Brooke and Richard Boeke
Brooke's Bed & Biscuit
Despite serious illness interrupting an idyllic working relationship, Richard Boeke, and daughter Brooke, have had the last laugh and a doubly great outcome in their family business.
Richard and his wife have 5 daughters, with Brooke being the youngest. Working at a veterinary clinic while studying in college, avid animal lover Brooke learned the dog boarding part of the clinic’s business and grew in her desire to rescue animals.
Latching on to his daughter’s passion, former real estate developer and business owner Richard decided to surprise her with her very own dog boarding facility to run. He found a piece of land strategically located near golf course developments and the interstate between Hilton Head, SC, and Savannah, GA; and enlisted the help of an architect to design the best facility possible.
“I had a hard time talking the owner of the land into letting me buy it. He wasn’t keen on what goes along with regular dog boarding places – dogs running everywhere and barking all times of the day and night.”
But Richard was not planning on a regular dog boarding place. The upscale 5000 sq ft ‘indoor-only’ facility would be roomy, air conditioned and with supervised outdoor exercise yards. At the last minute, he changed it to cover 10,800 sq ft, just in case the business didn’t take off and he needed to rent it out as a warehouse.
His fears were unfounded. The minute Brooke’s Bed & Biscuit opened in November 1999, customers flocked in.
“They say ‘if you build it, they will come’. Well, almost immediately we had 100 dogs booked in for Thanksgiving and we had to turn people away. We had family and friends helping out those first few weeks along with a couple of people we hired. But when it was obvious dog boarding was that much in demand, we started hiring permanently.”
Over the next two decades, Brooke’s Bed & Biscuit went from strength to strength. Increasing capacity, the business would eventually be able to board up to 150 dogs in 91 large double enclosures; and have eight outdoor yards and full daycare and grooming services. Richard, who describes himself as “between retirements” when Brooke’s launched (he has retired five times!), stayed on, working side by side with Brooke as his boss for over 20 years longer than anticipated.
“I said I’d stay for the first two years. But we were a great team, and it was so much fun. She couldn’t run the place without me, and I couldn’t run it without her. So, we just kept going and it was a really great time.”
Around 15 years in to the business, Brooke developed a non-cancerous inoperable brain tumor, an unwelcome intrusion into their comfortable cadence. The duo took it in their stride, managing well with great staff and loyal customers, but as the next eight years wore on, the illness overcame Brooke’s ability to manage even normal noise levels and daily tasks. At that point, Richard knew it was time to sell the business, and working together at Brooke’s would be over.
They already knew who to contact.
“We had seen an ad for PET|VET in one of the trade magazines so we already knew they were the ones to call. We talked with the PET|VET team for about 9 months. By the time we signed up to sell, her team probably knew more about the business than we did.”
Now in his 80s, Richard is an experienced businessman, with a background in real estate development, equipment leasing and other businesses.
“My wife always calls me ‘a deal junkie’,” he laughs. But that deal-making background meant he recognized when a specialist was needed.
“Over the years, we had a few conversations with potential buyers that had not gone anywhere. When we met Teija, we knew she was it. Selling a pet resort requires a professional and PET|VET was dynamite. Our transaction was very smooth because we always use a professional accountant for our businesses and now, we had a professional team running the transaction.”
PET|VET worked meticulously on backing out the family business expenses to get to the adjusted EBITDA, arriving at a sales price that surprised even Richard and Brooke. Once on the market, it took only a few weeks for PET|VET to obtain a full cash offer from a national consolidator.
“It all went very smoothly. The PET|VET team is so professional and knows exactly what they are doing. Your job is just to do whatever they say,” Richard laughs. “After the deal closed, Teija sent us a case of wine. Brooke said we should be buying them the case of wine! The deal more than covered the cost of using a broker. Well worth it - definitely.”
With the buyer set to purchase the business and land combined, Richard and Brooke’s working relationship was nearing its end. But just days before the deal closed, a curve ball came - an objection from a nearby business. Details aside, the result was that the buyer bought just the business and the Brooke retained ownership of the real estate. Richard was delighted. He had wanted Brooke to be able to benefit as a landlord and this curve ball gave her exactly that. And not just her. Their working relationship was not going to end after all. When the deal closed in May, Brooke became the landlord and Richard became the property manager.
“So, we are still working together, and she is still my boss,” Richard concludes happily.
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When Debbie took over, the kennel already had a good manager who could run the day-to-day operations without her, but she wanted to be involved. She truly enjoyed the unconditional love from the dogs and found the daily physical tasks to be refreshing, compared to the mental stress of the corporate world. “In my previous career, I dealt a lot with people. Dealing with dogs is a lot easier,” she said.
Over the years, Debbie made improvements to the facility, such as adding a 5-acre members only dog park with two big ponds for dogs to play in, leash free. She was blessed with good managers and employed as many as 40 staff members to help run the operation.
Her original plan was to keep the business for ten years, then sell it and fully retire. When COVID hit, the timeline stretched out an extra year, which she spent keeping everything afloat. In 2021, customer traffic started to bounce back, due in part to the large number of families who adopted dogs during quarantine. The kennel had long waiting lists but was short on staff, which has remained an ongoing challenge since the pandemic.
When Debbie first started thinking about retiring, she was getting frequent calls from consolidators interested in buying the kennel. The offers were tempting, but she wasn’t quite ready to sell. Those calls dried up during COVID, but she was keeping Teija’s services in the back of her mind. She even told her kids who to call if they ever needed to sell the kennel because something happened to her. “I had given them her information just because of what a good job she did when I was buying,” Debbie said.
By the beginning of 2022, the business was strong again, and it was time to sell. A couple of individual buyers and two consolidation groups were showing interest, so she decided to get Teija on board. The Pet|Vet team helped throughout the process, from the initial discussions to the marketing to the final negotiations. Their understanding of the industry and the interests of parties on both sides of the deal makes all the difference, Debbie said.
The sale of Zionsville Country Kennels marks another new beginning for Debbie Douglas. A lucrative deal with a consolidation group was finalized in September 2022, and she has since bought a lake house in Pennsylvania, where she can enjoy retirement with family nearby. With her usual sunny attitude and a tinge of sadness, Debbie is thankful for her experience as a pet resort owner, the people and pets she was able to serve, and the Pet|Vet team who supported her at both ends of the process. “I would do it all over again,” she said.