Kristin Villa

Ziggy’s Dog Parlor and Ziggy’s Villa

PET | VET Success Story ZiggyDachshunds are known for being curious and friendly, but even among his peers, Ziggy is a super star. “He is the most mild, laid back dachshund I’ve ever met, and he’s got such a relaxing aura about him,” said Kristin Villa, founder of Ziggy’s Dog Parlor and Ziggy’s Villa in Mount Pleasant, S.C. “He loves everyone he meets and always puts people at ease, usually climbing into a chair to sit with them. That’s the kind of environment I wanted to exude for my business and why I named it after him. He became sort of the mascot.”

Kristin spent most of her career in corporate accounting, but her passion has always been working with dogs. Her desire to take care of dogs and make a living at the same time was confirmed when she started serving as a dog rescue provider. “I quit my corporate job and, believe it or not, went to work for PetSmart, bathing dogs. So it was a big pay cut, but I didn't care,” Kristin said. “I was happy.”

She soon trained to become a groomer, and about eight months later, Kristin decided to open her own grooming business, where she could make her own rules. It was 2013 when she first signed a lease, set up shop and started building clientele. “It grew really fast. Then people started asking me whether I would board dogs because they learned to trust me. So I thought, well, let me give that a try.”

A series of expansions over the next five years included the addition of dog boarding suites and condos in her existing space, then a new lease for the space next door, and eventually a separate location entirely for grooming.

In 2021, Kristin split the business into two separate entities, Ziggy’s Dog Parlor for grooming and Ziggy’s Villa for boarding. The Villa earned a reputation for catering to more needy dogs, such as those who were older or needed a lot of medication or extra care. “We’re smaller, and we could give them more attention,” Kristin said. “Plus, we were open later than all the other kennels in the area. We had someone there … from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM at night. So people felt more comfortable [since] we had people there on site longer.”

Like many others in the pet care industry, Kristin discovered that finding and keeping quality employees was the biggest challenge to running both businesses. Issues such as employee turnover, work ethic, and reliability became exhausting to manage, and Ziggy’s wasn’t in a position to offer a lot of incentives. “I paid them as well as I could, but that just never seemed to do the trick,” she said.

As the size of the business grew, so did the level of staffing problems, and Kristin began to seriously think about an exit strategy. After first working with a local business broker who didn’t understand the industry, she discovered Teija Heikkilä of PET|VET through a mutual connection. “I had signed up for a class with [Teija], about how to value your business, but ended up not being able to go.”

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They kept in touch, and in the middle of 2021, Kristin reached out to Teija about the possibility of selling. Teija recommended waiting until the newest facility had been established for at least a year. Once it had, and the numbers looked good, they started the sales process. “It was a difference of night and day between Teija and the local business broker. She’s got it down pat, and her team was wonderful. We clicked, too – she’s so down to earth and genuine and upfront with everything. She got me a lot more money than I had expected. If I had sold with somebody else, I wouldn’t have gotten that.”

Kristin attributes the successful outcome to Teija and her team’s contacts, knowledge, and ability to predict each buyer’s next move. “She fished these people out. She didn’t wait for people to come to her,” Kristin said. “What I liked about Teija, too, is she wouldn’t tell me things unless I needed to know them. She knew I would get over-emotional about things, so she left out what I didn’t need to know.”

The sale closed in December 2023, and Kristin is relieved to have the deal settled.

She had been concerned about leaving her employees and long-time customers in good hands, but she’s very happy with the new owner’s level of experience, standard of care and reputation. “They were able to add an ESOP program, health, dental and vision benefits, paid time off, and a 401k plan. I imagine they won’t have a difficult time attracting and maintaining employees. I was so happy my staff would have access to all of these benefits!

As for Ziggy himself, he is now 16 years old and ready to enjoy a slower pace of life. He’s retired from his mascot duties and currently lives in Cleveland with Kristin’s daughter, Serena. “Ziggy was originally a gift to Serena when she was 12,” said Kristin. “She became crucial to running the business and served as acting owner after the last expansion in 2021 to help me ease out of the everyday transactions.”

As far as what’s next, Kristin said she may pursue some real estate opportunities with her sister, who also lives in the Charleston area. “I just don’t want anything full time … something that doesn’t quite tie me down like the business did.” Kristin and her husband, Sergio, plan to take advantage of their new found freedom to travel more, especially to visit family in Mexico, and truly enjoy life together.