A Hollywood pet spa and hotel is serving up luxury and expanding quickly.
By Kerri Chladnicek
Five years ago, Alissa and Allan Cruz were busy real estate professionals living in the Calabasas area of California, traveling frequently and, from time to time, fretting over the lack of dog boarding options that made them feel truly comfortable about leaving their beloved chihuahua and miniature pinscher in someone else’s care. Discussing this frustration during a drive together, the married couple had an idea.
Alissa Cruz, co-owner of D Pet Hotels, with the dogs that inspired the business: Twix (left) and Snickers.
“We decided to build a doggie hotel out of our own selfish need,” Alissa said.
Unlike the average couple who might idly dream of such a project, the Cruzes got right on it. In 2008 they opened D Pet Hotels, a 14,000-square-foot facility in Hollywood, Calif.
“We’re very strong, gung-ho people,” Alissa said. “It went very quickly from concept to opening. Once we found the location, it was like boom, boom, boom, hopping around, and then we were open.”
Located in a former movie production studio, the business provides some real Hollywood-style services for dogs. An important part of the business is D Pet Hotels’ luxury spa services, which include everything from baths to chiropractic and reiki treatments. Alissa reported that grooming has been a major part of the business from the beginning and attributed their success in that area to their talented staff groomer, Kenny Hills.
“We’re absolutely blessed that he’s been with us since Day One,” Alissa said.
Boutique and salon owners might wonder: What was their secret for choosing the right groomer?
“Schooling and certification are the basics, of course,” Alissa said. “But seeing their work is key, too. [Kenny] was recommended by one of our clients. She said, ‘You have to hire him!’ It was a great marriage right from the beginning.”
Among the most popular spa services at D Pet Hotels is the body wrap, Alissa said.
“A lot of our dogs spend their days with their owners running around Runyon Canyon or just outdoors,” she said. “Their skin gets really irritated, so the owners love the moisturizing body wraps.”
The treatment involves hot towels and a thick ointment applied to the dog’s skin and fur.
“The dog’s sort of sitting in a cocoon,” Alissa said. “It’s kind of funny because they almost all fall asleep because they’re so comfortable. You definitely can see the difference that the dog feels.”
D Pet Hotels' groomer, Kenny Hills, is one of the reasons for the business' success in luxury spa services, according to the owners.
D Pet Hotels also has a relationship with a local canine dermatologist who comes in to evaluate and treat dogs with problem conditions, Alissa said. Relationships like this one have been important ingredients in D Pet Hotels’ success so far.
“We’ve scouted out the best of the best in the LA area and developed relationships with them,” she said. “Good business is always about great communication, even with your competitors.”
D Pet Hotels’ boarding facility is consistent with its name in that each dog’s enclosure contains a luxurious bed and other furnishings, high ceilings and a full glass door. Suite sizes range from 4 feet by 9 feet to 12 feet by 22 feet. The largest suites contain queen-sized beds.
Among the most important goals of the business plan was that the enclosures would not feel like cages, according to Alissa.
“Especially for rescue dogs, that was really important,” she said. “We wanted to mimic the home environment as closely as possible so they don’t have any kind of bad memories.”
Dog “recess” runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at D Pet Hotels. The dogs are placed into groups based on several factors, including size. Three dog parks cover 6,000 square feet of the facility, so playtime is a major focus.
Given the hot weather and strong sun in the local area, one of the facility’s attractions is that all of the play areas are indoors, Alissa said. The facility hosts all kinds of dogs, even making special arrangements for intact male dogs and females that are in heat.
The facility photographs visiting dogs during their boarding stay and emails the images to their owners.
“One of the things I knew from the beginning is that we’re taking care of the dogs, but we’re also taking care of the owners and making sure they feel comfortable and at ease so they can enjoy their vacations,” Alissa said.
In addition to grooming and boarding, D Pet Hotels offers food and other items in its on-site boutique. Visitors purchase food from brands such as Evo, Merrick and Weruva, and spa products from Isle of Dogs or Happytails. For busy pet owners with rapidly changing schedules, there is a car service to bring dogs in for boarding or service appointments and return them home.
“We wanted to develop a one-stop aspect for every dog owner’s needs,” Alissa said.
As one might expect from a couple that Alissa herself describes as “very Type A,” the owners of D Pet Hotels already are working on expanding their business to other areas of the country. A new facility is in the works in New York with an opening expected this fall. A third facility is in the planning stages in Scottsdale, Ariz. Each facility will be owned by a different party, with the Cruzes offering the name and business model as a franchise.
“We’re being very selective,” Alissa said. “Scottsdale is a very affluent suburb outside of Phoenix. You have a lot of families that go away on vacation. Every boarding facility that has a daycare there is outdoors. There’s no major daycare aspect where you can have it all indoors. The majority also are traditional style with the kennels and whatnot.”
The issue of weather is a potential benefit for the New York location, though not for the year-round, intense sunshine, according to Alissa.
“Any metropolitan type city that has an inclement weather aspect would benefit,” she said, adding that cities where residents work long hours away from home are good fits for a luxury pet daycare and boarding facility, with Scottsdale and New York both fitting the bill.
With further franchise opportunities offered as of this past summer, the Cruzes are fulfilling their long-term plan of making D Pet Hotels a worldwide operation. Based on international media attention for their California facility, Alissa said the cultures in many other countries, such as France and Japan, are ready for this business model.
“Pets are important—possibly one of the most important aspects of our families,” Alissa said. “They should have that same sort of luxury and love even when they’re not at home.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Pet Style News.
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