Dog Sitting is Big Business Across Mid-MichiganSummer is an especially busy time at Wag’n Tails Pet Resort. Family vacation time often boosts capacity to close to 50, says owner Tom Metevier, considering that some families have more than one dog.
Metevier, a groomer by trade, purchased Wag’n Tails in 2004 from founder Dina Perry. He was born and raised in San Diego, but had family near Bay City and Saginaw whom he’d visit in the summer.
“I always knew this was a beautiful area,” Metevier says, which is quite high praise for a guy from San Diego. “I knew someday I would like to move here to live.”
Metevier eventually opened a dog grooming business in San Diego and made a connection with Perry, who also was selling mobile grooming conversion vans.
“I told her I would purchase this business one day. Well, she called in 2004 and I wound up with the business,” Metevier states.
Wag’n Tails offers dog and cat boarding, grooming services and dog day care. The distinctive Wag’n Tails mobile grooming vans can be spotted every day servicing clients across mid-Michigan. They are really “salons on wheels,” he says.
“This is a wonderful business to be in. There are unique challenges to it. Dogs are like kids in that they are constantly learning new things and amazing you with their creativity,” Metevier says. “It really does take some keen insight to understand them.”
In fact, the Wag’n Tails marketing slogan is “We Speak Dog,” which is not that far- fetched, Metevier says.
“Of course, it’s not really a language. It’s a sense of timing really, more of an understanding, a recognition of what is going on with the animal. You read their facial expressions, posture, tail set and body language. Dogs do give off an energy, just as people do,” Metevier says.
Metevier’s family was in the restaurant business in California, so he learned the value of customer service very early on.
“There is only one level of service here. We are a very small facility, very hands-on. Everyone here has a passion for it,” Metevier says.
The company’s 17 employees and manager Jessica McNally are “the best in the business,” Metevier claims.
“My job is to take care of the employees and they take care of the animals. I can do both, but I think it is important that my employees are taken care of, too,” Metevier adds.
The economic downturn has obviously hit Wag’n Tails, which features large outdoor play areas for plenty of play and potty time, just as it has nearly every other enterprise across mid-Michigan, Metevier says.
“People are taking fewer trips and shorter vacations. Clients are maybe going longer stretches between groomings. But compared with a lot of other industries, I think we are doing remarkably well. I count my blessings every day.”
Wag’n Tails, which is located on an access road near the campus of Ingham Regional Medical Center, has earned the trust of hundreds of clients. Metevier says that is very gratifying.
“These dogs and cats are really family members. We provide a safe and secure environment so our clients have peace of mind that their family members are well cared for,” Metevier says.
Metevier doesn’t rule out expanding his business someday, though not at the expense of changing what has made the business successful in the first place.
“Just as in the restaurant business, you don’t have to change the menu if it is successful,” he adds.
Doggy Daycare and Spa
What dog wouldn’t want to spend a day at the spa? Just the name alone sounds inviting for dog owners who are searching for daycare. Doggy Daycare and Spa offers the area’s only cageless environment, meaning the dogs all socialize together within 8,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor dog play area.
Janice Milligan, owner of Doggy Daycare and Spa, knows what her clients need in a daycare. Before purchasing the business in 2005, Milligan was first a customer of former owner Holly Hunting-Martin, who founded the business in 2000.
“I had a puppy that was destroying several pairs of shoes a week while I was working full time in advertising,” Milligan says.
Milligan soon discovered she was a “dog person” and decided to go to work for Hunting-Martin, which led to Milligan’s eventually purchasing the business along with her father, Dean Milligan.
In addition to daycare, Doggy Daycare and Spa offers overnight boarding, group obedience classes and grooming services. But it’s the cageless daycare aspect of the business that makes Doggy Daycare and Spa unique.
Milligan, who recommends dogday care for two or three days a week, is quick to mention that her facility is not for every dog.
“Since it is cageless, it’s not a place every dog can come. We do have to turn clients away if their dog is not socialized to the point where it is suitable for their pet and the other dogs. We are not a rehab center; so if a dog has social behavior issues, we are not a solution for them,” Milligan adds.
But if your dog passes the interview process and is enrolled, he is welcome to join in the fun. A typical day averages about 30 dogs at Doggy Daycare and Spa, Milligan says, with dogs getting lots of exercise and attention from Milligan and her 12 employees.
“Dogs can sit at home and be bored, or they can come here and expand their world beyond the backyard and the house. Dogs are naturally pack animals, so most of them love the socialization,” Milligan says. “It does take a watchful eye though, just as it does for any business that cares for what many consider to be a valuable family member.”
That’s the reason, Milligan says, her business is doing well despite the recession gripping the nation.
“People will still spend money on their pets during tough times. They might cut eating dinner out as much, but they still like to pamper their dogs. And it’s an affordable solution for the times when they need pet day care,” Milligan says.
Milligan said the success she has experienced since purchasing the business in 2005 from Hunting-Martin is partly attributable to having flexibility in serving the needs of clients.
“Nothing is ever written in stone. Every organization can be compared to a living creature. You have to be willing to make changes at times for the clients and where the business is going in the future,” Milligan says. “However, there are things we never take short cuts on, and that’s the safety of our clients and our employees.”
Hunting-Martin, the winner of The Greater Lansing Business Monthly’s 2002 Emerging Entrepreneur award, says Milligan has taken the business to another level.
“The fact that Janice was a client first has helped her understand what clients are looking for. She has done a marvelous job,” says Hunting-Martin, who now lives with her family near Rochester, Minn.
Author: Randy J. Stine
Photography: Terri Shaver and Roger Boettcher
Janice Milligan, Owner
Dean Milligan, Owner
5325 W. Mt. Hope Highway
Wag’n Tails Pet Resort
Tom Metevier, Owner
Jessica McNally, Manager
2802 Alpha Access