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 on advertising, especially with social I could actually cut that back more and I was getting referrals word amount. You're listening to path to profit, a podcast looking at business growth from every angle possible. If you're looking to hear stories of success 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. Welcome back 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 of dog topia South Bay. Cassie Miller, how are you doing today? Good God, talking to you from not so funny California this morning. I know you guys got some rain. Well, it's great to have you on the show, I know I'm excited to share with our audience how you guys pivoted when California shut down due to covid and you went from having nothing to the best year ever. But before we do that, can you tell our listeners a little bit about your background and what your team at Doctopia self pay is up to these days? Sure, I came from copier sales and good old corporate America. Started right out of college and stayed with that Company for almost twenty four years. So my background is sales and, you know, working in corporate America ca I finally got to the point where I needed to exit corporate America and do something different and a friend of mine started a company with dogs food and treats and a gift back model and I decided to jump on the Startup Bandwagon. So it gave up twenty, almost four years of corporate America to jump in a startup. Did that for a little bit and they sold it off and then I found myself wondering, oh my Gosh, do I go back to Corporate America? And I just couldn't do it. I took all my fore K, you name it, bought a franchise called OCTOPIA and Doctopia is a doggy daycare, boarding and grooming facility. We opened about two years ago and Dogtopia South Bay is doing awesome. We have doubled our profits during a pandemic and actually kind of busting at the scenes. I just am 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 translate that into tremendous profit. Right. I can't wait to hear about your path to profits, because you know, you're the fastest growing franchise in this seventy nine billion dollar pet industry model. And you said something there I thought I hadn't heard before, the give back model. What's that? So again, back model. When I was working for the previous startup company, it was for every pound of food that we sold, we donate an equal amount into a shelter. So I really loved that, you know, working with a company that had a purpose that was giving back to the community, and I just love that feeling of there was no like corporate rules. You could kind of just figure it out. It gave you a lot of creative freedom versus following 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 with the conscience that are great making the world a better place. So you went 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 make payroll right. So, you know, tell us about what that was like. And then what did you do from there? Well, I literally had five thousand dollars left in the bank when California shut down. How many months before it shut down, what did you...

...start? Seven so, seven months after you started, covid hit. Seven months later. Yes, so, I was already, you know, struggling as a new business and then covid hit 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 that corporate job that I could have had. But no, I decided to cast everything in and and start up a new business in my s and as a mom of two young kids too. So and yeah, I was sitting in my building and with no employees, no dogs, and just wondering what the heck is my next step? What do I do? And the phone ring. It was one of my customers that was a nurse, and I picked up 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's been home alone and my next shift at the hospital is going to start in a few hours. I need some rest and I said, well, we've been forced to shut down, but come over and me. I'm the only one 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 sleep and I just thought this is it, this is this is what we got to do. I called the city Torrance and told them the story that I 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 they said open up during essential business. So that was the first step. Once I 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 and called all the hospitals nearby. There's three pretty big hospitle those nearby, and said 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 first responders 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 hundred gift certificates per hospital and it just pivoted from there. The news found out about it. I had channel, you know nine news come over do a 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 just started coming and I knew once they got in there, you know, they would see what kind of operation we ran and you know all the fun your dog would have while you're out at work. And it just take took that one free day and they started buying memberships. It's the freemium model, right. Yes, I learned that from that giftback model, you know, from the previous start up. Yes, and you know what I love was, you know, when we when you, when I heard your story the first time, I was like, Oh, I can't wait to share this. You thought it all the way through, like okay, so I've got all these 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, you know, 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 had two kids at home that were learning virtually, which, by the way, was not in my business plan. Oh my good is. Yes, I learned 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 I do a business plan so my family wouldn't fail. So then I had that on top of everything else. Right. So, when my kids were learning virtually, I noticed that there was a dog barking in the background for one of my kids teacher, my kids teacher, and it was a huge distraction for that poor teacher. And then I thought that's my next hit. Go to 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 then they started coming. Then I quickly learned all the money I was spending on advertising, especially with social I could actually cut that back more and I was getting referrals to word amount, you know, and then I started giving my customers Free Day Care, a day of Freak Day Care, if they could recommend 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 hospital first responders, I had the teachers and then the referrals. Yeah, I love I love everything about it. I love that you made a data driven decision to cut that social spending money. You know, you trapped, you trapped your leads so you could see where, where the where were the people coming from? That's so many businesses don't have that visibility into what causes sales. Yeah, and it was like it was, you know, so aniquated the way I did because I really didn't have enough time. I felt like I had to jump on this right. So I literally was numbering and putting codes on the back of what hospital it was, you know, T and see one TMC too, or, you know, elementary school, one elementary school to it, just to see where they were coming from. Right. So that creates tremendous selling experience. Then what most businesses now have a have a post seal problem. Right, you've got to serve all these new customers and you gotta, you know, nurture them. And how did you your what was your customer strategy? Once you've got these people, how do you keep 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 small spaces, is not married and has no kids and their dog is their world. So, you know, trying to get that customer, going after that customer is who was who I was going after. But the same time I was 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 issue anymore 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 so that dog became their world too. So then I found many of my clients were a family. Right, I had the high earning millennial and their parents were the ones that got the dog to right. So I had the whole family coming in. So it was just a lot of looking at your data and trying to find who your customer is. And, you know, also just doing the good old fashion showing your face, talking to your customers. You know, how you doing, what do you do for living? Like how covid with you, like just trying to understand where other customers that were small 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 to do 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 out of business because they loved that gift back. More know that I was doing for the first responders and you know,...

...everyone just was really like so helpful about 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 know everything about their family, their kids, their dog. You know, it's just really grown to a community of our own. You've listened to the customers and you have identified who is the ideal customer and you have created that intimate customer 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 in the right customers, which is a big mistake people bringing right, they bring in the wrong customers. You can't make money on the wrong customers. So you got that right, custer. How do you find employees? I mean it's minimum wage is tough, right. Do you as that would you're paying or you're paying Yo, professional knowledge work or salaries? How you serve those customers now that you know who they are? Right? So minimum wage here in California is really high, right, fourteen an hour going up to fifteen, and in January, I'm in Texas, it's, I think, seven hundred and 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 to really even leave their house, right, and they were getting that subsidies to stay home. So I went aske or people that were passionate, right, people, you know, I'm sorry, aren't really passionate about making a sandwich or a pizza, right, but they're passionate about their pets. They're passionate about 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 to get their lives back, trying to get that passion back, and so fourteen dollars 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, those dogs didn't know their mistake. Those dogs just love them. I went after an organization that placed adults that were high functioning with autism. They tore limited in the workforce. It was they want to feel a purpose, they want to feel wanted, they want to feel like they can make a difference and, you know, being in a playroom with the dog, those dogs listen to them. You know, they train those dogs, they gave those dogs love. They were happy, the dogs were happy. It was just a give 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, Village Learning Achievement Center, who deals with adults were learning disability. So W how is that available nationally through Dog Topia? Yes, Nationally Dogtopia is going on my 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 not only able to help your franchise but nationally all the nonprofits that serve the high functioning community of people who are with autism or whatever have their dogs benefit and they benefit. So this is really great. So your people, are they long term employees? Is turnover an issue, because that's something that is this is the age of resignation. So what's that like? Yes, turnover has been a little bit of an issue, but mainly because I've given these guys a chance to, you know, show their individuality. They are so loyal to me. They you know, they come to work when they're not even on the schedule. They come to play with the dogs when they're not even supposed to be working. You know,...

...all of my managers were promoted from within. They all started off as canine coaches in the room and they've worked their way up. I have not hired one person, one manager, one lead shift that did not work as a canine coach first, and so this is the first time they've seen a path for, you know, for growth. For you know, impointed. These canine coaches are certified. We have an online university that they take all of their online classes for. It's just as a plethora information. They get certified, the certificates, they get to take those with them wherever they go. We also employ down the street we've got a trade school that has a Bet Tech Program and a grooming program and those 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, graduated from the trade school and now is our groomer and those, all these dogs are ready. So, you know, it's just it's been a really awesome ride with hiring, and I know a lot of people can't say that right now. And then, of course we're referrals to write. So I got a good employee instead of going on these, you know, job sites. I say who do you know? You know, when you're sober living house, who do you know that is ready? And you know, we just we go from there. I love that. Well, Cathy, this has been really great. I have so many things that I'm going to take away you've given back to me today. Thank you, I have really been inspired by you. Know How you've taken a very disastrous moment, first off by taking 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 business plan, but a family business plan. As a family business, it became to not only just survive but to thrive. And you know my mother, my Irish mother, her grandmother said to her it's an ill wind that doesn't favor someone, and you have been favored here. You have been favored. So the gift back models where it got started. I love that. You know we're passionate about our nonprofit clients and the whole idea that for profits can help 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 needed that. Talk a little bit more about that. What exactly did the the first responders, the hospital, the teachers get? So they got early check in. We were open at that time at seven. My customers told me they needed me open at thirty. I opened it thirty. So even if I didn't have enough workers that could get there that early. We had one person, you know, that would get those dogs that had to check in early. They also got let late check out. You know, they worked twelve, fourteen hour shifts. So we had people there feeding the pups for dinner and that kind of thing, for the boarding. So we had someone there. We weren't going to cut it off. You know, it's from this time to this time. You got to pick up. There's a late see, we just made it open for them to drop off and pick up when it was convenient for them. But ultimately we just gave them that one free day. Once we gave them that one free day, that's all they needed. But to help me out, I said, hey, you go back 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, set me, you get additional day free so they could earn more free daycare. Just spread the words, just tell your friends. And the data that you used was you tracked where your leads were coming from and you realize your close sales were coming from. You realize the social spending wasn't getting it. So you 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 profits and nonprofits. And knowing that you have, you know, empty nest, empty nesters in addition to millennials that are high net worth, lets you customize your messaging and your value proposition to those ideal clients. And thinking about that going into the business. I think is allowed you to make the decisions that you 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 go listen to those ideal clients to figure out what's changed and what kind of feedback do they give you. So Kudos for you for also hiring right. You look 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 aligned the 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 people who are looking for those opportunities, and I particularly hope the village learning centers going to listen to this, getting their high functioning autism and sober living houses 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 know else said we should know about your journey and your reason why I got put you on earth? Well, one thing you know, obviously we talked about before, is your mistakes. Right, learning from your mistake, and I would go back and if I were to start all over again as a new entrepreneur, I would definitely not only do a business plan, but I would get that family plan together too, because that was, boy, rough. What did what was in your what was in your family plan? Tell us about that? Well, I didn't have one, first of all, and so 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't going to fail, but I didn't do that on how my family was going to fail. And you know, especially during covid too. So I quickly had 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 a nine 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 I certainly wasn't taking a salary. And how do I make sure that marriage is okay? Like those things that didn't even think about. So anybody that's starting up a new business have a family plan. So, you know, quickly we figured it out. We figured it out, you know, we and we're still you know, we're still it's still unfolding because now right, because they're back in school, so things got a pivot again with that. But we basically split the split it. I took one kid, he took the other. You know, you take that kids, all the sporting events, all the boy scouts, all the whatever, and the kid I have, I'll do the same thing and just divided and conquered. But you know, still like how are you going to have that family time? How are you gonna have time with your husband? How are you going to have time for yourself? Didn't think about that. And making that as important as the business plan right, because why do we start these businesses? To have a better life with our family. So so I just asked one because I just was so good. This could go on forever. Tell you there is there one as we end this, is there one favorite thing that's happened in this journey that you just love, that's made a difference, like what makes you feel great about the choice you made? I feel awesome that I've got to do what I wanted to do and I feel awesome I chose a great franchise and I 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 a puppy name is Tillman, after Pat Tillman,...

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

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