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These heroic pet pros’ alter egos are anything but underdogs.

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At a store in New York, a man stares at shelf after shelf of bags and cans, stressed about choosing the right food for his dog. A cat cowers in her carrier at a grooming salon in Ohio, fearful of what awaits outside the open door. At a home in Maryland, a woman frets over a beloved pet’s health, worried something may be seriously wrong. Who can these mere mortals turn to? Who will help their furry family members? The Super Pet Professionals! These heroes excel at education. They have a calming way with animals. Their instinct and knowledge tell them when it’s time to involve a vet. Some also have a knack for merchandising, an eidetic memory or the ability to be extraordinarily efficient. With these powers, they keep people and pets happy and healthy. Let’s meet eight such champions!

Pamela Mitchell is the senior editor at PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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Learn More About America's Coolest Store Winner, Bar K

Catch the replay of this PETS+ Live! Lunch & Learn webinar hosted by Candace D’Agnolo of Pet Boss Nation. This episode featured Candace on location at Bar K in Kansas City, MO. Find out how owners Leib Dodell and David Hensley implemented their idea for a dog park/restaurant/bar that owners enjoy as much as their pets do — and learn why the business took top honors in the 2019 PETS+ America’s Coolest Stores contest.

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America's Coolest

Partnering and Pop-Ups: A Downtown Store Extends Its Customer Base Through Creative Outreach

Owners Ben and Lisa Prakobkit balance their slick store with warm smiles and genuine sit-down friendliness.

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The Modern Paws, Tampa, FL

OPENED FEATURED STORE: Dec. 26, 2018; FOUNDED: 2014, ran an e-commerce store from home; 2015, expanded to sublease 200 square feet of a neighborhood grocery store; 2018, opened brick-and-mortar storefront; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 2 part-time ; AREA: 1,628 square feet ; FACEBOOK: themodern4paws; INSTAGRAM: themodernpaws


Midwesterners Lisa and Ben Prakobkit brought their heartland ethos to Florida’s Gulf Coast.

TO UNDERSTAND WHY TWO Midwesterners thrive at The Modern Dog in Tampa, FL, you’ve first got to get a feel for the Channel District, where you’ll catch an occasional celebrity sighting in the midst of wild dolphin cruises, maritime oddities and the Amalie Arena. It’s a small community inside a busy district of young renters, out-of-towners and business professionals.

Tucked in the highrises of Florida’s Gulf Coast, The Modern Paws is a warm and friendly surprise, with bright lights and soft pastel accents. Owners Ben and Lisa Prakobkit balance their slick store with warm smiles and genuine sit-down friendliness.

“People come visit us very often,” Ben says. Customers come through every other day to pick up a quick treat or say hi. “It gives us a chance to ask, ‘How is his foot doing?’ and ‘How long did the treat last?’ I think it makes a big difference. When you can have a great conversation, just hearing about their day, it shows more of a family and friend community versus just a store.”

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To beat the big-box stores and online competition, they offer free weekday delivery and get out into the community every chance they get. “In this day and age, it’s about who you work with,” says Ben, who is originally from Chicago. “It’s not work, it’s connections. The community, at the end of the day, will support.”

The Modern Paws grew from an e-commerce site that delivered pet food throughout the Tampa Bay area to a grocery-store partnership.

“The owner of the grocery knew what we were doing with the e-commerce side of things and said, ‘What if I sublease some square footage to you from our store and you could sell your product out of the store?’” he says. “And we were like ‘Yeah, that’s wonderful.’”

The day after Christmas 2018 they opened their first storefront — 1,628 square feet — and it’s become a popular pet store and grooming spot for Tampa Bay’s young and mostly childless crowd.

Friends and Neighbors

The couple is from “up North,” and Lisa’s Michigan friendliness is warm even in Hillsborough County, a neighborly area often voted one of the best places to live in the bay. “Even here people are like, ‘Wow, you’re so nice,’” she says. “We’re Midwest people, and we are definitely different, even though we’ve been down here eight years now.”

Their dedication to community outreach has helped them develop good relationships in the neighborhood, where they both live and work. Even though it’s a young crowd that loves to shop online, they get repeat customers because people want to support a local business.

Their store is in a downtown location, so they take their show on the road, working with rescues and showing up at apartment complex popups and dog park grand openings to share food and treat samples, chat with friends and let people know The

Modern Paws is out there, offering free delivery to anyone in the county.

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“That’s how we let them know we’re located here, and that we do grooming, have self-dog wash and do delivery,” he says. “It’s just getting to talk to the residents.”

In December, a miniature of The Modern Paws opens in a PODS moving container at a holiday festival.

POD People

Every year in December, around the anniversary of their store opening, the Prakobkits pack up a best-selling selection and set up a tiny pop-up at Tampa Bay’s popular Winter Village festival.

As the temperature hangs around 70 degrees, the city gives this palm tree paradise a snowfall feel with an outdoor ice skating rink, holiday concerts and Christmas-themed movies. Handpicked by festival planners to represent boutique shopping in downtown Tampa, The Modern Paws is one of the select vendors to get an 8-by-8-foot moving container to build out as a satellite store. From Day One of the festival, they drew a line around the block.

“The moving company that supplies these moving containers ended up doing an article about us and the success we’ve had using the PODS. Out of majority of the PODS pop-ups, we’re probably one of the busiest,” Prakobkit said. The tiny space can fit about two dozen shelves and a few standing displays, but not much else. It’s 1/25 the size of their brick-and-mortar store. “It’s 64 square feet. We’ve mastered the small space.”

Owning the Phone Tech

People who live in the area are younger professionals who more often have pets instead of kids. “They’re tech-savvy. They shop online,” Ben says. “We’re that type of customer, too, and when we price things out we keep that in mind.”

They counter the one-click ease of Amazon with their own perks, like same-day delivery Monday through Friday. “It’s hard to beat. However we do actually beat it — we have a lot of our customers take advantage of that,” he says. They also offer frequent-buyer programs, rotating discounts and buy-one-get-one sales.

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“Our big thing is nutrition. When we’re able to help pet owners get their dogs healthy or keep them healthy, it’s a rewarding feeling,” he says. “When people say, ‘The new food really took care of all the skin allergies’ and things like that, it’s definitely a good feeling.”

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Five Cool Things About The Modern Paws

1. Stories as a Secret Weapon: A silly skit or a quick talk on nutrition in an Instagram Story brings in a ripple of business. “We try to spice it up and do a few different things,” Lisa Prakobkit says. “We don’t want to bombard them with dog pictures.”

2. Four-Legged Foot Traffic: Located in the bottom of a residential building, The Modern Paws draws in almost every dog in the building. “We have dogs that will literally pull their owners to the store,” Ben Prakobkit says.

3. Phone-Friendly Tech: In a nod to clientele who rarely put their phones aside, customers can instantly book grooming appointments with a swipe up on the store’s Instagram Stories. Because their customers prefer to text, they’ve developed communication streams through text rather than calls.

4. A Tiny Staff: The small but mighty staff includes just two part-timers outside the groomer and two owners. Everybody has a specialty, like training or creating great social media content, and the size gives shoppers consistency in staff. “Customers get accustomed to seeing familiar faces when they walk in,” Ben says. “You can refer back to something you talked about in a previous visit, and it makes them feel like, ‘Wow, they remember me.’”

5. Huge Online: The store’s website is clean, fast and easy to navigate. Customers also check out products online before shopping in-store, or opt for same-day delivery in the area. For those farther away, The Modern Paws offers free nationwide shipping.

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Best of the Best

Pet Sitter Offers In-Home Hospice Care to Dogs with Terminal Illnesses

In the final weeks of a pet’s life, they may have special needs.

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IN THE FINAL WEEKS of a pet’s life, they may have special needs. Their people also may need help. Those living in Chicago, IL, can turn to the hospice services provided by Rover-Time Dog Walking & Pet Sitting.

THE IDEA

Assist with end-of-life care, provide support. Julia Rohan founded Rover-Time in 2012, and soon she met the dog who would inspire her to offer hospice services. Cujo the Pit Bull was an existing client when diagnosed with terminal cancer. His humans worked long hours.

“They were the first to ask if I could help in this way,” Rohan recalls. “They wanted to do right by their dog.”

She spent middays with Cujo, giving him meds, taking short walks and providing company.

“All of the things a pet parent would do for their dying cat or dog if they could stay home and away from their normal life.”

Rohan always handled Cujo with care.

“As they are dying, animals can get snippy. I read his body language and made sure not to overstep. We had peaceful visits that left him feeling content.”

They also gave Cujo’s family peace of mind.

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“Many people fear coming home to a dead pet. Having someone there a good chunk of the afternoon helps them walk through the door at the end of a workday.”

Hospice became a permanent addition to Rover-Time’s services after Cujo passed.

Julia Rohan

THE EXECUTION

DIY and multitask. Clients in need of hospice services meet with Rohan to go over their situation and to customize care. She handles all of these assignments herself, as opposed to tasking one of Rover-Time’s 15 employees, for multiple reasons.

Busy with operations, Rohan misses the hands-on work.

Also, she says, “It’s a wonderful gift” to be able to support pets during this stage of their lives and their people.

Rohan can multitask during the visits as well. She typically spends several hours at a client’s home, the majority of time simply sitting with the dog or cat and working on her laptop.

“It’s not as labor-intensive as it might seem,” Rohan says, pointing out that client communication makes up the bulk of the work. “During that first conversation, I create a safe place for them to share what they need, how I can provide comfort to everyone, and then I ride those ups and downs with them until they make the difficult decision to help their pet cross over.”

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Rover-Time hospice services cost $35 to $50 per hour, with a $25 new client fee if warranted.

THE RESULTS

Positive word of mouth, client retention. Rohan may see only four to five hospice clients a year, but the impact on her business is significant.

“I see the bigger picture. Walking with the customer through this process, building intimacy over time, saying goodbye. Showing that I care and that the loss impacts me creates a brand ambassador who speaks very highly of Rover-Time’s purpose and pride in what we do at all stages of a pet’s life.”

Clients often return to Rohan when they bring a new dog or cat into their home. Cujo’s owners now entrust Rover-Time with their their current pups, Lulu and Tator Tot.

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Benchmarks

6 Pet Hotels That Will Make You Kind of Wish You Were a Dog

This is high-end boarding for dogs!

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AT FIRST GLANCE, you might think some of these accommodations are for people. But look closely — at the size of furniture at Chateau Poochie, the water bowl at Yuppy Puppy and the video-chat camera at Bark Life Market. This is high-end boarding for dogs! Also, the pups in other pics give it away.

Wagging Tails
WOLCOTT & WEST HARTFORD, CT

Wagging Tails Pet Resort & Spaw has staffed cage-free boarding with toddler furniture as lounging and bedding options. Among the playful offerings are a pirate’s ship, racecar and train.
Krista Lofquist buys Little Tikes and Step2 beds new, but also finds them gently used on Facebook Marketplace.

NIGHTLY RATES: $50 (includes daycare)

Yuppy Puppy
O’FALLON, MO

Each of the Plaza Suites at Yuppy Puppy pet spa and resort features a tempered-glass door, garden-view window and outdoor fenced-in area for suite guests only, plus raised bed, couch and included amenities such as bacon-and-egg brekkies in bed.

Jessica Cooke expanded boarding options to include suites when moving to her current location. “I was quite nervous that I would end up upgrading dogs for free to utilize the space. But the suites are full every day, and I have clients booked in them into 2020. We are opening a second location, and the rooms will primarily be these.”

NIGHTLY RATES: $55

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Barker’s Lane
DAVIE, FL

Grooming clients can also board at this salon, in one of four stylishly appointed rooms worthy of an Instagram-famous pup.
Julianna Reese offers this advice for those inspired to use similar decor. “You have to know the dogs to determine what can be left in the room. We do put down pee pee pads at night, but the rugs and bedding are washable and bought at places like Ross, Home Goods, Tuesday Morning.”

NIGHTLY RATES: $45 and higher

Bark Life Market
SEMINOLE, FL

The all-inclusive Penthouse at Bark Life Market’s newest resort measures 10 by 13 feet and includes sliding patio door, resort decor and music, a queen-size bed and flat screen with DogTV, as well as private web cameras and a Petchatz video chat and treat dispenser. Also included, egg and cheese omelet for breakfast, salmon or beef fillet for dinner, and tuck-in treat at bedtime.

NIGHTLY RATES: $99

Chateau Poochie
POMPANO BEACH, FL

This doggie day care, spa and pet hotel has multiple levels of accommodations, including its most luxurious: The Tea Suite. Measuring 14 by 14 feet, it has seating and sleeping options throughout, a crystal chandelier, flat-screen TV and webcam, plus additional included amenities.

NIGHTLY RATES: $250, and pet parents can pay an additional fee to have a staff member spend the night in the suite.

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Wag Central
STRATFORD, CT

At Wag Central, staffed slumber parties are one of the higher-end boarding options. Pre-screened day-care regulars can stay together in a room that has four custom-made bunkhouses. Angela Pantalone says they cost about $800 each, including beds.

“It’s a great upsell for pups who are anxious or first-time boarders. The human-interaction aspect is a big draw for owners who are concerned about their pup as they travel, too.” She adds, “We are able to multitask the use of this room for dog families who insist on keeping their pups together when we are not opening it to sleepovers. It’s a nice puppy nursery, too, for daycare. Overall, it’s been a hit!”

NIGHTLY RATES: $68 (includes daycare)

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