Renee & Jeff Braddon
Finger Lakes Pet Resort
An unplanned foray in the world of pet resorts has been a wonderful success for former New York couple Renee and Jeff Braddon.
Jeff had been working in his family’s packaging business, and Renee worked in the financial industry. In 2014, Jeff’s father met a pet resort owner who wanted to sell, and he mentioned it to Jeff. The timing was good, as both Jeff and Renee were wanting to strike out on their own venture.
The business owner had laid out all the financials for them. “He wanted full market value for the property but the business he was offering for cheap,” Jeff recalls. “My father and brothers bought the real estate, and we just bought the business. We weren’t looking for a pet resort – it was an opportunity that came along so we jumped on it. We are businesspeople though, and the numbers made sense.”
In the month before changing ownership, Renee went every day to the 8.2-acre pet resort and watched the business owner go about his work so she could learn the ropes and identify any issues. Once the transaction went through, most of the staff stayed on and that provided continuity. Renee began managing the day-to-day operations, and Jeff juggled working for his packaging business during the day and the new pet resort in the evenings and on weekends.
Renee enjoyed becoming a business owner, having felt frustrated working for others but not able to take part in the rewards of her hard work. “Here, I could own my decisions. Good or bad, they were my decisions, not someone else’s.”
One of those decisions was a significant cut with the past. Equipped with a 12,000 sq ft arena, the pet resort had a very active dog agility and fly ball program that brought up to 150 dogs to the property at a time. But, for the new owners, it was causing some issues.
“When we first bought the business, they did a lot of obedience and agility, but we transitioned out of that. It seemed like the dogs were more trophy dogs and not family members. We wanted to make it a place that you’d want your family member to stay,” Renee explains.
“The dog agility and fly ball program brought a lot of chaos onto the property,” Jeff adds. “We had a great facility for it, but it was taxing on our staff, and it wasn’t fair to the dogs there for boarding or to the families keeping their dogs there because of how busy it was.”
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The workload for staff plus the amount of liability involved in having so many members of the public on the property prompted the Braddons to limit their business’s financial exposure, cancel the program, and focus more on traditional boarding and daycare activities. So, the couple got to work to implement their new vision. Adding 25 new dog suites at a time, the 80-dog capacity increased to accommodate over 200 dogs. The former competition room gymnasium was converted to five, large, indoor playrooms with 20-foot ceilings. Lots of doors in between the new rooms were added so that doggy customers could be let in and out, and on cold or rainy days, could still run and play inside. In total, there were 14 play yards. Cat boarding was added as a service and a new cat room outfitted with special cat condos that paid for themselves very quickly. Staff numbers grew also, and eventually became double the size of the original team. The Braddons kept their eyes on paying down debt, making money and ensuring that their property was growing in value. In 2019, Jeff started thinking about selling, but Renee was not ready.
When COVID-19 hit their area, numbers of doggy customers dropped virtually overnight from over 100 to just two. Staff numbers plummeted also. For four to six months, a small team of nine ran the whole facility. Like many pet resorts, staffing continued to be a struggle post-COVID, but the Braddons kept steadily rebuilding their team. However, the stress of employees was taking its toll on Renee and she and Jeff started discussing what a sale would look like.
The Braddons had met Teija Heikkila, of PET|VET M&A, Sales & Advisory, over the years at many Outstanding Pet Care events. “We always knew her team would be the one to sell it. We called her, and she made it happen,” Jeff says. “We had always thought we would sell it to a private buyer, but it became out of a private buyer’s price range. We had seen Teija’s presentations and knew corporate groups were buying them up. So, then we knew the new buyer would probably be a corporate entity.
It was five months from when we first called Teija to when we sold. The time went fast as there was so much due diligence. I don’t think it could have gone through any quicker.”
Jeff is quick to list the benefits of using a broker to sell the business: not being taken advantage of by a sophisticated buyer, getting a higher price, having more than one offer, and expert negotiation.
“The deal almost died at the end. If we didn’t have PET|VET working with us, it would have died. Teija knew who to get a hold of and exactly what to do. We may not have been able to do the deal but for Teija saving it. She knew how to overcome all the objections that were thrown at us. We were in a strong position but much stronger [with a broker] than if we had have tackled this on our own.”
With the help of PET|VET, the deal went through successfully in early 2023. Having moved to a warmer climate, the Braddons now have time to take stock and decide their next adventure. Renee is enjoying less stress in her life, not having to sleep with her phone by the bed 24/7, and some down time with family and friends.
“We have a beautiful house on a lake in upstate New York but I was never able to enjoy it because summertime was our busy season. I would get pictures and videos of our friends at our house on the dock with Jeff, but I was always at work. Now, I get to enjoy that, too.”