Cedar Dale Pet Resort
After 15 years of working with infertile couples in New England, Wisconsin native Kelly Everson knew she wanted a change.
“I’ve always loved animals and wanted to be around them a lot more than I wanted to be around people. But with a biology degree and moving to Boston, getting a job working with animals didn’t work out so I took a job at a fertility clinic.”
Kelly fueled her passion for dogs by volunteering at animal shelters and dog rescues, with as much spare time as she had. The big change came when she moved with her husband across the country to San Diego, where he had gone to school. Suddenly, Kelly found herself immersed in doggy culture and she loved it.
“San Diego is kind of built around dogs. It is where doggy daycare started and where everybody treats their dogs like family.”
Kelly doubled down on volunteering at dog rescues, even helping at animal clinics down in Mexico at weekends. She started to imagine what it would be like to own her own place where she could help animals but still survive financially. Visiting many facilities around California, Kelly saw the costs would be prohibitive. She started looking back east, but decided if she was going to be somewhere snowy, she may as well return to Wisconsin near family. Scouring websites, she saw an advertisement for a rural 8-acre dog boarding lifestyle facility near Genoa City, WI. Kelly needed housing herself so the living on the premises was a great option. The owners had some health issues and were retiring. She found a commercial realtor to be her buyer’s agent, and flew out to visit. The seller’s representative just happened to be Teija Heikkila, from PET|VET M&A, Sales & Advisory. Deep into the sale process, Kelly’s representative became unable to complete the transaction. To Kelly’s relief, Teija was not about to let her miss out. She stepped in, smoothed out the complications, handled the paperwork for both sides of the transaction and a few weeks later, Kelly had her long-held dream come true – her very own dog business.
“If Teija hadn’t have stepped in, I would never have become the owner of this business. She was very professional. She knew the process well and everything that was needed.”
Enthusiastic about her new venture, Kelly set about making improvements. She bought new dog beds, put in pet grass, and over the years, spent $500,000 in upgrades. Living on the property with the dogs downstairs initially worked out well for Kelly.
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“I liked that I could just go downstairs to flip laundry or check the dishwasher. It was really nice in the winter, as I didn’t have to drive in the snow and ice. If a dog was boarding downstairs by itself, I would bring it upstairs to keep it company. I just wanted the dogs to have the best experience.”
But while she knew how to care for dogs, Kelly had never owned a business before. It was a steep learning curve. Existing staff helped train Kelly in the software, systems and processes. But, common in ownership transitions, they were not used to a new management style.
“I wanted everyone to be trained in every job. I wanted everyone to work as a team. Some staff only wanted to do their job and would walk right past a situation that needed dealing with.” Kelly was eventually fortunate to get an office manager who stayed with her for five years.
With her resort now in tiptop shape but not having had much of a break in 5 years, she explored selling the business. Initial discussions with a prospective buyer fell through but Kelly secretly felt pleased. She realized she was not ready emotionally to sell. She was tired though - tired of being constantly “at work”, having customers turn up all times of the day unannounced and never having days off. However, she dug deep and things improved. . . until February 2020. Covid hit when Kelly was on her way back from a rare vacation in Texas.
“My staff were calling me saying ‘Fifteen people just cancelled their reservations’. Then more cancelations came. I thought, ‘What is going on?’”
Covid and post-covid were difficult days for Kelly. PPP loans helped her be able to keep staff employed for essential dog services, but her great office manager was gone. The split shift system that worked best for the resort financially, added another layer of complication to sourcing staff. But Kelly kept going and rebuilt her team, constantly working on training them, so the pet resort was back to full staffing in 2021. However, Covid had changed customers. They were grumpy, demanding and stressed. In mid 2021, Kelly decided to test the market once more. Turning again to Teija, Kelly sought advice and listed her business. Within a month of listing, Teija brought an offer from a private buyer who saw the resort’s potential.
“Teija really is the expert in this field. Her team is so specialized and well run. Because I had struggled for staff, I was a little jealous when I saw how great her team was and how well they worked together.”
The sale went through successfully in 2022. While Kelly now reflects on some of the mistakes she made as a first-time business owner, she has accomplished a lot more than many. She paid off the business, managed 15 staff, renovated, and got it to the level to sell at a successful multiple – all without a business partner and learning everything on the job.
“I’ve learned a ton,” she laughs. “And a lot of what not to do.”
A year on, Kelly has had time to decompress. She now thinks about either a smaller pet business, or a women-owned dog business partnership. With many options open to her, she plans to explore dog business possibilities in the remote locations of South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.