How the Give Back Model Helped Dogtopia South Bay Double Profits During the Pandemic


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In the world of doggie daycare, the COVID shutdown should have been an economic disaster. With everyone now working from home, it seems inevitable that daycare services would decrease in demand.

But that wasn’t the case for Kathy Miller, President of Dogtopia - South Bay. In fact, her company not only weathered the storm but actually doubled its profits during the pandemic.

In this episode, she shares the story of the pivot that made it all possible.

We discuss:

  • The giveback business model
  • Going after the right customers
  • Strategies for finding passionate employees
  • Having a family plan, in addition to a business plan
  • Sponsoring a service dog

Learn more about the service dog program by emailing Kathy at or by visiting dogtopia. com/torrance-south-bay


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All the money I was spending onadvertising, especially with social I could actually cut that back more and I wasgetting referrals word amount. You're listening to path to profit, a podcast lookingat business growth from every angle possible. If you're looking to hear stories ofsuccess and failure, lessons learned from leaders that have grown and scaled their businesses, you've come with the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcomeback to pass to profits. I'm your host for today's episode, Stephen King, CEO of growth force. I'm joined today by Cassie Miller, owner ofdog topia South Bay. Cassie Miller, how are you doing today? GoodGod, talking to you from not so funny California this morning. I knowyou guys got some rain. Well, it's great to have you on theshow, I know I'm excited to share with our audience how you guys pivotedwhen California shut down due to covid and you went from having nothing to thebest year ever. But before we do that, can you tell our listenersa little bit about your background and what your team at Doctopia self pay isup to these days? Sure, I came from copier sales and good oldcorporate America. Started right out of college and stayed with that Company for almosttwenty four years. So my background is sales and, you know, workingin corporate America ca I finally got to the point where I needed to exitcorporate America and do something different and a friend of mine started a company withdogs food and treats and a gift back model and I decided to jump onthe Startup Bandwagon. So it gave up twenty, almost four years of corporateAmerica to jump in a startup. Did that for a little bit and theysold it off and then I found myself wondering, oh my Gosh, doI go back to Corporate America? And I just couldn't do it. Itook all my fore K, you name it, bought a franchise called OCTOPIAand Doctopia is a doggy daycare, boarding and grooming facility. We opened abouttwo years ago and Dogtopia South Bay is doing awesome. We have doubled ourprofits during a pandemic and actually kind of busting at the scenes. I justam starting construction on opening up a fourth room. So I love it.And what I love is you really had a covid pivot and you have translatethat into tremendous profit. Right. I can't wait to hear about your pathto profits, because you know, you're the fastest growing franchise in this seventynine billion dollar pet industry model. And you said something there I thought Ihadn't heard before, the give back model. What's that? So again, backmodel. When I was working for the previous startup company, it wasfor every pound of food that we sold, we donate an equal amount into ashelter. So I really loved that, you know, working with a companythat had a purpose that was giving back to the community, and Ijust love that feeling of there was no like corporate rules. You could kindof just figure it out. It gave you a lot of creative freedom versusfollowing just the law of the land and Corporate America. So so, yes, I love working with companies that have give back models to that can,you know, contribute back to the community. So do we write the companies withthe conscience that are great making the world a better place. So youwent from Corporate America to start up and then right after you do this,California shuts down right covid you have shut down orders and you got to makepayroll right. So, you know, tell us about what that was like. And then what did you do from there? Well, I literally hadfive thousand dollars left in the bank when California shut down. How many monthsbefore it shut down, what did you...

...start? Seven so, seven monthsafter you started, covid hit. Seven months later. Yes, so,I was already, you know, struggling as a new business and then covidhit and we were forced to shut down. Didn't really know what to do,you know, and talk about the right, the guilt of leaving thatcorporate job that I could have had. But no, I decided to casteverything in and and start up a new business in my s and as amom of two young kids too. So and yeah, I was sitting inmy building and with no employees, no dogs, and just wondering what theheck is my next step? What do I do? And the phone ring. It was one of my customers that was a nurse, and I pickedup the phone and she said, Cathy, I've just worked a fourteen hour shift, I'm absolutely exhausted and I need to go to sleep. My Dog'sbeen home alone and my next shift at the hospital is going to start ina few hours. I need some rest and I said, well, we'vebeen forced to shut down, but come over and me. I'm the onlyone here. Charlie's going to be the only dog, but come over,I mean you need to get some sleep. She came over and went to sleepand I just thought this is it, this is this is what we gotto do. I called the city Torrance and told them the story thatI had first responders that their dogs were home alone, they needed sleep,they couldn't walk their dogs, they couldn't play with their dogs, and theysaid open up during essential business. So that was the first step. OnceI had that information, I've gone now and I'm going to do it.So I got to get to the hospitals. So I went to the neighborhood,you know, coffee shop, and made a bunch of gift certificates andcalled all the hospitals nearby. There's three pretty big hospitle those nearby, andsaid Hey, this is what happened. One of your employees called me.I'm sure there's more. I'd love to give Free Day care to your firstresponders that that they can help our community. And they said come on down.I met with their social media team. I gave them all like three hundredgift certificates per hospital and it just pivoted from there. The news foundout about it. I had channel, you know nine news come over doa do a whole piece on on getting back to your community and and,you know, calling all first responders, Hey, we got free doggie daycare. Just get to work, don't worry about your dog. And they juststarted coming and I knew once they got in there, you know, theywould see what kind of operation we ran and you know all the fun yourdog would have while you're out at work. And it just take took that onefree day and they started buying memberships. It's the freemium model, right.Yes, I learned that from that giftback model, you know, fromthe previous start up. Yes, and you know what I love was,you know, when we when you, when I heard your story the firsttime, I was like, Oh, I can't wait to share this.You thought it all the way through, like okay, so I've got allthese people showing up on my door, which is what you die for,and now what? And you started tracking the lead sources to see, ok, did come from the news? Did it come from a certificate, youknow, and that taught you to go to teachers and to other places.Right, talk about how you turn this into a business model. Also,when I decided to start a new business and a pandemic hit, I hadtwo kids at home that were learning virtually, which, by the way, wasnot in my business plan. Oh my good is. Yes, Ilearned that you do a business plan so you can get an SBA loan,you do a business plan so your business...

...doesn't fail, but never did Ido a business plan so my family wouldn't fail. So then I had thaton top of everything else. Right. So, when my kids were learningvirtually, I noticed that there was a dog barking in the background for oneof my kids teacher, my kids teacher, and it was a huge distraction forthat poor teacher. And then I thought that's my next hit. Goto all the local community elementary schools and start handing out those gifts certificates,get those teachers to focus on our kids and not the dog. And thenthey started coming. Then I quickly learned all the money I was spending onadvertising, especially with social I could actually cut that back more and I wasgetting referrals to word amount, you know, and then I started giving my customersFree Day Care, a day of Freak Day Care, if they couldrecommend refer a friend, a neighbor, a family member. So then,you know, you get word them out, the best advertising you can have.So I had that third outlet, right. So I had the hospitalfirst responders, I had the teachers and then the referrals. Yeah, Ilove I love everything about it. I love that you made a data drivendecision to cut that social spending money. You know, you trapped, youtrapped your leads so you could see where, where the where were the people comingfrom? That's so many businesses don't have that visibility into what causes sales. Yeah, and it was like it was, you know, so aniquatedthe way I did because I really didn't have enough time. I felt likeI had to jump on this right. So I literally was numbering and puttingcodes on the back of what hospital it was, you know, T andsee one TMC too, or, you know, elementary school, one elementaryschool to it, just to see where they were coming from. Right.So that creates tremendous selling experience. Then what most businesses now have a havea post seal problem. Right, you've got to serve all these new customersand you gotta, you know, nurture them. And how did you yourwhat was your customer strategy? Once you've got these people, how do youkeep them for a long time? Right? So with your dog especially our demographic, our demographic at Dogtopia is the high earning millennial that lives in smallspaces, is not married and has no kids and their dog is their world. So, you know, trying to get that customer, going after thatcustomer is who was who I was going after. But the same time Iwas we were getting those empty nesters that their kids were, you know,gone off to college and you know, money wasn't as big of an issueanymore because, you know, the kids were gone and they got a dog. Everybody got a doctor in covid everybody adopted a dog during covid and sothat dog became their world too. So then I found many of my clientswere a family. Right, I had the high earning millennial and their parentswere the ones that got the dog to right. So I had the wholefamily coming in. So it was just a lot of looking at your dataand trying to find who your customer is. And, you know, also justdoing the good old fashion showing your face, talking to your customers.You know, how you doing, what do you do for living? Likehow covid with you, like just trying to understand where other customers that weresmall business owners, what they were doing too, and what was great,as we tried to help each other, we were doing, you know,different it's not like you could really have gatherings, but we were trying todo fundraising for, you know, for different you know, Octopia Foundation,that kind of thing, just learning how to exist together. And you know, they were just over the top wanting to make sure we didn't go outof business because they loved that gift back. More know that I was doing forthe first responders and you know,...

...everyone just was really like so helpfulabout how are you, like really asking those questions and bringing that family atmosphere, because now you know my customers that come in, you know we knoweverything about their family, their kids, their dog. You know, it'sjust really grown to a community of our own. You've listened to the customersand you have identified who is the ideal customer and you have created that intimatecustomer relationship. You should be really proud of what you've accomplished. So now, okay, you all you know who the customers are. You're bringing inthe right customers, which is a big mistake people bringing right, they bringin the wrong customers. You can't make money on the wrong customers. Soyou got that right, custer. How do you find employees? I meanit's minimum wage is tough, right. Do you as that would you're payingor you're paying Yo, professional knowledge work or salaries? How you serve thosecustomers now that you know who they are? Right? So minimum wage here inCalifornia is really high, right, fourteen an hour going up to fifteen, and in January, I'm in Texas, it's, I think, seven hundredand eighty five here, right, so it's totally different. Right.So then you know you're bringing in people that at that time didn't want toreally even leave their house, right, and they were getting that subsidies tostay home. So I went aske or people that were passionate, right,people, you know, I'm sorry, aren't really passionate about making a sandwichor a pizza, right, but they're passionate about their pets. They're passionateabout dogs. I went after people that might have been, you know,trying to get back into the workforce, such as working with organizations that,you know, still we're living houses people that are on a program trying toget their lives back, trying to get that passion back, and so fourteendollars an hour to them was awesome because they got to hang out with dogs. Those dogs didn't judge them. Those dogs didn't know their past, thosedogs didn't know their mistake. Those dogs just love them. I went afteran organization that placed adults that were high functioning with autism. They tore limitedin the workforce. It was they want to feel a purpose, they wantto feel wanted, they want to feel like they can make a difference and, you know, being in a playroom with the dog, those dogs listento them. You know, they train those dogs, they gave those dogslove. They were happy, the dogs were happy. It was just agive and take relationship with both of them. I need to learn more about this. I've been on. I'm on One Community Service Organization Board, VillageLearning Achievement Center, who deals with adults were learning disability. So W howis that available nationally through Dog Topia? Yes, Nationally Dogtopia is going onmy list there's about a hundred and seventy locations across the country and Canada.So this is genius because this does a idea that you have here is notonly able to help your franchise but nationally all the nonprofits that serve the highfunctioning community of people who are with autism or whatever have their dogs benefit andthey benefit. So this is really great. So your people, are they longterm employees? Is turnover an issue, because that's something that is this isthe age of resignation. So what's that like? Yes, turnover hasbeen a little bit of an issue, but mainly because I've given these guysa chance to, you know, show their individuality. They are so loyalto me. They you know, they come to work when they're not evenon the schedule. They come to play with the dogs when they're not evensupposed to be working. You know,...

...all of my managers were promoted fromwithin. They all started off as canine coaches in the room and they've workedtheir way up. I have not hired one person, one manager, onelead shift that did not work as a canine coach first, and so thisis the first time they've seen a path for, you know, for growth. For you know, impointed. These canine coaches are certified. We havean online university that they take all of their online classes for. It's justas a plethora information. They get certified, the certificates, they get to takethose with them wherever they go. We also employ down the street we'vegot a trade school that has a Bet Tech Program and a grooming program andthose students need to be in front of dogs. They need that experience.My groomer that we have right now started off as a canine coach, graduatedfrom the trade school and now is our groomer and those, all these dogsare ready. So, you know, it's just it's been a really awesomeride with hiring, and I know a lot of people can't say that rightnow. And then, of course we're referrals to write. So I gota good employee instead of going on these, you know, job sites. Isay who do you know? You know, when you're sober living house, who do you know that is ready? And you know, we just wego from there. I love that. Well, Cathy, this has beenreally great. I have so many things that I'm going to take awayyou've given back to me today. Thank you, I have really been inspiredby you. Know How you've taken a very disastrous moment, first off bytaking the risks of leaving corporate America with two kids and jumping off that cliff. And then, when the worst thing happens, not just having a businessplan, but a family business plan. As a family business, it becameto not only just survive but to thrive. And you know my mother, myIrish mother, her grandmother said to her it's an ill wind that doesn'tfavor someone, and you have been favored here. You have been favored.So the gift back models where it got started. I love that. Youknow we're passionate about our nonprofit clients and the whole idea that for profits canhelp nonprofits is something we haven't talked enough about being a company with a conscience. You you had a free day care for first responders when first responders neededthat. Talk a little bit more about that. What exactly did the thefirst responders, the hospital, the teachers get? So they got early checkin. We were open at that time at seven. My customers told methey needed me open at thirty. I opened it thirty. So even ifI didn't have enough workers that could get there that early. We had oneperson, you know, that would get those dogs that had to check inearly. They also got let late check out. You know, they workedtwelve, fourteen hour shifts. So we had people there feeding the pups fordinner and that kind of thing, for the boarding. So we had someonethere. We weren't going to cut it off. You know, it's fromthis time to this time. You got to pick up. There's a latesee, we just made it open for them to drop off and pick upwhen it was convenient for them. But ultimately we just gave them that onefree day. Once we gave them that one free day, that's all theyneeded. But to help me out, I said, hey, you goback to the hospital and those people that don't know that we're doing this,if you get a referral coming to me and they say, Charlie, setme, you get additional day free so they could earn more free daycare.Just spread the words, just tell your friends. And the data that youused was you tracked where your leads were coming from and you realize your closesales were coming from. You realize the social spending wasn't getting it. Soyou know that's hard to do. But you need that lead source tracking.I also love that you had a very clear ideal client profile. Right.Everybody needs that. Not all clients are...

...created equal in not and for profitsand nonprofits. And knowing that you have, you know, empty nest, emptynesters in addition to millennials that are high net worth, lets you customizeyour messaging and your value proposition to those ideal clients. And thinking about thatgoing into the business. I think is allowed you to make the decisions thatyou did to be a fastest growing franchise it that eighty billion dollar pet industry, because you had the data and listen then then use that data to golisten to those ideal clients to figure out what's changed and what kind of feedbackdo they give you. So Kudos for you for also hiring right. Youlook for people who find meaning in their lives from the work that you do. Right, you recruit for passion and you'll get discretionary effort when you alignedthe People's passion and their life goals with your corporate goals and promoting from within. I love when you could be the first path for growth for anybody,because the school system alone doesn't do it. So you know, by taking peoplewho are looking for those opportunities, and I particularly hope the village learningcenters going to listen to this, getting their high functioning autism and sober livinghouses back into the workforce or just in the or even in the workforce,because you're that first path to go to. You. You've created something very,very special. Is there anything I missed? Is there anything you knowelse said we should know about your journey and your reason why I got putyou on earth? Well, one thing you know, obviously we talked aboutbefore, is your mistakes. Right, learning from your mistake, and Iwould go back and if I were to start all over again as a newentrepreneur, I would definitely not only do a business plan, but I wouldget that family plan together too, because that was, boy, rough.What did what was in your what was in your family plan? Tell usabout that? Well, I didn't have one, first of all, andso that route there was my mistake, right like. That's what you know. I did all this planning and forecasting and projecting of how my business wasn'tgoing to fail, but I didn't do that on how my family was goingto fail. And you know, especially during covid too. So I quicklyhad to scramble with a plan of how am I going to you know,now I'm gone, you know, twelve hours a day. I've got anine year old and an eleven year old that is being home schooled now,and you know, I've got a husband who's the bread winner, because Icertainly wasn't taking a salary. And how do I make sure that marriage isokay? Like those things that didn't even think about. So anybody that's startingup a new business have a family plan. So, you know, quickly wefigured it out. We figured it out, you know, we andwe're still you know, we're still it's still unfolding because now right, becausethey're back in school, so things got a pivot again with that. Butwe basically split the split it. I took one kid, he took theother. You know, you take that kids, all the sporting events,all the boy scouts, all the whatever, and the kid I have, I'lldo the same thing and just divided and conquered. But you know,still like how are you going to have that family time? How are yougonna have time with your husband? How are you going to have time foryourself? Didn't think about that. And making that as important as the businessplan right, because why do we start these businesses? To have a betterlife with our family. So so I just asked one because I just wasso good. This could go on forever. Tell you there is there one aswe end this, is there one favorite thing that's happened in this journeythat you just love, that's made a difference, like what makes you feelgreat about the choice you made? I feel awesome that I've got to dowhat I wanted to do and I feel awesome I chose a great franchise andI feel awesome that my group has raised enough money to sponsor a service dog. We collaborated with an organization called next step service dogs and we raised apuppy name is Tillman, after Pat Tillman,...

...and Tillman has just been placed,after two years, with a United States marine that suffers from PTSD andwe are just now planning a reunion where we get to go see Anthony andkillman and see how they're doing in their journey. Oh my goodness, youbringing tears to my eyes. Well, it's just a great story. Youknow, we're working on raising money for our second service dog. It couldcost a lot of money to raise these pups from, you know, whenthey're a puppy to even when they're twos. Ongoing training, right, because thenthese dogs go into their adolyst's teenage years and okay, so let's helpyou raise some money. So, Pat Tillman, why you couldn't pick abetter person. Wonderful Story. How do people find you to help you sponsorthe next Pat Tillman Rescue Dog, service dog? Where's the best way toreach you? They can reach me by email at Caffie Dot Miller at dogTopiacom, or they can go to our website, which is dog topiacom boardflash torrents, hype in south, hype and Bay. Say That one again. Phonetically spell it. It's dog Topiacom and you can go into the locatorand find the South Bay ranch and Click on that. That's probably the easierway. Great. Well, thank you, Kathy Miller, taking the time tojoin us today sharing how you pivoted from a California shutdown to having thebest year ever and finding the silver lining and pivoting your business model. Thanksfor taking the time to join us. Thank you. Thanks for reaching out. So the rest of you, I'll see you the next time. visitgrowth forcecom slash podcasts for more resources to help you find your own path toprofits. Growth Force is the smart back office solution that CEO's need for betterfinancial management of their business, delivering a level of reliability, consistency and expertisethat is typically reserved for mid market companies. From advanced bookkeeping, management, accounting, controller and advisory services, growth force provides dedicated teams and cloud basedtechnology that becomes a scalable solution for your business. We meet you where youare. To learn more, visit growth forcecom. You've been listening to pathto profit. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to theshow in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening in Apple PODCASTS, we'dlove for you to give a quick rating of the show. Just tap thenumber of stars you think the podcast deserves. Thank you so much for listening.Until next time,.

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