Gagnon's Pet Resort
Keeping the needs of dogs as top priority has paid off for former dog trainer John Gagnon. John’s foray into the world of pet resorts had small beginnings. Having loved dogs from a young age, he was bothered that in his home state of Connecticut, tens of thousands of healthy dogs were euthanized each year and he wanted to do something to stop it.
“In 1993, there was no dog rescue. You had the dog pound and the Humane Society. I thought if I became a dog trainer, I could teach people how to keep their dogs and not turn them over to the pound or Humane Society.”
At first, his training gig was just part time and weekends, but within a year, John had quit his carpet cleaning job and was training dogs full time. Dog training led to dog grooming, but the real break started when he offered help to friends with troubled dogs.
“I’d tell them to drop their dogs over to my house and let them play with my dogs. It was to socialize them, get them some exercise and then they would be a lot more receptive to obeying their owners when they got home.” Once the owners saw how happy their dogs were after being at John’s house for a day, they kept asking if they could come back the next day. Vets who had treated these troubled dogs would ask the owners how they had fixed their behavior. The only difference had been taking them to John’s house to play. Word spread and soon Connecticut’s first doggy daycare was born. Months down the track, John and wife Sherri realized the business was outgrowing its space.
“Doggy daycare wasn’t even a thing. I started this in my basement of my house and then as demand grew, it forced us to expand. It got crazy at the house. By the time we had a couple of employees, and a 6-month-old baby trying to sleep while a dog training class was going on in the basement, we realized something had to change.”
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Plunging into a loan and buying a property, John and Sherri set up Gagnon’s Pet Resort, a full-service dog daycare, training, grooming and boarding facility that would end up being theirs for the next 28 years. A consummate DIYer, John enjoyed teaching himself every role that the growing business demanded. When the couple needed to use invisible fencing, John taught himself how to install it and that became a side business. He learned about facilities, best practices, talked with vets, and other pet resort owners, but all the time, he kept his focus on keeping the dogs’ needs foremost. The business grew from an initial 20 – 30 dogs a day to 120 dogs a day. By the time they sold, they were managing 250 dogs per day. They could have had more but did not want dogs stressed while in their care. Deciding to sell was a big decision and the longest part of the process.
“We had been talking about it for about four years but it just hadn’t been the right time. We got a little more motivated during covid because the bottom fell out of the industry but we rode out 2020. After covid, our customers came flooding back with multiple dogs - part of the adoption frenzy that went on in in 2020. So suddenly, it got crazy busy again. It’s always been hard to find good employee help but after covid, it became impossible. We just struggled to find quality people to look after the dogs.”
In Jan 2022, a key staff member left, and John and Sherri found themselves working even longer hours across both businesses.
“We had to make a choice – sell either the fencing business or the pet resort. The fencing business wasn’t ready to sell, so we decided to put the pet resort out there and see what happened.” John started seeking buyers himself, including a consolidator.
“I like to do everything myself. I rarely ask for help. It’s a flaw that my wife is trying to rid me of!”
John soon realized he didn’t have the bandwidth nor the experience, so he reached out to Teija and her team at Pet Vet.
“I had already seen her advertisements in all the kennel and dog magazines, so I knew she was the person to call. There is not much she doesn’t know. In 2021, we grossed $2.3M and broke $2.5M last year so the sheer size of our business generally put us out of range of private buyers. The investment groups have hundreds of these places and have the running of them down to a science so that’s what it needed in order to be maintained.”
Teija got the transaction into a multi-offer situation and the deal closed in September 2022.
Since selling, some of Gagnon’s competitors, about to start talks themselves with consolidating companies, have asked his advice. John always sends them to talk first with Teija.
“Teija was a tremendous partner for us. In hindsight, I believe the sale wouldn’t have happened if we had not had Teija as our broker. There are too many hoops to jump through. It would’ve blown up.”
Post-sale, the Gagnons are still enjoying running the invisible fencing business as they decide what their next step will be. “The sale has given us a lot of options, but we still like to work, see dogs, and engage with customers. So we are not quite ready to kick back under a palm tree with a cocktail just yet!”