| Until Pets Are Inn came
along, the choice for pet owners taking trips was pretty much a kennel or an understanding
friend. By boarding pets in private homes where hosts treat them royally, the
12-year-old company found a nice niche in the $10 billion a year U.S. pet care business.
Company franchising began in 1885.
Ann and Jim Platt, an Edina couple, bought the franchise company
two years ago after operating the biggest Pets Are Inn franchise unit since 1987. For the
Platts, who enjoy an entrepreneurial challenge, Pets Are Inn is a second-career company,
as it is for many of the 20 franchises operating from Florida to California to Hawaii.
A Mankato State business graduate, Ann broke new ground just out
of school as the first woman in management at the Farm Credit Banks in St. Paul. She
later worked as a Xerox sales executive and a computer dealer before buying the Pets Are
Inn franchise for Minneapolis and its southern suburbs.
"I enjoy being my own boss," she admits. "I
couldn't go back to the corporate world."
Ann pays 40 subcontractors - who are chosen after she interviews them personally-to board
pets owned by her 750 customers. She picks up the pets, delivers them and keeps track of
how the owners want them fed and cared for. Last year, her gross revenues reached
She charges customers from $15 to $22 a day to board a dog,
depending on its size or other factors. It's $12 a day for a cat.
"We're a little bit higher (than a kennel), but we should be
because they're going into a private home and not a cage," Ann said.
Jim graduated from Purdue in industrial management,
worked for Control Data, became a top salesman for Bermel-Smaby Realtors and formed 1st
American Realty. He does consulting in real estate and insurance.
In the last year, he spent more and more time planning a major
expansion of the franchise company. While he focuses on sales, marketing and
training programs, Ann runs her operation and advises franchisees.
"It's a challenge," he said. "I see 25 or 30 people to
get one franchise. People have to be at a point in their life to make a
Naturally, the couple loves pets. Ann grew fond of animals while
growing up on a dairy farm near Faribault. Jim's father and grandfather raised beagles for
hunting in his native Indiana and he always had a dog. The Platts have two schnauzers and
occasionally board another dog.
About 90 percent of the boarded animals are dogs and nine percent are cats. But the Platts
report that their guests also have included an iguana, rabbits, ferrets, rats, guinea
pigs, birds and gerbils. |
When Ann matches pets with their temporary caretakers, she takes
note of children or other pets in the house and whether a pet is accustomed to sleeping
with its owner. She says the perfect caretaker is a retired person with a fenced in yard.
"Caretakers have to be in it for the love of pets," she said.
"These people aren't going to be millionaires by taking care of
pets for us." The caretakers usually are paid from $100 to $150 a month. A pet's
average stay is about eight days, although some boarders remain as long as three months.
In the last year or so, the couple has revamped the franchise
firm, prepared new marketing materials and a new offering circular for prospective
franchisees. They made a 7-Minute franchising video, paid for a television commercial
running on cable in Burnsville and Eagan and added a toll-free, 1-800-248-PETS number for
The Platts used savings and a home mortgage loan to finance the
franchise company purchase and revamping. They want to expand Pets Are Inn from 20
franchises to 1,000 by the turn or the century. "The first 100 are the
toughest," Jim said. But after selling a house a week in his real estate career, he
thinks the ambitious goal can be met.
A franchisee invests between $27,000 and $37,000 to open a
business. The two biggest costs are a $15,000 franchise fee and a vehicle, which cost from
$8,000 to $15,000. Franchisees are trained by the Edina company for four days.
Plans include expanding from three Twin Cities franchises (two in
Minneapolis and one in St. Paul) and the eastern suburbs, three in Minneapolis and one in
Pets Are Inn was founded by a Minneapolis couple, Harry and Kal
Sanders-Greenberg, who didn't like leaving their dog at kennel when they traveled.