Bellevue-based Wagly is opening a string of pet-care centers that offer everything from veterinary services to day care and even dog chauffeurs, betting that this integrated approach will help it stand out in a growing market.
After targeting dog owners in San Francisco and Orange County, Calif., with large facilities that offer grooming, daytime care and veterinary services all under one roof, pet-service company Wagly is coming home with a 10,000-square-foot pet-care center in Bellevue’s Lake Hills neighborhood.
The new “pet campus,” which opens next Tuesday and begins serving clients July 1, stands two stories tall and contains a fully operational veterinary hospital.
Bellevue-based Wagly has offered at-home services on the Eastside since late last year, but the new facility marks its first physical center in Washington state. A center in Seattle’s University District will soon follow.
Chief Executive Shane Kelly said the company, backed by more than $10 million from a New York-based private equity firm, plans to open seven more facilities by the end of September. Its workforce is expected to grow from 200 to 900 employees by the end of the year.
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The company’s approach was developed by a team that has come up through the industry.
Kellyserved from 1996 to 1999 as CEO of Pet’s Choice, a Bellevue-based animal-hospital chain that grew to more than 60 locations under his watch. He also was CEO from 2013 to 2015 at Best Friends Acquisition, the parent company of Best Friends Pet Care, which has 38 pet-care service centers and 15 veterinary hospitals across the U.S.
Wagly Chief Medical Officer Peter Brown has practiced veterinary medicine for more than 24 years, founding Chuckanut Valley Veterinary in Burlington, Skagit County, in 1991.
Kelly said their past experience has shown that hospitals with ancillary services — grooming, boarding, etc. — grew twice as fast as those without. So the goal was to create a company where the full range of services are offered at one location with an integrated approach.
“This has sort of been the nirvana of where we wanted to go,” said Kelly.
“We’re providing care for that pet that is in that pet’s best interest,” said Brown. “So that doesn’t matter if it’s a medical case, like an infection, or they need some mental stimulation from going to day camp.”
Veterinarians are integrated into the entire process from day care to overnight stays.
Wagly dog handlers and trainers go through training that focuses on dog communication.
“Professionally working with dogs requires a lot of patience and quick eyes,” said Seth Fox, who manages Wagly’s Bay Area operation and previously ran Smilin’ Dogs, a pet-service company acquired by Wagly.
His approach is to find the sweet spot of mixing training and positive reinforcement with the practical sense of managing play.
“Reading dog body language is like learning another language,” said Fox.
Wagly enters a market whose outlook is bright. The American Pet Products Association reported that U.S. consumers last year spent $60.28 billion on pets. That included $5.41 billion on pet services and $15.42 billion on veterinary care. Those categories are expected to rise 5.9 percent and 3.2 percent respectively this year.
Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Retail, a market-research firm specializing in retail and shopper behavior, said the pet-service industry was strong even during the recession.
She anticipates continued growth because the view of pets as family members is only increasing.
However, consumers can be finicky.
“Convenience and lower price isn’t enough to bring in a very treasured part of the family,” Liebmann said. “They are very conscious about the quality of those services.”
Kelly said that if the company continues to perform at its current rate, he expects revenue to be about $20 million by the end of the year. And in 2017 with 10 to 15 more stores planned, he expects that to double.
Wagly sees its customer base as affluent households who view their pets as family members and live an active lifestyle with them.
The company’s day-care options start at $24 per day, with overnight care starting at about $50 per night. A single full-day day-care pass is $30 at Wagly.
At three other Bellevue-based pet-service providers — Tesslan Dog Spa, A Pampered Pooch and Jax Dog Drop — a single full-day day-care pass ranges from $25 to $36.
Wagly’s grooming, boarding and veterinary services also cater to cats, but the main focus is on dogs.
Fox said offering a full medical opinion and always having instant medical help in emergencies brings “a lot of ease into the pet parent’s life.”
In addition to at-home grooming, walking and pet sitting, Wagly offers chauffeur services: A handler comes to your house, picks up your dog for a day at the pet campus, and returns it home.
Ultimately, Kelly and Brown believe the business’ success will come down to genuinely doing what’s best for the pet.
“You can do well by doing good,” said Kelly. “And this is a great business where you can do good.”