For much of his life, Chris C. never liked dog boarding facilities. He definitely never thought he would own one. But the things he disliked set him up to create a very successful pet resort which he sold to a consolidator in 2022.
Growing up, Chris’s dad was a police officer, so dogs were always a welcome part of the family. Chris’s own career went in a different direction – healthcare – where he worked for over 25 years. But after all that time, feeling a need for a change and an itch to own his own business, Chris started looking at businesses to buy. Lots of different options came across his desk but one of them stood out – a 7200 sq ft pet resort on just under an acre in Santa Fe, NM.
“You know, I never really enjoyed boarding my dog. They were always confined to one area, and they never smelled or looked good when I picked them up, so I just never liked that.”
But this place was different.
“It was a different way of boarding. The dogs were out in daycare all day so they weren’t confined. I saw the business had a lot of potential and wanted to grow something that wasn’t there yet.”
In Chris’s eyes, the building was not being used to advantage. With a large part of it being used for storage, the place could only board two or three dogs overnight. Chris’s and his wife decided to buy it. The broker selling the business was Teija Heikkila, of PET|VET M&A, Sales & Advisory. Chris did not have an agent, but Teija made the transaction easy and straightforward and in 2017, the couple became the proud owners of Paws Plaza.
Assisted by long time staff member, Michael, who became the Paws Plaza’s general manager, handyman Chris started to re-design the space.
“We custom built everything. Very little of the building was being used appropriately when we bought it. Step by step we opened it up, put down new rubber mat flooring, reconfigured how we had the dogs split up, changed where we had the front entrance. We really looked at safety, adding hinged springs to doors etc. We looked at what would be fun for the dogs and places they could stay at night. Fortunately, I could do a lot of changes myself. Every time we added a suite, we could add a dog so that added $50 – $60 per night. Adding the ability to house an extra 20 to 25 dogs overnight added between $1000 and $1200 per day in revenue.”
Two years in, the business was booming. They still averaged 20 -25 dogs overnight but could accommodate up to 75 dogs for holidays.
“We were on a nice roll going into 2020. Then Covid hit and the bottom fell out. For us, it was a time of regrouping. We used that time to do a lot of work inside and outside to prepare for when things would open up again. We painted, put in the wading pool with a big 30 x 50ft awning so the dogs had more shade in summer. We wanted to come up with more ways to increase revenue without increasing our prices. We added an open boarding area with a person who slept in the room with the dogs overnight. We did that as a service. Just moving the office to a safer place was a major change. We wanted to show people that we were looking after the dogs and doing what was best for them.”
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Customers responded to the changes and by 2022, the business income was above even the good times pre-covid. Post covid, however, had changed the labor environment – staffing, wages, inflation and regulatory changes all made it much harder. Chris started thinking about selling and knew he would have to sell at the right time in order to cover his costs and make what he needed.
Teija had kept in touch since the original business purchase so Chris called her up to ask advice on the right time to test the market. After an initial conversation, Teija and her team got started getting Chris’s books in order, since he had changed accountants and not everything was updated.
“She worked her tail off to get my books together, and get everything ready for sale. That took a little bit of time, but we hit the market in October 2022. She got one big company looking at us and then within a few more days she had another company looking at us. The first offer was above what I needed, and then we had a couple of businesses bidding on us. So, it was a best-case scenario and turned out very well.”
“I always wanted a large corporation to buy my business, not another Mom and Pop like me. I wanted my staff to be able to have benefits that I had not been able to provide for them. I wanted them to be able to get career advancement opportunities to. Both of these were offered by corporate buyers. The amount of money a broker gets you and the exposure they get you versus you doing it yourself – you could never get that yourself. Teija has all the contacts. She put everything together. Her company helped through the whole contract process, and the negotiations – that help was invaluable.”
The success of the sale has meant Chris and his wife no longer need to work but they will probably choose to. While they mull their options and decide on their next move, Chris is working on long-delayed home renovations, and enjoying some down time.
“No more 12-hour days, six days a week – that was getting old. I don’t have to leave the house if I don’t want to,” Chris laughs. “I can be here with my wife, our granddaughter, three sheepadoodles and an English mastiff. It’s like we have our own daycare going on.”