other place. Just yesterday, one of our staff took it upon herself to write funny bios for the foster dogs staying with us, to help them get adopted,” Isenstein recalls.

Once a month, she also takes the five employees who sign up first to lunch.

“We talk about anything they want to talk about. It helps me stay in touch with staff and gives them access to me as well.”

Add to all of the above regular staff birthday celebrations and parties with the likes of laser tag, and it’s no wonder Camp Canine employees are as happy as the dogs, cats and clients in their care.

“Retention has ranged from 86 percent to more than 91 percent over the five years I’ve had the business,” Isenstein says. “And we find much of the turnover comes from student employees moving on to pursue their studies or to careers in their academic fields.”


PHOTO GALLERY (6 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Camp Canine

1. INDOOR FUN: Because of its city location, Camp Canine doesn’t have its own outdoor space. That doesn’t stop dogs from having fun between walks! They have daycare pals to romp around with, and sessions in the Fetch Room are available. 

2. PEOPLE WATCHING: Kitty guests have multiple windows to look out, including onto 73rd Street and into staff offices. Cats make excellent supervisors, after all. 

3. EXPERIENCE REQUIRED: Isenstein sets the hiring bar high in her grooming department: Each of the three groomers have 10-plus years of experience, and she never hires anyone with less than five. 

4. VALET BARKING: Clients can call when they pull up to have their pet taken inside or brought outside. Those who live within 10 blocks of the facility also can opt for pick-up and drop-off services — staff will even feed dogs whose pet parents are running late. 

5. FOSTER SUCCESS: Camp Canine regularly fosters dogs. A recent batch were adoptable dogs sent from Houston to make room for pets displaced by Hurricane Harvey. All 10 have found forever homes! 


This article originally appeared in the January 2018 edition of PETS+.