Albert H. Fulcher | Contributing Editor
Love of dogs expands Mission Hills business nationally
Dogs don’t sit idle here. The social atmosphere at this Mission Hills doggy day care allows the mutts to play with others to release their energy and feel a sense of belonging. And the employees who stay in the room — free of cages and full of dog beds — do not “work” overnight. Instead they relax, watch TV, work on a laptop, and settle down for the evening, just like their owners would do at home, in an effort to reduce separation anxiety. The furry guests are “people dogs.”
This is Camp Run-A-Mutt (CRAM), designed by three friends with an undying passion for dogs. Founders Dennis Quaglia, Mikel Ross and Severn Crow used their friendship and dream of this “Disneyland” of doggy day care to create an unstoppable business venture at the beginning of the recession. Now, 10 years later, CRAM has seven San Diego locations, and others in Los Angeles; Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada; Houston, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina.
This trio of dog lovers — who are opening the 20th location soon — never thought they would have more than one. CRAM nearly doubled in size in the past year. Among an abundancy of local and national awards, Inc Magazine selected CRAM on its list of the top 5,000 fastest growing business in 2017.
“It started out as just a doggy day care, but with research we found that there was nothing available for what we had in mind,” Quaglia said. “We started to work on a doggy day care that was different, not putting a dog in a cage, not walking in as a customer and the place smelling of urine, and dogs barking. It had to be transparent and a place where the dog wants to be. Basically, it had to be a place where we would take our own dogs.”
To manage to volume of dogs staying at the boarding facilities, Ross said that they (and employees) become the alpha, known as pack boarding.
“One dog lays down, then the rest will follow,” Ross said. “It’s the natural way that dogs work. We try to be the alphas, we take the responsibility off the dogs, and they get to go play and just be a dog. And the other dogs teach the younger dogs.”
Ross said that they launched their company in the beginning of the recession, which never hit this business model.
“We grew continuously from the time we opened the door,” Ross said. “After the first year and a half, we were up to full capacity. We stopped taking new customers and we had a waiting list to get in.”
At that point, the owners decided they needed to open a second location, even though they had no intention of growing past the first. All three of them were already working seven days a week, so they went to a friend who helped them with franchising.
“That’s where things really began starting,” Ross said.
But it was the high standards of care and passion for dogs of this dream job that made it such a success, unlike any other dog care and boarding facility.
“We know that our dogs are special to us and that other people’s dogs are just as special to them,” Quaglia said.
Quaglia said CRAM filled in a lot of the voids that are missing in most dog care facilities.
“Now people come to us,” he said. “Things are happening. [Our company] moving out of state really got the ball rolling as people saw us differently than just a regional business. It’s avalanching now. People are giving up their livelihoods to become part of [the franchise].”
Crow is the technology guy. He does all the artwork, website, software and mutt cams. He joined the CRAM team while he was working for USA Today and began helping with the business part-time to start. One day Crow woke up and realized he loved this job as much as he did while working for USA Today, so he joined the team on a full-time basis.
As far as the recession, Crow said they knew it was a risk, but they were confident because they weren’t just pulling from one economic group.
“We had doctors and lawyers. Waitresses and busboys would pay for the service using their tips. People will do without themselves to do something good for their dogs,” Crow said.
Quaglia agreed, adding that it takes just as much personal attention and passion for dogs in order to care for them in a professional setting.
“Every decision we make across the board, it all comes down to the same thing. What’s best for the dog?” Ross said. “That makes it really easy. It allows you to take your emotions out of the decision-making process.”
Ross said that they have turned down many applicants who were only in it for the money. CRAM a trust-based business.
“You have to keep and maintain your customers and gain their trust and keep it,” Ross said. “When we evaluate a business [for franchise], it’s not can you write a check for a franchise fee or can they run a business, but they need to win the customer’s trust and we need the right kind of people that can do that. You have to have the passion for dogs. You can fool people for a short period of time, but you can’t fool the dogs.”
Ross said that they are constantly working on updating the technology side of the business, while also maintaining a certain level of hands-on attention and direct communication with the customers.
“They are not just a name or a number,” Ross said. “We know every dog’s name. We don’t always remember the parent’s name, but that’s not important to the clients. If you are Rocco’s dad, that’s the most important thing.”
CRAM trains their employees to pay close attention to the dogs and to document everything — which all comes down to knowing each dog.
“You are taking care of their kids,” Quaglia said. You notice what is going on with each dog, it is all documented, so whatever happens, we let the parents know about it. We often spot medical problems with the dogs before the parents do and we let them know.
“We are going to know their dog very quickly as well as they know their dog. We are going to see that dog every day and will notice any differences in health or behavior and we will report this to the parents,” he continued.
Ross said all of this aligns with their vision in treating all of the dogs as if they were their own. Often, with extended stays and the parent’s permission, Ross will take a dog on extended boarding to his own home at night. Many times they become part of the family — it all comes from the love of dogs.
Quaglia said that every location is like that.
“It sounds hard, but you have a hundred dogs out there, you get to know all of their names. It’s actually not difficult, that’s where the passion comes in. Every dog is unique, you see a dog and its personality. It’s really very easy,” he said.
Camp Run-A-Mutt offers cage-free daycare and boarding, grooming services, and obedience classes. For more information about locations, services and franchise opportunities, visit camprunamutt.com.
—Albert Fulcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.