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Evolve & Expand

Sherry Shupe started with an 800-square-foot boutique, and her latest goals involve taking her brand international.

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Fur Baby Pet Resort, Milford, DE

OWNER: Sherry Shupe; URL: furbabypetresort.com; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/furbabypetresort; FOUNDED: 2011; AREA: 10,000 square feet indoors, 3/4 acre outdoors; TOP BRANDS: Fromm, Zignature, Primal, Steve’s Real Food, Tuffy Dog Toys, West Paw, Grandma Lucy’s, Vital Essentials, Summit Dog; EMPLOYEES: 8 full-time, 13 part-time


Sherry Shupe

Owner Sherry Shupe

WHEN SHERRY SHUPE founded Fur Baby in 2011, she never imagined that her small boutique in Milford, DE, would evolve into Fur Baby Pet Resort, a successful multi-service business with plans to open an international location.

Shupe put herself on this path while searching for existing pet resorts to buy in the U.S.

“It’s actually been incredibly hard to find businesses to the scale of what we’re looking for,” she says. “So we put out some international feelers just to see if there were any countries intrigued and ready to receive us.”

More than a year into that process and with help from the U.S. Department of Commerce and government agencies from countries in Asia, Shupe estimates the first international Fur Baby will open by the end of this year. Making such growth possible are modernizations and efficiencies she has put in place at her Delaware resort.

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From 800 Square Feet to 10,000+

Shupe expanded her original store with services and space three times before purchasing in December 2019 the property for today’s Fur Baby Pet Resort. It spans 10,000 square feet and has a 3/4-acre outdoor play yard.

“2,000 of that is devoted to our boutique,” she says. “We got intentional and focused on nutrition, what is important to our pet parents and the health of our fur babies. The rest we’ve devoted to day care, hotel and spa.”

The larger footprint meant a $400,000 investment and revitalization of a rundown building that had been empty for 20 years. The former storage facility for farm equipment offered a depressing welcome to downtown Milford.

“The rehabilitation of this building allowed us to reimagine the gateway into our hometown and make it a warm welcome for other small businesses,” Shupe says.

Its bright blue exterior catches the eyes of passersby, with more muted blues and greens covering the walls throughout the inside and complementing the building’s bones.

“We kept the industrial feel but provided much-needed structural updates: new plumbing, electric, flooring, insulation, HVAC, walls, siding, windows, massive overhead garage doors!”

Pandemic-related shutdowns extended the buildout timeline from four months to 13.

“I always like to think that everything happens for a reason,” she says. “This time was helpful for us. We used it wisely to rethink our operations and develop a more educated, robust team.”

Fur Baby Pet Resort

Fur Baby Pet Resort spans 10,000 square feet inside, and has a 3/4-acre play yard outside.

Focus on Modernization

Many of the operational improvements Shupe made involve the latest in technology. Examples include a commercial dishwasher that saves at least two hours of labor per day and a riding Kärcher Chariot 2 iScrub — think Zamboni for floors. Costing around $10,000, it proves five times as efficient as a walk-behind unit. It takes only 90 minutes to clean and sanitize the facility’s hospital-grade, polyurea flooring.

James Shaffer, director of operations at Fur Baby, says, “All of this modernization allows for us to take better care of our clients and keep a hospital-grade cleanliness at all times. In turn, it allows our team to spend more personal time with our dogs, which is the heart of our business and what pet parents really want at the end of the day.”

An artificial-intelligence marketing firm helps with new customer acquisition. This includes micro-targeting, where algorithms show different people different images and messaging on tightly controlled landing pages. AI predicts and tests what works best for various types of pet parents, based on market trends and consumer behavior.

Rather than letting online searchers loose on the resort’s full website, which results in significant drop-offs, Shupe says, AI presents a narrow slice. People who search for “dog grooming near me,” for example, only see the AI version of spa content and booking tools.

Pet parents will find everything they need in the boutique at this multi-service business, from raw foods to products for people.

Pet parents will find everything they need in the boutique at this multi-service business, from raw foods to products for people.

FBU & Beyond

Beyond typical onboarding, Fur Baby University provides new-hire and ongoing training for everyone on staff.

Shupe says, “We are much more than a pet retail shop, we interact and care for dogs every minute of every day. Our team is educated on pet behavior, nutrition and the latest research in our industry. A well-educated team makes for a safer working environment, a more enjoyable stay for our dogs, and a happier and more informed pet parent.”

FBU includes training modules from The Dog Gurus and in-house protocols such as a 28-page cleaning manual. Four levels of training each take from eight to 20 hours or more to complete. Traditional testing and implementation phases take another 30 to 90 days. Shupe also encourages staff to pursue continuing education and certifications. The resort’s main groomer is an OPawz certified color expert, for example.

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Big Picture

All of the above helps free up Fur Baby leadership to focus on strategic planning such as the previoulsy mentioned expansion to new markets, both domestic and international. And it has helped strengthen the core business. At the new location since early 2021, the hotel has seen 335% revenue growth, with day care up 168% and spa services up 225%, according to Shaffer.

Competing only with themselves, Shaffer says, “We’re always looking for the next greatest thing to move us forward.”

Five Cool Things About Fur Baby Pet Resort

1. GBAC STAR: In late 2022, Fur Baby earned Global Biorisk Advisory Council Accredidation for facility cleanliness from the International Sanitary Supply Association. Meant for human hospitals and medical facilities, the resort is the first pet facility to hold this designation in the world.

2. CHEF’S TASTING MENU: Hotel guests can enjoy “nutrition-forward” treats with super foods and nutrient-dense items such as donuts made with broccoli, spirulina, turmeric and chia seeds, or raw quail or duck eggs from the local farmer’s market.

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3. ‘IT’S MY DAY’ CHAIR: Pets can pose in this special chair on their birthday or gotcha day. It’s also included with Birthday Packages that run from $25 to $75 for pet parents hosting parties for their dog’s Fur Baby friends.

4. ALFIE BUCKS: Team members can earn these credits, named after the store’s mascot (Shupe’s rescued Miniature Pinscher) for modeling company culture, such as leading by example, supporting teammates, exceeding goals and reliability. They trade Alfie Bucks for prizes (valued $5 to $1,000), including gift cards, designer items, kitchen gadgets, tech gifts and even paid time off.

5. LITTLE LEAGUE DONATIONS: With a population of just 12,000 people, Milford, DE, remains a small town. When the local Little League field needed a new scoreboard, Fur Baby Pet Resort paid for it and continues sponsoring teams.

PHOTO GALLERY (7 IMAGES)

Roxanne Hawn is a journalist with 25+ years writing in the pet space, the award-winning blogger of Champion of My Heart, and author of "Heart Dog: Surviving the Loss of Your Canine Soul Mate."

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