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A Recessionary Tale

Success ultimately came to The Green K9 after a rocky start.

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The Green K9, Mount Dora, FL

OWNERS: Marni and Paul Lewis; URL:thegreenk9.com ; FOUNDED: 2010; OPENED FEATURE STORE: 2012; EMPLOYEES: 13 full-time, 3 part-time ; AREA: 7,200 square feet; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/thegreenk9; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/thegreenk9


In 2008, MARNI AND Paul Lewis sold their pet resort in Davie, FL. It was the first facility of its kind in the region and was highly successful.

The couple moved north to Mount Dora, where they planned to build another pet resort on 9 acres of land they had purchased. The project was well under way when the Great Recession hit.

“After we had spent all of our money, the bank cancelled a week before closing,” Marni says of their construction loan. “It was either file for bankruptcy or make it work.”

Restart Small, Expand with Demand

Paul and Marni Lewis tackle product ordering together, but most days customers will find him on the sales floor consulting on food and her in back as a groomer. She also handles merchandising.

Two years later, they opened a 1,200-square-foot store and day care instead, in nearby Tavares, where rents were lower. The Green K9 initially focused on healthy products, bathing and play.

“There was no doggie day care in the area. People didn’t even know what that was. We had to sell it from the ground up again. We had to introduce them to organic and eco-friendly pet products,” Marni says. “We started small to see if people would come, and they did. Once we got up to 26 day care dogs, I said, ‘I can’t do it anymore here.’”

In 2012, with funding from a customer-turned-investor, the couple moved their business to its originally intended location in Mount Dora. They hired their first employees and added grooming and overnight boarding.

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The 7,200-square-foot building features retail and reception up front. Green touches run through its interior design — bamboo lines the reception desk, with an aluminum sign displaying the store logo of a dog jumping over the Earth. Displays use fixtures made from recycled materials. Light blue and tan cover the walls, where large photos of dogs hang.

Products carried, such as West Paw, Aussie Naturals and BecoPets, prove healthy for the planet and pets alike. The grooming department uses and sells Nootie, EarthBath and NaturVet. Marni and Paul look for lines made in the U.S.A., but will go global for certain manufacturers.

“I like finding handmade, fair-trade products,” she says, adding that offering unique products also helps them compete. “We have to be different to stay a step ahead of the online retailers and big chains.”

All-Inclusive Rates, Personal Touches

The couple’s approach to day care and boarding also gives The Green K9 a competitive edge. While some services are considered add-ons, their rates include hourly relief during the day and group play. Yards behind the building, previously an appliance store, have puppy pools, climbing structures and grassy, sandy soil that means no muddy paws. Overnight guests who do not play well with others get the same number of outings, just one-on-one with a staff member.

Dogs get grouped by size, age and energy level, and because of the facility’s design and square footage, extra-small, small, high-energy medium, low-energy large and high-energy large get their own spaces. Extra-small pups even get to hang out in the staff kitchen.

Adding to the overall warmth are waterproof vinyl floors that look like wood and that have a softer feel than the concrete found in the retail area.

“It’s comfortable on their elbows when they lay on it,” Marni says.

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The Green K9’s spacious 35 boarding suites also feature the flooring, which makes cleanup easy as it’s nonporous. Staff disinfect each suite daily, providing a freshly washed blanket for each Kuranda bed. Glass fronts keep dogs from feeling isolated.

Train & Retain Staff

While Paul served in the U.S. Army and worked for the U.S. Postal Service prior to joining the pet industry, Marni has been a part of it most of her life. At 5 years old, she was competing as a junior handler, showing the German Shepherd Dogs her mother bred and trained. The family also owned a boarding kennel in Maryland.

Marni drew from her vast experience when putting together hiring and training practices for The Green K9. Each applicant gets a paid working interview, during which they do what they would on the job. A leader guides and supervises the candidate, and then the entire team discusses their performance.

“Staff determines who we should hire,” she says. “They ask, ‘Did they take direction well? Or did they have a poor attitude?’ They choose their co-workers, which leads to an invested, cohesive group.”

It also results in high retention of employees, which can be a challenge when hiring from the Millennial workforce. Comprehensive training and ongoing development helps as well.

“All of my leaders have been personally trained by me. People learn so much better with an experienced coach by their side.”

PHOTO GALLERY (7 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About The Green K9

1. LOYAL CUSTOMERS: Ellie the Poodle has such a good time at The Green K9 that her owner, Seth Ellis, became an investor. He covered 100 percent of buildout costs for the current location. And Charlie the Goldendoodle’s owner gifted $10,000 for product purchases.

2. ECO-FRIENDLINESS: The Green K9’s business vehicle is a wrapped Nissan Leaf. Shoppers can choose between biodegradable bags made of cornstarch or reusable ones.

3. HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Staff love to help dogs celebrate their birthdays. The $50 party package includes five or more hours of day care, a K9 Granola Factory cake, treats, party hats and bandanas for the special guest and their play pals. Staff takes photos to send home.

4. CC (CUTE CANINE) TV: Owners can watch their pups via webcams in the play areas. Marni says, “They keep them up on their computers all day. When they don’t see their dog for a while, they call us. We let them know that they’re getting their bath or are in a timeout.” Timeouts happen when a dog acts up and clearly needs to rest. “They usually laugh when they hear the reason.”

5. FOSTER DOGS: One boarding suite is dedicated to fostering. Fifteen dogs have been placed so far, including one of a customer who died of cancer. All have gone to customers, who get free day care and bathing services for the dog’s lifetime.

Pamela Mitchell is the Editor-in-Chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Ty the Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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