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Seventh Heaven for Those With Nine Lives

Cats live the good life in this boarding facility.

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Morris Animal Inn may have opened as a dog boarding facility in 1960, but cats have been welcome, too, since the early ’80s. In fact, few businesses of its kind offer the same level of accommodations and amenities for felines. Walter and Marianne Morris, and now their daughter Joanne, have helped set the standard for cat boarding in the U.S at their Morristown, NJ business.

THE IDEA

Treat Cats Like Dogs

Dogs traditionally have been offered more individual space and services than cats have at boarding facilities. The Morris family and their staff at the inn decided to change that.

“We wanted to make cat boarding as comfortable and enriching as dog boarding,” says Kristen Hedderich, director of pet care operations. For the past 10 years, building expansions and brainstorming have allowed them to do exactly that.

THE EXECUTION

Upgrade and Impress

Instead of simply installing larger kennels for feline guests, the inn’s owners opted to build areas that could be divided into rooms of different sizes, depending on need. Single kitties can stay in a two-level Condo. Two siblings can share a four-level Deluxe Condo. And up to five cats from the same family can spread out in a Luxury Suite. Adjustable walls allow staff to configure space for up to 50 guests at a time.

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All of the accommodations feature individual air purification systems, plus kitty-sized furniture and rustic décor that reflects the facility’s wooded location. Windows, fish-filled aquariums and flat-screen TVs are among the various view options.

“The TVs play nature videos,” Hedderich says. “Squirrels, chipmunks, birds.”

Morris Animal Inn has built a list of luxury activities and services, as well. As part of a package or a la carte, cats can visit the Kitty Playroom to climb and scratch on posts, take a spin on the exercise wheel, and/or play with one of the Cat Pamperers on staff. To advertise all of the above, staff maintain a strong online presence for the inn, including on social media, but also provide printed brochures to local animal shelters and veterinary offices.

“Vets, in particular, are quick to recommend our services,” Hedderich says. “We set ourselves apart based on our quality of care, and by providing safety and security.”

THE RESULTS

Boost in Sales

Cat care makes up about 15 percent of Morris Animal Inn’s business, with Hedderich pointing out strong growth from 2015 to 2016, after additional services —  the exercise wheel sessions, video gaming, art projects and birthday parties — were introduced.

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“These extras have allowed us to double our sales of kitty specialties. The new luxury services brought more attention to our cat services, in general, and have enhanced the number of extras being purchased with each incoming reservation.”

PHOTO GALLERY: 7 IMAGES

 

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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Best of the Best

Tiny Bubbles: This Spa Brings In $1,000 a Month Extra with Micro Bubble Treatments

Provide relief, reduce costs and boost sales.

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BUBBLE BATHS PAMPER and relax. Microbubble baths do, too, but they also deep clean and help to treat a variety of skin problems in pets.

Danielle Wilson of Bath & Biscuits in Granville, OH, has been providing this type of hydrotherapy for more than three years.

THE IDEA

Provide relief, reduce costs and boost sales

Wilson learned of microbubble bathing systems at a pet industry trade show. Originating in Japan, they use bubbles greater than 2 and less than 25 micrometers to penetrate hair follicles and skin pores. These teeny tiny bubbles attract and bond with dirt as well as with bacteria, yeast and allergens, and lift them to the water’s surface. Oxygen from burst microbubbles also boosts skin metabolism and promotes healing.

“I really liked the idea,” she says. “I was a vet tech for many years and had seen never-ending battles with skin problems.”

Using microbubbles during a groom also reduces the amount of water, shampoo and conditioner needed. All this, combined with her ability to offer 15-minute treatments as an add-on, convinced Wilson to buy a system.

THE EXECUTION

Pick, promote & treat

Wilson researched manufacturers from around the world before choosing NatureBless in Singapore. Her first microbubble bathing system cost just $350, but a year later she upgraded to a $1,100 model. Its bubble-generating unit sits on the floor, connected to two nozzled hoses: One draws in water from a filled grooming tub, and the other returns microbubbly water to the tub. The second hose can also be used to apply bubbles to body areas not submerged.

“The microbubbles make the water this milky color, from the churning action. I tell customers that they’re scrubbing bubbles,” Wilson explains, adding that while effective, they are gentle on skin.

In addition to promoting the treatment for skin problems, she also recommends it for senior dogs.

“The bursting bubbles create heat, which helps with sore muscles and arthritis.”

And for those who encounter a skunk: “It has been tremendous for de-skunking dogs. It gets down in hair shafts and pores, helping us get rid of the smell so much quicker.”

THE RESULTS

Healthier dogs & higher revenue

Wilson points to late Sweetpea the Bulldog as one of her microbubble bathing successes. After years of struggling with skin allergies, the pup came in for a treatment and saw immediate relief.

“Sweetpea was such a happier dog, not having to stop every 2 feet to scratch,” she says. “It was devastating to lose her, but really cool to know that for the last year and a half of her life, she wasn’t miserable and itching.”

Wilson charges $10 to $15, depending on size of dog, for a microbubble bath. (She has yet to try it on cats.) Treatments bring in $1,000 in extra revenue a month, plus provide savings on utilities and bathing supplies.

Do It Yourself: Start Your Own Bubble Treatments

  • Choose the right microbubble bathing system for your business. They can range greatly in cost, to upwards of $10,000.
  • Start by offering the treatment for free. Wilson benefited from positive word of mouth when she did.
  • Promote regular and seasonal benefits, from skin problems to allergies to skunkings.
  • Sell local veterinarians benefits on the treatment. Wilson has one in particular who regularly sends her clients.
  • Promote on social media with cute videos. See instagram.com/bathnbiscuits for Sweetpea bubbling in a tub.

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Best of the Best

Early Adopters: Kids’ Education Programs Drive Parents to Buy

Started with that one lucky python.

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ROBERT H. SMITH ACHIEVED cool dad status in 1996, when he brought an 11-foot Burmese python to his son’s school for show-and-tell. They were a hit! Several parents even asked Smith for his contact info, with the hope of hiring him for birthday parties and other events.

“I was just one of the dads at the time,” he says, “but I thought, ‘Maybe I have something here.’”

Smith did, and he has since put on 1,000-plus educational programs, first as an enthusiast and breeder, then from 2008 as owner of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World.

THE IDEATurn kids on to reptiles — and into customers. With his presentations, Smith has always aimed to clear up any misconceptions young attendees have and ease their fears.

“There is a need for people to better understand these animals,” he says of the not-slimy-at-all snakes, lizards and turtles he keeps as pets and sells at his store.

Smith now splits program duties with staff, and in recent years he has seen the importance of not just bringing showstoppers like the python and his now-famous Cuban rock iguana, Castro.

“We also introduce them to reptiles they can actually own. Like a bearded dragon, which doesn’t get too big and is naturally calm, or a corn snake, which makes a fantastic pet.”

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THE EXECUTIONCustomize and plan. Requests go to Jungle Bob Education Director Susi Resner, who helps to customize a presentation for the setting and audience. She then confirms that necessary licenses, permits and insurance are valid to transport and show the animals.

“Liability insurance covers us if someone gets injured,” Smith explains. “In all of these years, we’ve never needed it. We have had a few defecations gone wrong, though.”

Resner also outlines where to park and check in once at the location, important information when visiting schools in particular. Presenters have guidelines they follow, as well, to balance education and entertainment with safety.

THE REWARDSAdditional income, free advertising. Smith and staff put on around 100 programs a year, with rates varying from $300 for 45 minutes at a local birthday party to $1,000 for an entire day that also delves into geography and natural history.

After 20-plus years, word of mouth has long ago replaced the need to advertise Jungle Bob presentations. And the presentations themselves serve as free advertising for the store. Many an attendee has visited after with their parents in tow.

“We did a birthday party last month,” Smith says, “and then one of the families came in for a $500 bearded dragon setup.”

Do It Yourself: Develop 
Your Own 
Education Programs

  • OBTAIN any necessary licenses, permits and insurance.
  • CREATE a plan for presenters. Outline every step to ensure all goes smoothly.
  • DECIDE which animals will present best. Don’t sell reptiles, birds, hamsters or the like? Perhaps your store dog or cat could star in a presentation about pet care.
  • TAKE OUT ads in local newspapers and magazines, especially any for kids and families. Tout on social media.
  • HAND OUT cards with your store information and an incentive to shop, and have stickers on hand — kids love stickers.

 

PHOTO GALLERY (7 IMAGES)

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Best of the Best

Pet Boutique Gets a ‘Scathing’ Yelp Review … and Does Something Beautiful With It

Owner turned a negative into a positive.

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IN DECEMBER 2015, a customer left a one-star review of The Fish & The Bone on Yelp. Her dog had destroyed a plush toy in mere minutes, and the offer of 20 percent off a different toy wasn’t sufficient — she wanted store credit for the full amount.

Owner Kathy Palmer saw in the situation an opportunity not only to examine her toy sales and return policies, but also to learn more about her customers and help homeless dogs.

A customer’s dog destroying a new toy within minutes prompted a negative Yelp review, which led the store to poll all its customers.

THE IDEA

Turn a Negative Into a Positive

The Fish & The Bone has never guaranteed the toys it sells, with the exception of those backed by a manufacturer. Staff members help to match products to chewing power, but they are trained to explain that dogs will be dogs.

“It’s fun for them to take apart toys, especially soft squeaky ones. They’re driven to,” Palmer says. No soft toy can stand up to all of that energy and muscle and teeth and instinct.”

She felt the 20-percent discount was a reasonable compromise and was surprised to see the review, which knocked the store’s customer service and said that a big-box chain would have given full credit to ensure future business.

Palmer decided to create a survey on toys, one with a charitable element. She emailed it to her 10,000-plus customers with the subject line: “Read our Scathing Yelp Review, Take our Poll, and We’ll Donate 100 Dog Toys to Local Homeless Pups.”

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“We have to be bold sometimes. It was about more than this one customer. I felt like we were entering into unlimited returns territory, which doesn’t work for a little independent. I had more to say and more to learn.”

THE EXECUTION

Poll the People

Palmer came up with questions to help her understand customer expectations when it came to squeaky toys. She used Survey Monkey to ask their dog’s breed, sex and age, as well as which brands they find most durable, how long they expect squeaky toys to last, how long the toys actually last, and whether toys should be guaranteed.

THE RESULTS

Learn and Adapt Accordingly

A total of 245 customers took the survey, and her stores got a boost in positive Yelp reviews, by shoppers who wanted to counteract the negative one.

Results confirmed that customers like the brands she carries and consider them durable. They also supported her curent policy.

“When I asked if squeaky toys should have a guarantee, 90 percent said, ‘No.’”

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Palmer shared results with her staff and stressed the importance of providing accurate information when selling these products. She also empowered them to make exceptions to the policy.

“We drilled into everyone how to respond when asked if a toy is indestructible. The answer is, ‘No, but we do have some that stand up better than others. Let me show you those.’ If we fail to do that, we will take responsibility and make a one-time exchange.”

Perhaps the biggest positive to come from the negative Yelp review was the donation made. The Fish & The Bone split the 100 toys between Animal Rescue League of Boston and Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, ME. Per the customer’s request, she also donated $50 to Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, MA.

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