While it’s no secret the dogs of America have been relishing the extra quality time as we remain stuck at home during the COVID-19 outbreak, social distancing has prevented them from enjoying quality time with their furry friends due to the closures of doggy daycares.
One of these doggy daycares that closed its doors is The Watering Bowl in St. Louis, Missouri. Unique in its concept that dogs should spend time with each other all day instead of rotating in and out of crates, The Watering Bowl is the only cage-free doggy daycare in the area and prides itself on its dedication to clients and their four-legged loved ones.
The business started in 2010 with one location. Ten years later, they have grown to four locations and 118 employees. However, General Manager Stacy Summers said they made the hard decision to furlough all but six of their staff members during this time.
“We are down,” Stacy said. “We have furloughed everybody except me, the general manager, one store manager, our HR manager, and our three dog trainers.”
Just because the doggy daycare is closed doesn’t mean Stacy and her team aren’t hard at work. We spoke with her about how the Watering Bowl is keeping customers engaged and cash flowing. She also shared how she and her team are making the most out of the downtime.
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The benefits of strong community ties
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of building a community. The Watering Bowl has a strong online presence and interacts often with their doggy daycare clients through Facebook and Instagram posts, as well as emails with updates on their situation.
“Whenever [COVID-19] first hit, we reached out to clients telling them what we do to sanitize everything and then I would say within that first week we reached out to people three times,” Stacy said. “We’ve been posting on Facebook and our customers send us messages and reach out on social media a lot. They have been posting pictures of their dogs saying they miss us.”
Thanks to this tight bond between The Watering Bowl and the clients they serve, their efforts to bring in funds have been very successful.
“To get cash flow in at the very beginning, we offered gift cards right off the bat: $40 equaled $50 on your account,” Stacy said. “I started a Venmo account, and people just flooded it. It was amazing. We received $40,000 in the first week.”
A GoFundMe account that was launched to help the furloughed employees saw the same success. The promoted the account through email and their popular social media channels. According to Stacy, the fundraiser “reached its $5,000 goal within a week and a half.”
The Watering Bowl was also lucky enough to witness firsthand how generous local businesses can be to each other in times of need.
“Treats Unleashed, a local pet supply store, donated a ton of dog food to us for our people in need, so that was amazing,” Stacy said.
Adapting to the downtime
Aside from the initial gift cards, The doggy daycare has found several ways to stay relevant and in business in a contactless world.
“We’ve been offering virtual training, virtual classes and private lessons,” Stacy said. “We’ve partnered with five foster organizations and have been offering free classes for new fosters twice a day throughout the week for them.”
Stacy also included curbside creativity in the growing list of effective business strategies from which they have benefitted.
“We’ve started offering curbside nail trimming. People are going to start dropping their dogs off by the curb, we’ll trim their nails, and give them back.”
The campaign is already off to a great start—appointments sold out in minutes, even with extra time added on.
The Watering Bowl’s next priority during the downtime is making use of the empty space—a rarity in a business that never fully shuts down.
“One of our trainers, whenever he’s not training, deep cleans and fixes a lot of stuff,” she said. “He’s getting real dirty with it. Dog hair is crazy hard to get, and we’ve never actually closed closed, so that dog hair needed to come out.”
Looking ahead to reopening
Stacy said the main priority when it comes to setting a reopening date is to make sure everyone’s safe.
“The counties actually deemed our owners to be an essential business, but we don’t want to open before the peak hits. We’re erring on the side of caution and won’t open until that’s over,” she said.
When the time comes to get fully back to business there will be some adaptations to ensure everyone stays healthy, including rearranging staff and a new role entirely.
“We’re going to add a ‘wiper downer’ person—that’s actually what it’s going to be called—who’s basically going to be in charge of sanitizing the place on every shift,” Stacy said. We also have to think about making sure our front-end is more staffed than our back-end because we’re going to be offering curbside services and we need to make sure we have more people in the front.”
Scheduling in general will be different for the doggy daycare as well.
“The first thing we’ll do is pull the managers back in to reach out to their employees and decide who we need the most and get that schedule going,” Stacy said. “We’ll also really need to determine what that schedule looks like. Everything’s up in the air, we don’t know what business is going to be, so we won’t apply the regular template.”
The Watering Bowl also plans to have an influx of doggy daycare clients once the government lifts forced closures.
“We’re going to put out an announcement. We’re going to send out emails and put it on Facebook and Instagram. And seriously encourage people to make reservations ahead of time,” Stacy said.
“We are going to have to consider at what capacity we’re going to cap services off. If we are busier than our staffing allows, then we’ll keep pulling from our furloughed employees.”
In the meantime, Stacy is focusing on inspiring employees and clients alike to stay strong.
“We’ve been trying to keep busy. I’m trying to get some people together to sing ‘The Dog Days are Over’ by Florence and the Machine. We want to inspire our clients that the dog days are going to be over soon. It’s also a good way to keep our employees interested and engaged.”
The Watering Bowl is a great example of how businesses can stay focused, relevant, and connected even through difficult times. Staying top of mind with clients and providing unique services will set you up for success in the future.