When pet shop owner Krista Milito learned about the ShopKeep “Small Business, Big Ideas” contest that we reported on here in May, she thought winning was a long shot. But as a dog trainer who has saved many an uncontrollable family pet from the pound, and as owner of a profitable business that started at zero, she is used to beating the odds.
This week, ShopKeep awarded Milito and her partner Jeremy Burger, owners of The Philly Pack, its first-place prize of $10,000. The dog behaviorist duo will put the cash toward building their dream: a full-service "canine enrichment center" in Philadelphia where they will work with owners and their dogs who have behavior problems including severe fear, aggression, and anger. Until now, they have offered clients in-home sessions. The funds will allow them to offer services such as canine socials, overnight stays, training, and general socialization.
ShopKeep founder and co-CEO Jason Richelson explained the prize: "ShopKeep's mission is to help small businesses operate more efficiently and make more money so they can take back Main Street in communities across the nation. The Philly Pack's entry into our Small Biz, Big Ideas contest captured the spirit of that mission, which is why we awarded them the $10,000 grant. We’re confident it will help turn their vision into a reality.”
Milito and Burger founded The Philly Pack Pet Shop in 2010 as a storefront to support their expanding dog training business. Since 2005, they’d been working from their homes helping people live in harmony with their badly behaved dogs by teaching owners the basic principles of dog discipline, leadership, and energy. Milito and Burger, who bonded over their passion for dogs and follow the same “balanced training” approach as Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan, started the training business with no bigger investment than it took to print business cards, and funded the pet shop from their personal savings. The shop generates revenue, but the bread and butter of the business is dog training. Between the two of them, Milito and Burger see up to 35 dogs per day.
They’ve dreamed from day one of opening a training facility. In fact, Milito says the ultimate vision is for an even larger center, with a swimming pool and outdoor play area. “We knew we needed a stepping stone to get there,” Milito says, “so we opened a pet shop because we thought that could be a kind of resource center where we could be more accessible to people who needed advice. It proved to do just that for us.”
In February, they sought their first loan—an $8,000 credit card cash advance—to sign a lease on a 3,000-square-foot space that’s now being remodeled for them. They expected to open The Philly Pack Canine Enrichment Center this summer, but, Milito says, “We have been in a holding pattern with so many city regulations and red tape around construction permits.”
With the additional cash from the ShopKeep contest, however, Milito is confident that when the center finally opens they will be able to offer more services, group classes, daytime training, and daycare.
“A dog can humble you very quickly,” Milito says. The dogs with the craziest issues, she says, “make me keep trying and not give up on the dog or the human or myself.” It’s the same mindset that has gotten her business this far.