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Krista Lofquist prefers to grow her business slowly and smartly, and this savvy approach keeps Wagging Tails evolving with the pet industry and thriving through the pandemic.

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Wagging Tails Pet Resort & Spaw, Wolcott, CT

OWNER: Krista Lofquist; URL:waggingtails.com; FOUNDED: 1995; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; EMPLOYEES: 8 full-time, 12 part-time; AREA: 7,500-square-feet interior, 6-acre exterior; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/waggingtailspetresortandspaw; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/waggingtailspetresortandspaw


IN DOCK DIVING, some dogs leap into the water the very first time, with no hesitation. Others take a minute or several to assess their situation before deciding to jump. Krista Lofquist takes the latter approach when expanding her business.

She founded Wagging Tails in 1995 as a pet sitting and dog walking service, building it to 50 professional care providers who covered 35 towns in Connecticut. When social media arrived and brought with it an influx of less-professional competition, Lofquist weighed her next step.

“Suddenly any Tom, Dick or Harry could advertise that they were a dog walker,” she says of Yelp and Facebook’s free business pages, and later Rover and Wag apps. “I was seeing a decline in bookings, but at the same time getting a lot of requests for pet taxis to and from the groomer. It was a smart add-on since we were already at people’s homes.” And then Lofquist thought, why stop there? “I wasn’t a groomer, but I could buy a van and hire one.”

Krista Lofquist

Krista Lofquist

After researching mobile grooming vehicles, she did exactly that in 2008, while also keeping an eye on another emerging trend in the pet industry: doggie day care.

“I didn’t want a building at that point, though. Wagging Tails was run out of my home and had very little overhead.”

Lofquist continued to grow, adding two more grooming vans, and waiting for the right opportunity to make the leap into brick and mortar. She found it in February 2017, and Wagging Tails Pet Resort & Spaw opened that May in Wolcott, soon adding the state’s only Ultimate Air Dogs dock-diving pool.

Good Bones

That right opportunity had involved a shuttered boarding facility. Another of Lofquist’s hesitations about adding services that needed a physical location had been Connecticut’s strict zoning laws for pet businesses.

“I didn’t want to fight that fight,” she says. “With an existing kennel, I didn’t have to. I could jump right in and revamp it.”

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Lofquist purchased the property and began turning it into her ideal pet resort. Located on 6 acres in the country, it included a 7,500-square-foot building with 60 indoor rooms with outdoor runs. She added fiberglass-reinforced paneling and epoxy floors for easy cleaning, a filtration system to eliminate airborne viruses and germs, spa-grade diffusers with lavender, and a sound system to play soothing music. Beds in the shape of race cars and pirate ships, complete with comfy mattresses for people and pups, went into a new cage-free boarding area.

“Our motto is ‘Your pet’s home, away from home.’”

The lobby also got an upgrade with sky blue walls, marble counters and tile flooring. Country chic displays show off human and pet gifts, dog treats, and the toys and other supplies guests use for dock diving. Screencloud software on a large TV entices pet parents with Wagging Tails add-on options and event invitations.

Pawty Time

Prior to the pandemic, Lofquist offered add-ons to day care and boarding such as nature walks and swim lessons.

“Then COVID hit, and we went from 100 day dogs a day down to 10 and no boarding clients,” she says. “I thought, ‘What can I do to create more revenue in a time when people aren’t even leaving their homes to go to work and aren’t traveling.’”

Thankfully, grooming boomed and Lofquist put her marketing degree to work.

“I’ve always been a creative person. I did a college internship at Disney. Walt Disney is my hero. Being creative is my favorite part of the business besides the animals.”

She created a calendar of “pawties” that included fun games, a photo shoot, and a take-home treat or craft. Among the events: Golden Bones, Bark to School, Mardi Paws, Dog Bowl, Crafty K9 Day, and Snow Much Fun, complete with fake snow.

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“They’ve been hugely successful. At first, I was like, who’s going to add $10 to $15 to what they’re already paying for the day. The going rate for day care in the area was $20 to $25.”

Clients didn’t hesitate, and this revenue stream continues to grow, fueled in part by their sharing of photos on social media. Lofquist has since raised her day care rate to $34, and the add-ons have gotten her closer to what day cares in more affluent areas of the state charge. She shares credit with members of the Wagging Tails team who excel at recommending add-ons.

“Guilt sells,” Lofquist explains. “That has been part of the underlying sale since the beginning. You love your animal and don’t want to leave them in a strange place, so you hire a pet sitter. Or now you’re dropping off your dog at the resort and feel bad. Our job is to make the clients feel comfortable. ‘Would you like your dog to have a fleece blanket, take a nature walk or make a craft?’ Pets are family. We want to make clients feel comfortable and confident, and not feel guilty about leaving them.”

Wagging Tails Pet Resort & Spaw looks like a home from the outside, and that’s the point! The welcoming aesthetic continues inside.

Wagging Tails Pet Resort & Spaw looks like a home from the outside, and that’s the point! The welcoming aesthetic continues inside.

Splash!

Pool activities are another add-on that sets Wagging Tails apart and provides much-appreciated seasonal revenue. The original renovation plans called for an in-ground, bone-shaped pool, but then Lofquist’s father passed.

“My children became very invested in taking care of his dog, Harley,” she says of the pup, pictured with her on page 32. “My daughter Natalie was 9 at the time and asked if they could do a sport.”

After exploring many options, Lofquist and her daughter decided dock diving was the way to go. Bonus: An above-ground pool costs much less than an in-ground one, $12,000 compared to $120,000. Fast-forward two-plus years, and the regulation Ultimate
Air Dogs 45-foot saltwater pool with a 40-foot dock gets used daily from May to October for group swims, lessons, private rental for play and/or dock-diving training, and UAD events.

Team members talk up the pool during check-in and will follow up with clients whose dogs launch themselves into the pool instead of stepping in via the ramp.

“They’ll say, ‘Your dog showed such an interest in dock diving. We highly recommend this sport for you and your family. Would you like to come try it?’”

Lofquist was especially grateful to have the pool when the pandemic began.

“Getting outside with your dog was a welcome distraction. ‘Try Its’ at $25 a dog times 30 or so daily in the summer were a godsend. Plus, we were pretty proud to introduce so many new families to the sport to enjoy with their dog.”

“Try Its” now cost $30. UAD events, typically held one weekend a month during the competition season, bring in another $5,000 in revenue each. Teams from as far as Maine and Maryland travel to train and compete. Spectators can attend for free.

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On the Dock

Since opening Wagging Tails Pet Resort & Spaw in Wolcott, Lofquist has added another location 20 minutes away in West Hartford. It stands out as having the only indoor park in Connecticut. She has begun to look for a third property to turn into an indoor dock-diving facility so she can introduce more pet parents to the sport her family has grown to love — and to reap the revenue it brings in year-round.

Pups and their people use the dock-diving pool for practice and competition. Some dogs, though, just like to go for a leisurely swim during day care.

Pups and their people use the dock-diving pool for practice and competition. Some dogs, though, just like to go for a leisurely swim during day care.

Five Cool Things About Wagging Tails Pet Resort & Spaw

1. JUDGES IN TRAINING: Lofquist became an official Ultimate Air Dogs judge in 2021. Now she can train members of the Wagging Tails team, including her daughter, to teach and judge the sport. A youth handler now, Natalie can become a judge at 18.

2. NO WET DOG SMELL: In addition to the grooming vans, each Wagging Tails location has a DIY salon for guests as well as walk-ins. Team members recommend a blow-dry service for pups who have been in the pool.

3. NO MUDDY DOGS: Artificial turf covers the resort’s 14,000 square feet of play yards.

4. WWW: How was Lofquist able to secure the waggingtails.com URL? She launched her website 25 years ago before snagging domain names was a competitive sport. Clients find the tools much improved since then, with the ability to book grooming and day care or boarding. They even receive report cards and photos online.

5. INDOOR PLAY: Since opening in Wolcott, Lofquist has added another location 20 minutes away in West Hartford. It stands out by having the only indoor dog park in Connecticut. She has begun to look for a third property to turn into an indoor dock-diving facility so she can introduce more pet parents to the sport her family has grown to love — and to reap the revenue year-round.

PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)

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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