Over two-thirds of American households have at least one pet and the pet care market is one of the fastest growing sectors in the U.S. market. The millenial generation spends more on their pets than any prior generation and that spending is expanding.
April Cox owns Rocky’s Retreat, a boutique dog boarding company in Orlando, FL. They specialize in caring for dogs who are recovering from surgery or illness and who would benefit from the ONLY climate-controlled indoor pool in Florida. Their hydrotherapy classes assist pets with obisity, arthritis, and other disorders.
In a rare appearance Producer Mark sat down with April to discuss the work Rocky’s does with the pets in their charge. They discuss how April purchased the business, her woes with having the wrong software options, and how she is working to grow the company through marketing, staff selection, and picking the right tools to move forward.
Episode 15: April Cox of Rocky’s Retreat – Full Transcript
How much is it going to cost if I just wanted to buy something instead of starting from ground up? And so, I literally just googled “dog daycare for sale Orlando”.
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Mark Miller 1:07
Welcome to Jordan Law’s “Let’s Get Up to Business”. Today instead of Jordan, you get stuck with me, Mark. And I’m sitting with April Cox of Rocky’s Retreat. Rock, April,
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Well, I am originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We moved to Florida when I was in high school. So I actually grew up and went to high school here in Orlando. So I graduated from Dr. Phillips, the first graduating class from Dr. Phillips, the first class that went all four years.
Then I moved back to Pennsylvania and thought that, you know, I wanted to get back to my roots and then it snowed really bad one day and said, “forget that” and I came back to Florida quickly, and I’ve been here ever since. So then I, when I met my husband, we moved to the Space Coast and I lived there for quite some time. So I’ve only been back in Central Florida about five years and so, not having been around for about 20 years, it was a lot different coming back
Mark Miller 2:04
I mean, I’ve only lived here for seven years myself but having visited in like the mid 80s, early 90s and then coming back you know 22, 23 years later was like, this is not the Orlando I remember.
Oh yeah, and it’s interesting because there’s a lot that was still here but you know, every day I drive past something and I’m like, “wow that is so different” or that was not even in existence when I was growing up. Like the whole Mall At Millennia that was not here and you know, so – or at least the traffic but we won’t talk about that.
Mark Miller 2:38
So let’s get one thing out of the way real quick, you are Rocky’s Retreat. Tell us a little bit about that and then let’s give us your contact information so if people want to reach out to you.
Okay, so Rocky’s Retreat, we are a dog daycare and boarding business here in Orlando. We’re just outside of College Park. We have the only indoor heated pool in all Florida for dogs. So a lot of people kind of know me as the girl that swims with dogs because that’s what I put on my social media a lot. But you know, we’re just – it’s Rocky’s Retreat, we’re on Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn and Twitter, more so Facebook and Instagram. We put a lot of videos of our dogs and like our daily life, so it’s a lot of fun.
Mark Miller 3:19
Yeah, if you ever want to see like the happiest dogs in the world, go on the Rocky’s Retreat Instagram. They are just like, I mean, just giddy with excitement and swimming, running, you know, playing.
Yeah, they have a good time.
Mark Miller 3:32
And how can people reach you over there? Is there a phone number, email? What’s the best way?
You can, we have a contact form on our websites, big on the website. They can say they want a tour or they can make a booking through that. You know, our phone number is 407-295-3888. And than people also can reach out to us through our Facebook so, we get a lot of messages that way too.
Mark Miller 3:55
Gotcha, gotcha. Excellent. And now, one thing that I wanted to talk to you about today is, you didn’t start Rocky’s Retreat. You bought that business, correct?
I did. Yes.
Mark Miller 4:04
What was, first of all, why would you buy a pet store? Or a kennel? What, what do you call it so that I call it the right thing?
A pet business. I kind of, and sometimes I say that I’m a pet-preneur, instead of an entrepreneur. Um, well, I, I grew up with dogs. I’ve always had animals, you know, fish, dogs, parakeets, all of that, and grew up with dogs. But as a working adult, I always had cats because they’re easier if you’re traveling or, you know, and so, I mean, they really, yeah, they don’t care if you were there or not.
So we just would, we didn’t, we made, my husband I made a conscious decision not to have dogs because of the way we worked and, and things of that nature. So we got our first dog five years ago, and my dad sent me a picture and said, “Did you know anybody that wants a puppy?”, and of course my husband, threw up all the objections like, “no, we can’t afford a dog”, “we don’t have time”. And I just looked at him and I said, “but he’s so cute”. And so I said, “let’s just go meet him”. Maybe he’ll be a jerk, and we’ll be done with it. Well, he came home with us that day. That was what I just told my husband to get him to agree to go meet him. So then we went to the pet store helpless with a new puppy. And it just literally, yeah, and we bought all the things and you know, it just changed everything. And I just fell head over heels in love. And I just became that crazy dog mom, like started the subscription box. He started going to daycare, like the whole, he went to my dad’s to be babysat. It was everything. And at the same time, I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur. And so you know, I had the lemonade stand, I sold Avon, I used to have a resume writing company. So I always had that, that mindset. And somehow the two just kind of came together. And I said, that’s what I really need to be doing. And so I set that, you know, that plan in my mind. And my husband, of course was like, okay, I’ve heard this is like your 52nd idea. So he really started giving it some merit when I started coming to him with actual facts and figures of the pet industry. So I started studying the industry and said like, no, this is like, I really
Mark Miller 6:19
No, we only have one dog now but there was a time when I would spend on average 200 bucks a month just on, you know, my dog.
Mark Miller 6:29
I have two kids now, I probably spent the same on them. But they’re human beings.
Yeah. My best friend. She’s in her 40s. And her mother still cuts her hair. But she takes her dog to the groomers.
So, so once they started really studying the industry and kind of showing him and making a plan, he was like, okay, she’s really serious about this, you know, and then I just happened to Google, because I wanted to have a number to put to my plan and kind of say, okay, if I’m making this five year plan of where I want to be, I need to know, how much money do I need to have to get this started? And I was just really curious if and when I have all this money, how much is it going to cost if I just wanted to buy something instead of starting from ground up? And so I literally just googled dog daycare for sale Orlando, because I just wanted a number. I was in no way in my mind, ready. Yeah, I and so, so my business came up, it didn’t say the name, it just showed a couple pictures and said, here’s, you know, contact the broker. So I contacted the broker, broker said, you have to sign an NDA. And you know, I’ve been in business long enough and signed enough NDA that I, you know, I read it, and, you know, signed it, and then all the information came back about the business. And at that point, you know, they shared the name of the business and that, I haven’t changed it, so it was Rocky’s Retreat, and my father had actually just passed away, and his dog’s name was Rocky.
Mark Miller 7:57
Well, if that’s not a sign I don’t know what is.
Yeah, so, I told my husband, I have no idea how this is going to happen, but it is happening. And so the previous owners, they had started it in 2011, they were retiring, they really wanted somebody that, that they felt was going to take care of it and really take care of their baby, the way they wanted it to be taken care of. So actually had to write a bio, and submit it to them, before they would even agree to meet me.
Mark Miller 8:24
I actually don’t like that. If I had a business that I actually put my heart or, you know, myself into and I was retiring or moving on to another venture, I would want somebody to take it over that had the same ethical basis or like the same grounding as I would want. I mean, we interview people who’ve come to work here for a reason because we want to make sure that they came with us.
Right. Yeah. Exactly. And so it was probably the, you know, the best thing I’ve ever written. Because that’s how strongly I felt about it. And so they agreed to meet. And so then, you know, and this is when I knew my husband was really taking me seriously, he took a half day off work. My husband never takes time off work. Like he could be on crutches and you know, he doesn’t miss work. So he took a half day off work, came with us. We pretended like we were customers, because the previous owners didn’t want the employees to know yet. You know. And so we just took a tour, and then we left and we met them at the McDonalds around the corner. And so I pulled out my list of questions and three months later, we, we, I, we owned a business. Yep.
Mark Miller 9:33
First one you Googled and now it’s yours.
Yeah, I mean,
Mark Miller 9:36
So, how long have you owned it now?
October 30, this year will be two years.
Mark Miller 9:40
Mark Miller 9:42
And, how’s it going?
And, it’s going, it’s going great. You know, it was, it was a little, it was a lot in the beginning to transition, I still had my job. So I was, I was winding down, I was actually closing down a division of my company. So I was staying on to help them close that down. The timing just kind of worked out. They wanted me to relocate to Kentucky. And so I was like, well, here’s the situation, I actually own a business here now in Orlando. So I stayed on to kind of help close. So the timing was, went really well. But it was, it was a lot to be trying to learn everything from the previous owners,
Mark Miller 10:21
As well as shut down a division for a large company.
Yeah, and then also assure all the customers that I had just taken over that,
Mark Miller 10:31
Basically nothing’s going to change.
Mark Miller 10:32
In fact, it’s going to get better. Or, you know, it’ll be the same but different.
Right. And so, so for the lot, I didn’t really make a lot of changes for, for that first year. I, you know, just really wanted to get in, learn everything, and leave it as seamless as possible, just to keep, you know, all the customers comfortable. And because people are crazy about their dogs.
Mark Miller 10:54
How’s that process? What was that process like, I guess, learning, you know, I mean, going from working for a company to being your own boss at a established business.
Um, so I am very fortunate that the previous owners of the business, again, they cared about it so much, it wasn’t just a pack our suitcases and leave, they spent quite a bit of time with me transitioning, I took two weeks off in the very beginning, and just did a whole bunch of download of information. I’d like to think that I’m pretty intuitive with systems and things so, we didn’t focus a lot on that it was more getting to know the customers how they actually operate the business. I figured, you know, a CRM tool is a CRM tool, it doesn’t matter. If they show me the ins and outs, I could do that part, but wanted to meet customers, spend time with them, get to know the dogs, and just really provide that level of comfort. I think one of the most shocking things to me, as far as a transition was that I had been in business for a really long time, I had been a leader for a really long time and so I kind of went in with this attitude of I know business, that part is no problem for me. And it’s not but the things that, there were little things that caught me by surprise that, like, I haven’t had to do interviews by myself in a really long time. I’ve had recruiters that have done the interviews, and by the time someone got to me, they had been through recruiters and so they had already been weeded out. So it’s that and like, I process my own payroll now. I have a company that I enter it all in the system, but
Mark Miller 12:30
You still have to do the math and the, entering the numbers.
Right. And so it’s those, it’s those types of things that, you know, when I thought about it, yeah, I knew I had to do them but I think that I didn’t realize like, oh, no, this is a big time suck for you. And so, so that that was a big one. And then I think the most expensive learning I had was, I didn’t realize that there was actually a form that I had to submit with the county to actually exempt myself from workers comp, like for my insurance. So I thought, when I did the audit, I just said, I don’t need workers comp, and I didn’t include any of my own hours. And so then I got like a $7,000 bill from my insurance company. Yeah, so, so now that’s on my calendar for like the next 10 years, to make sure I renew.
Mark Miller 13:21
Every three months til forever.
So that was a, you know, and I guess it makes sense but I didn’t know that there really was an actual form that you have to like, apply with it.
Mark Miller 13:31
Why would you think about that unless you had to think about that?
Yeah, so that’s, that’s probably a big piece of advice for anybody is, make sure you’re really exempt from your workers comp, if you want to be exempt.
Mark Miller 13:42
An expensive lesson, but a lesson that you won’t make again.
You don’t, you don’t repeat those expensive lessons.
Mark Miller 13:49
So what, what motivates you to succeed? What keeps you going to work every day now?
Unknown Speaker 13:56
I think a big part of what motivates me now is feeling very personally attached to this business and feeling that my father kind of brought it to me. So that’s a big part of what motivates me, I just really, I do love the dogs like I, I, I went overboard with, with, with the dogs. And, ’cause now I have two and you know, they come to work with me, not all the time, but they do come to work with me. But I just, I really, I love it. Especially the time that we spend in the pool, with the dogs doing the therapy, you know, we do therapy, but we also do fun swimming, but I just, even if I’m having a bad day, once I get in the pool with the dogs, I just, I’m so happy. And even if I don’t realize that I’m happy, you know, our, I have a photographer that works for us that comes and takes pictures and you know, he shows me the pictures and it’s like I’m smiling from ear to ear. And I just, you know, so I do get a really good sense of fulfillment. I think throughout my career, you know, I spent, you know, first 10 years, kind of like in restaurants, and then I wanted to do something more, you know, more using my brain. And so then I worked in ecommerce for 13 years, and then I felt like I want to do something that’s more meaningful, you know, you can only sell so many handbags. And so then I went to specialty pharmacy. And I was, you know, the department that I, that I ran, we helped people that needed copay assistance so I felt that I was, you know, I was contributing, and I was helping people that needed the help. But it’s still just didn’t feel like I was doing something that was, that was very meaningful to me. And so I do get that fulfillment from from helping the dogs and from giving parents, you know, pet parents, that sense of comfort, if they’re traveling or going on vacation. Like sometimes I have people that cry when they drop off their dogs, I have people that, you know, when they drop them off for boarding, I have people who, you know, if their dog has some type of ailment, and they’re bringing them for swimming, they’re doing acupuncture, they’re doing you know, cold laser therapy, they’re giving them every herbal remedy known to man like they’re, they’re literally trying everything they can. So, being able to be a part of that care and kind of help them through that, I’m their therapist. So, while I’m in the pool with the, with the dog, I’m talking to Mom, I’ve you know, cried with moms, I, just two weeks ago, I was with a dog on his last day, you know, before they, you know, they had to let him go because of his, his ailment. And so it was very important to his mom for him to swim and have a happy last day. You know, so it just that gives me a very big sense of fulfillment.
Mark Miller 16:33
Tell me about the swimming with dogs, I know, like, free play and fun in the water, that’s one thing. But, what like, what, what kind of therapy are they doing that swimming would be involved?
Um, so we get dogs that are recovering from a surgery so, it’s low impact. And so, they get to move around without, without the impact. So they can have, dogs have what’s equivalent of an ACL surgery so they, they can do the low impact for that. We have dogs that just need general mobility so if they have arthritis, or you know, muscle loss in the back their legs. So they age just like we do, so things start to get old and creaky like, like for us so that helps. I get dogs that need to swim for weight loss, because if they are overweight, their legs are so much smaller than ours, they can’t really take a lot of walking. So, they come for weight loss since it is low impact. So, it’s those types of things that people come for swimming. The dog that came for his last day he had degenerative Myelopathy, which is basically becoming paralyzed, but when he got in the water, he could move like nobody’s business.
Mark Miller 17:48
Wow, that’s, I mean, that’s tough.
Mark Miller 17:55
You know, that they had to, they had to make that decision. But, I mean, we’ve all, if you’ve been a pet owner you’ve had to make that decision at some point, it’s one of the hardest decisions you could make. But, at least they gave him a good last day.
Unknown Speaker 18:04
Oh, yeah, he had an amazing day. He’s, you know, and that, and the thing, that’s the thing, some dogs, you know, I have, one of my dogs, I have two, two of them, and my one loves it, and he will belly flop in the water 100 times if you let him. And than my other one puts on the brakes and he’s like, I want nothing to do with it. But dogs that really love it, like they have such a great time and, and really enjoy it and you can’t get them out of the water.
Mark Miller 18:28
Yeah, my, I, I had two, I have the one chihuahua but we had two chihuahuas at one point, it was quite brutal. And the chihuahuas did not like, still, you know, Car doesn’t like the water. Chewy didn’t like water, Coltrane, you know, beauty. I lived alone, or, you know, my wife came out to Florida to do law school and I stayed at home or back in Phoenix with Chewy and Coltrane and the house that I lived in had a pool. I would wake up in the morning, and there would be a big wet spot at the bottom of my bed ’cause Col had gone out to the restroom, you know, go out in the middle of the night.
And he jumped in. That’s so funny. That would totally be my, my lab. I, I, so, our laundry room at the businesses is attached to the pool room and he was following me around one day and so he came and I turned my back to like, take the laundry from the washer into the dryer, and I just hear this big crash behind me. And he’s looking at me like, aren’t you gonna throw the ball?
Mark Miller 19:26
Get out of there, I’m doing laundry. So let’s talk about business. I remember talking to you a while ago, you talked about the CRM that you were using, the Client Relationship Manager or Management software. That one that you came into the business with was not the best.
It, it, it is not, I still have it. We’re in the process of transitioning. I want to wait until, so we’re doing all of the front loading and we’re loading, you know, customers and things like that we’re not really going to pull the switch until after Labor Day, because we get a little bit quietier after Labor Day, so we’ll be still pretty busy until then and then, not that we won’t have you know, customers but it’s, we won’t be so full. And so I’d rather, right. So from, so from Labor Day to Thanksgiving is when I have to get it, all the kinks worked out and, and all of that.
Mark Miller 20:14
And what was the process of finding a new piece of software for that?
Again, I just started like googling, you know, pet software and stuff like that. They’ll give you demos so I demoed quite a few. They’ll let you, you know, they give you, they’ll give you a demo, they’ll give you like a test login and things like that. I really learned our software in and out and knew what we could do, what we couldn’t do. And then just thought of all the things of where I want to take the business and things that I need to improve. So, for example, I actually have to use two systems to, for every booking, and so that-
Mark Miller 20:53
That seems inconvenient.
It’s very inconvenient. So one is the, one is like the resort, the pet resort software so it’s almost like what you would look for room availability, and we track all of the dog records. But than the other one is where we do appointments. So if I make swim appointments and things like that, but it’s also where we charge everybody. And that software was actually not even intended for pet businesses, it’s like more of a Fitness Studio kind of software.
Mark Miller 21:21
I can see how that would, it would make sense that that would transition over, but you would want something that’s more built for what you’re doing.
Unknown Speaker 21:30
So that, you know, one of the biggest gains I’m going to get is that I’m only going to be in one place and I get to do all of those things. It’s, we’re going to have a customer portal now so customers can actually, they can create up their pet themselves online. We’ll create our existing customers, but a new customer can log in, create their pet, submit all their records, if they get updated records, they can submit them, so that’ll be more seamless. They can request their bookings through that. So it’ll be very customer friendly, we can send out report cards through it and stuff like that. So kind of just really bringing it into today’s customer and what they expect and how they communicate. You know, people text, people email, and yeah,
Mark Miller 22:14
People like to text and not so much the you gotta call to set up an appointment.
Mark Miller 22:16
Gotcha, that’s excellent.
Unknown Speaker 22:18
Yeah. So and then I’m also in a lot of like, Facebook forums for this industry. And so just asking in the forums, what do you guys use? And so people are very willing to offer their opinions on the different softwares and so yeah.
Mark Miller 22:39
I mean, I know the pet industry is huge. Obviously, it’s, you know, one of the faster growing industries, I think, if I remember my economics podcast correctly. How, I guess, what is the competition like for what you do? And how do you stand out in that, in that crowded marketplace? Or that getting crowded marketplace?
It is a very competitive space. I come from a long history of customer service. And I, when I worked in ecommerce, I worked with a lot of really high end brands. And so, I’m very used to a high level of customer service and really going above and beyond. And so, I think that we stand out by the level of service that we give and the attentiveness and the care that we give. There are a lot of places that, the way we care for the pets is a little different. We’re more like a one on one or very small playgroups, where some places are, you know, 20 dogs out at once and so that kind of sets us apart. And that’s not for everybody, some people want their dogs to be with 20 other dogs, and that’s fine for those dogs. But some parents come to us specifically because we are smaller, and that’s more what we cater to. So, we also take dogs don’t get along with other dogs, which a lot of places won’t take. We don’t breed discriminate, or require them to be neutered either. So, because we’re very careful. And so if we get a dog who doesn’t like other dogs, he just goes out by himself. So, exactly. And then again, it’s just really the customer service. We really build relationships, get to know the dogs, you know, if we hear that a dog was sick, you know, if they, if they call us and say “hey, Fluffy is not coming this week, because she has a cold”, we’ll call and ask like, “hey, how’s she doing?”, we send cards and just really try to go above and beyond.
Mark Miller 24:44
That’s excellent. Do you offer any veterinary services or anything like that?
No, we, we, we have retail and so we sell, we sell supplements and all natural products. So we sell like skin soother and things, because Florida dogs tend to be very itchy. Yeah, yeah, so we sell, we sell like a line called Natural Dog Company that’s all of that. But it’s, none of it is, needs a prescription. We do sell CBD oil for dogs, and we sell treats and things like that. We do have a vet right across the street, which a lot of parents really love that that, you know, if we did need a vet, the vet is right across the street. And then we are also CPR certified. So if there’s a cut, a bruise, bug bite, something, yeah, we can kind of bandage them and take care of it across the street. Yeah.
Mark Miller 25:43
Most of the places that we’ve taken our dogs have been vet and kennel. But we also have a friend who’s a veterinarian, and it’s like where should we take them? So she’s been good about helping us with that because she’s a little bit too far away for us to take them there. So, one of the things, before we wrap up, let me ask you again, can you give everybody your information, your website, your phone number again?
So our website is just RockysRetreat.com. So it’s R-O-C-K-Y-SRetreat.com. Our Facebook is Rocky’s Retreat Canine Health and Fitness Center, which is a mouthful. And than our Instagram is it @RockysRetreat.
Mark Miller 26:28
One thing that we ask of every interview that we do to finish up and you can take as long as you want, we say we’ll edit out the dead time, I haven’t yet, ever. What is one piece of professional advice that you can give to anybody listening to this or to anybody who might come across this podcast?
I really think that the best advice I could give is really just to be authentic. It just it really comes through in everything that you do, whether you’re a business owner, whether you’re an employee, helping somebody on the phone, whether you’re, you know, a manager in a call center. When you’re authentic, people will listen to what you have to say and you can get more buy in from people. I think that especially the way the Internet saturates everything we do these days, I think everyone’s BS detectors are, are up. You know, I mean, just before we started, you and I were talking about all these spam calls that we get, you know, so we, we kind of are trained now to detect, you know, BS when we see it and just ignore it. And so I think that, when you’re really authentic with what you have to say, and with what you’re putting out there, regardless of your venue, that people are more responsive to it.
Mark Miller 27:44
Well, thank you April, I appreciate you coming in.
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
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