By Lauren Roebuck
Creating a high-touch experience for clients and their people
Kelly Drescher, the owner of The Highland Dog says the best compliment she can hear from a client is fear that their dog may not want to come back home after staying at her bed and breakfast for dogs. “The dogs have so much fun here, their owners worry that they won’t want to come home,” Drescher says. “That’s good, though, it means I am doing what I set out to do.”
In 2012, Drescher opened The Highland Dog in a four-bedroom converted home in the Highlands. She saw an opportunity to cater to clients who love dogs who hate kennels. Drescher’s own dog had experienced a fear of staying in kennels and she wanted to create a place that dogs could be comfortable and the owners would be able to leave home and not worry about their pet. “It’s like a dog staying in their own home,” Drescher says of the eight suites at The Highland Dog. “They move around and do their own thing.” Drescher lives nearby and cares for the clients in the mornings and evenings. During the day, she has a part-time employee to stay with the dogs and run the retail portion of the business.
The Highland Dog sells organic dog food, toys and other pet care products. At first, she began carrying the toys because people might forget to pack their own, but now she has seen an opportunity to sell to her clients who see their pet playing with a toy at the bed and breakfast and want to take it home.
Drescher’s business model is one of high-touch as she caters to the needs of not only the dogs, but the owners too. “These people love their dogs and hate to leave them,” she says. “They want to know how they are doing and that they are OK.” There are cameras installed throughout the house and Kelly can watch the dogs on her phone at any time.
She and her employee take photos of the dogs playing and resting throughout the day and post them on their Facebook page. “While they are on vacation or out of town on business, they can open up Facebook and see that their dog is lounging around, looking out the window or enjoying play time in the yard,” says Drescher. “This benefit is what my customers enjoy most about staying here. It’s like their dog is on vacation too.”
Drescher has learned a lot about opening a small business in a neighborhood in the last year. She purchased the house that was previously a church parsonage and had to go through the process of getting a kennel permit which required a public hearing. Several people in the neighborhood were opposed to the kennel, so the neighborhood association and council man got involved. “I had never run a small business before; I didn’t know what I was doing!” Drescher said. Drescher sought the help of a local attorney who gave her some free advice and helped her put together a presentation for the public hearing, which went well. She has had no problems with the neighbors since the opening. In fact, several members of the neighborhood association are now clients. She says the publicity over the public hearing actually helped her business because the newspaper covered the story and did a follow-up story on the business opening.
Drescher took classes at the Small Business Development Center where she says she received great advice and counseling on sales, inventory, pricing her services increasing productivity and preparing financial reports and taxes. “The hardest part of being a small business owner is taking on too much yourself,” said Drescher, who also works full time for the Kentucky Air National Guard as a pilot.
One early struggle with getting her business off the ground was finding a small business loan. “It was hard to get started with big banks,” said Drescher. She ended up working with Wilson & Muir, a small, local bank. “I have learned that there are so many good people here in Louisville,” said Drescher. “If you just continue to call and be tenacious, you will get to the right people who will help you.”
Since The Highland Dog opened, it has been booked solid. The company used to offer day care for dog owners who worked a lot or who were having work done at their house or having a party, but they have had no room for extra guests. Her customers come from all over town and even Southern Indiana. She credits her location close to the airport for bringing in clients from a large area. Most of their business is repeat clients and referrals. They are doing a steady business with a database of 110 clients, relying mostly on Google Ad Words and social media for their advertising. The Highland Dog currently offers baths for their clients at an additional cost but the plan is to add a full service groomer in the immediate future. Drescher says she does dream of opening a chain to include The Downtown Dog and other areas of town.