When Paul Schifano, DVM, and his staff held the grand opening of the new Petropolis Pet Center, 3,000 people walked through the doors!
“I’ll never forget those two days!” says Paul. He credits a strong promotional effort headed by Hannelore (Lorie) Bugby, his partner and his mother, for the tremendously successful beginning. Previously, Lorie ran an advertising agency in Detroit, MI, and she gets credit for the innovative, highly successful Petropolis promotions.
Dr. Schifano designed Petropolis Pet Center with the help of a local architect, and he says that almost all of his ideas came from ”helpful ABKA members and from the Conventions.” He and his architect also participated in a hospital design conference sponsored by Veterinary Economics magazine… ”a must for anyone planning to include a veterinary hospital in their plans.”
Experience + education the key
Paul Schifano was just 16 years old when Lorie purchased Silver Maple Farm, St. Louis, MO, and he has worked in the boarding business ever since. He is a 1984 graduate of the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. Since Silver Maple Farm was “grandfathered,” and could not be enlarged, he had to build a new facility in order to use the veterinary skills and to offer the full-service facility he and Lorie had planned. Incidentally, Silver Maple Farm, a charter member of ABKA, has been in operation for 55 years and, through the years, had earned an enviable reputation in the area. The long-time owner, Ruth Kraeuchi, first bred cockers and boarded as a sideline. Later, when her boarding business grew, the breeding became the sideline!
Petropolis, the new facility, became a full-service pet center, offering indoor boarding, grooming, a pet store and indoor training arena as well as the veterinary hospital and pet-care counseling classes.
“We have a manager at Silver Maple Farm today,” says Paul, who supervises that operation as well as Petropolis. The two are nine miles apart. Lorie is now responsible for the promotional aspect of the business, and she takes part in all policy decisions.
She became interested in boarding as an outgrowth of her long-time interest in Dandi Dinmont Terriers. Her background in management, coupled with Paul’s undergraduate studies in business, gave them the experience they needed to design Petropolis.
”We knew that a market existed for convenience in pet-care, and we set out to design a full-service pet center that was special in all areas,” says Paul. “We wanted to create a professional environment that was so organized that any client walking in the door would ask, ‘Is this a franchise?'”
Professional advice payback. professional results
The first step was to find a name and logo.
”We asked ourselves, ‘what do we want clients to feel when they walk in? What kind of client will we be catering to? What makes us unique?'” says Paul.
They decided they needed professional advice. They hired Overlock Howe, a national corporate identity firm, to create their image… name, logo design and colors.
”We were pleased with the results,” says Paul, “and instantly chose Petropolis from the ideas submitted.” It took four long years to get from the planning to the “grand opening” and it was a very busy time, indeed!
Construction began in September, 1987, and the aforementioned grand opening was held just eight months later. Paul Schifano left his former job to work full time on Petropolis several months before construction began.
”I am certain I saved the operation a lot of money just by being totally available for the project. I took on some of the contracting and was always on hand to supervise and to make any necessary changes.”
”I admit, I drove our general contractor crazy.” says Paul.
The overall plan was to design the center so that each department was special and yet to integrate the separate facilities as closely as possible.
The dog hotel was the key. It encompasses about 9,000 of the center’s 22,000 square feet. “The goal,” says Paul, “was to make the facility efficient as well as comfortable for the pets.”
Dogs weighing more than 15 pounds stay in ‘two-room condos.’ By opening a door, we can give a dog up to four rooms, if the client prefers. More than 220 dogs can be boarded.
Bright colors and stainless steel combine for a bright and spotless effect.
All rooms are indoors. The floors are raised off the ground, made of Pig grating… a perforated rubber-coated mesh. We custom-colored our grating… purple, which is bright and cheerful. The walls, covered with colorful formica with frames of stainless steel, are purple, grey and teal.
”We simply hose down the rooms and the water runs into a trough which lies below each run,” says Paul.
“The floors are comfortable, and we’re able to keep the place immaculate,” Paul says. The only problem at this time is that the builder made the floors smaller than the rooms and temporary spacers have to be used so that the raised floors don’t fall down.
Dogs who weigh less than 15 pounds stay in a separate area called ‘The Toy Dog Room.’ In this area, the dogs are exercised outside several times a day, but are otherwise kept indoors in enclosures, where they can watch TV or play with ever-present attendants.
‘The Cat Hotel’ is completely separate from the Dog Hotel. Owners of cats can choose from one- to six-room condos. The rooms are nestled around a spacious living-room setting. The condos are custom-made.
”We try to have our employees take breaks in this area, so that the cats are always around people,” says Paul. Petropolis can board 60 cats.
Designing the 4,000 square-foot hospital took more time than the rest of the facility put together.
“Our goal was for the hospital to pull in hotel clients as much as the hotel brought us hospital clients,” says Paul. Some of the equipment that makes Petropolis ”special” includes a 500ma X-ray machine, echocardiograph machine, ultrasound machine, neonatal incubator hematology analyzer and dry chemist? machine. A veterinarian is on call 24 hours a day.
The hospital will accommodate four veterinarians, although there are just two on the present staff.
“Since we kept the same location, we had no starting customer base at Petropolis. The hospital began slowly, but now that we have been in operation for nine months – we have grown three times faster than the national average for a veterinary hospital. We are preparing for a very busy summer,” says Paul.
The grooming department at Petropolis includes five bathing stations, six trimming stations and six brushing stations . The staff will be building a bank of cage driers. ”We built that kind of unit at Silver Maple Farm.” says Paul, “and it doubled the number of pets that can be dried in one day.” The bank includes 16 units. A gas furnace can then be exhausted and rerouted to other areas of the facility.
“A dog can be dried in half the usual drying time,” says Paul, “but he also goes home more relaxed because of the lack of noise in this system.”
“We won’t be using all of the grooming stations for a couple of years,” says Paul, “but the last thing I wanted to think about was expanding!”
But service is the name of the game at Petropolis, and as Paul says, “We’ll do anything to accommodate our customers!” Special kinds of boarding are available. One of these is “Day care for pets.”
“For example, if a customer is cleaning carpets or fertilizing a lawn – situations when a dog might be uncomfortable or simply in the way – the dog can come to Petropolis and spend the day with friends!” Several customers regularly leave their dogs in the morning and pick them up at night after work. Another special service is the Petropolis summer camp “for pets and their kids.”
“This is Lorie’s department,” Paul says, “and we are in the introductory stages now, of course.”
“We will operate the summer camp one-and-a-half hours per day, five days a week.” says Paul, “and we will include training and lunch.”
The 2,000 square-foot Petropolis Pet Store sells dog and cat supplies as well as birds, small animals and reptiles. People looking for a puppy are given names of professional breeders.
“We find that having a pet store is a great way to get first-time customers in the door,” says Paul. “It gives the entrance a large, roomy appearance and is the one area I wish we had made bigger!” Petropolis uses laminated slat board instead of peg-board to display the supplies.
Another special feature at Petropolis is a video library for pet owners. They can rent videos about a particular breed or about the health of their pets. Video monitors are stationed throughout the facility, so that customers sitting in the waiting room, for example, can be entertained and educated at the same time.
The veterinary hospital at Petropolis has a computer system which keeps all accounts receivable, invoices, reservations, etc.
“We plan to install a computer system for the boarding facility soon,” says Paul. ”We are looking at a system which will handle all the paperwork and will simplify the operation tremendously!”
The hospital also offers implantation of the (wave of the future) pet micro chip, for positive and permanent pet identification.
“If your dog gets lost, the Humane Society and Info Pet Company can scan the micro chip and determine immediately where the animal belongs,” says Paul. The Petropolis micro chip service is $40, and Info Pet charges an annual fee for registering a pet.
All told, these services add up to a thriving business.
“Although Petropolis is new,” says Paul, “it’s obvious that it has much customer appeal. I hope that, because of the exciting response to this first facility, there will be many more to come,” he says.
Members attending this year’s convention in New Orleans will have the opportunity to attend Paul Schifano’s seminar entitled, “Petropolis Pet Center – Full Service and Full of New Ideas.”