Lucky Dogs: Barkefellers Upscale Pet Hotel Goes National

4 minute read

For
some poor doggies, doing a stretch at the local kennel while their families are
away can be traumatic. Stuck in a cage, lousy food, mean guards, fleas…what
prison movie does this remind you of? Jailhouse
Bark?

But
since 2009, a few lucky dogs who reside in the greater Indianapolis area have
been living the life of Riley’s dog at three upscale pet hotel and lodging
facilities. Guests enjoy immaculate, comfortable suites, multiple visits to
private outdoor potty yards and twice-daily room service. Not to mention flat
screen TVs.

The
name says it all. Barkefellers.

Founder
Rick Coffey explains: “We treat our guests with the same affection and
care that we would want our own pets to receive.”

Cats
Too

Barkefellers provides a long menu of accommodations, activities
and extras—options including lodging, grooming, daycare, and training services.
Canine guests enjoy luxury amenities like regular room service, flat screen
televisions and expansive indoor and outdoor activity areas. Cats can stay too:
They bask in complimentary room service, multi-level areas for play and
climbing, and cozy napping areas.

Rick and Christi Coffey and their two
children, Krista and Jordan, have been running Barkefellers since the company
was founded. Now the family is ready to grow Barkefellers beyond the Coffey
family and Indianapolis—through franchising.

More Like A Marriott

Rick Coffey was a successful
businessman with two separate careers before getting into pet care. He did a
six-year stint selling residential real estate; then a 35-year tour in
commercial cleaning and sanitation, selling equipment and chemicals to
manufacturing and transportation companies who needed industrial cleaning.

He got the idea for
Barkefellers from a woman he met doing his real estate job. She owned a pet
hotel in Indianapolis, and she shared some financial details. It piqued Rick’s
interest. But he knew he would need to differentiate a new pet care business,
and he kept thinking: Upscale.

What does upscale mean anyway
in the context of a pet care facility?

“There are several
things that distinguish us from our competition,” Rick explains. “First
of all, the look of the facility and its curb appeal are very important.
Second, when you go into the facility you see an attractive lobby and you don’t
smell any odors. The lobby should look more like a Marriott than a kennel. Third,
we hand-pick our employees; they’re pet lovers, and they’re experienced. Fourth,
since I was already experienced in sanitation, most people give us nines and
tens for sanitation. Lastly, the amenities that we offer are outstanding—not
only in the suites chosen by the ‘parents,’ but also the amount of activities.”

Rick’s use of
“parents” (as opposed to “owners” or even
“companions”) tells a lot about how “upscale” plays out at
Barkefellers. “Dogs are like people,” he adds. “We’re all
different. So we offer something special for each and every pet that visits
us.”

Drawing a Crowd

It took the first
Barkefellers facility a year to go into the bark—um, black—and the second and
third facilities were turning profits after only four months. But it wasn’t
easy. Rick’s biggest challenge was one that will be familiar to any small
business startup: Getting exposure.

“If people took the time
to take a tour,” he says, “they walked away saying, ‘I’ve never seen
a place quite like this. I feel comfortable leaving my pets.’ But how do you
get them to take the tour? The challenge for us was getting them in the door.”

Rick had been in business
before, and he turned to familiar tools and techniques to draw a crowd. To
start with, he made sure that the locations he chose offered maximum exposure
and ease of access. Then he built a great web site and sent out sophisticated direct
mailings. Most important, he made sure every Barkefellers employee was
dedicated to keeping the customers happy so they’d give the facility great word
of mouth.

Initially, the Barkefellers
staff was 12, including Rick and Christi. Today it runs close to 150 employees.

Taking It On the Road

With the business growing
fast, the Coffeys took a big step: They decided to franchise the Barkefellers
concept.

“We just started about a
year ago,” Rick explains, “and because we’ve been growing our
corporate stores so aggressively the franchising was a slower process. We’re
still waiting for our first franchisee to sign up—but we’ve got three promising
candidates. In 2015 we went to our first trade show to market ourselves, and we’ll
be attending a couple more shows in the immediate future. We also hired a
terrific PR firm, SSPR. And we’re focusing on search engine optimization to
create more exposure for the franchise operation, not only locally but
nationally.”

The challenge as a franchiser
is finding an investor who has the money. “To invest in this business you have
to either rent or purchase a facility to operate out of,” says Rick.
“And because there’s brick and mortar involved it becomes expensive. We
have two parts to our franchise system—a real estate part and a pet hotel part.
You need about half a million dollars in cash to get into this business.”

Soon after we spoke, Rick took
Barkefellers to the International Franchise Association and Trade Show at the
Javits Center in Manhattan. It’s the world’s largest international franchise
show, hosting thousands of people. Hopefully, a few of them will be dog lovers
with significant financial resources.

All In the Name

Looking back, what was Rick’s
greatest triumph? “Thinking up our name,” he laughs.

And his biggest mistake:
“Not getting into this business until I was almost 60! I wish I had
started Barkefellers 20 years ago. We’re committed to raising our level of customer service,
creating superior facilities, and providing well-trained staff to create the
best possible experience for our customers—and the pets we care for!”

The
franchise operation is designed to take that concept nation-wide.