PITTSBURGH (AP) — Chris Kane had just gotten engaged about four years ago when his employer, Del Monte Foods on the North Shore, told the Fox Chapel native it was transferring him to San Francisco.
About the same time, childhood friend and dog-lover Jesse Coslov approached Kane about starting a dog-care business in Pittsburgh. Reluctant to relocate, Kane joined Coslov to launch The Dog Stop in 2009.
"Del Monte is the largest pet snack producer, so I had some background in this," said Kane, who pooled his personal savings with Coslov's.
Since 2009, the business has taken off like a greyhound. The Dog Stop grew to two locations in two years (East Liberty, then Banksville), and is opening a third location at the end of October in the Strip District, which recently became its headquarters.
The full-service business provides day care, boarding, grooming and obedience-training services, plus sells unique dog treats and toys. Employment has roughly doubled to 40 since 2011, and will grow to about 55 when the Strip District location opens, Kane said.
"Our advantage is that we supply everything for your dog under one roof," said Coslov, who had long devoted time to local dog-rescue operations before leaving his job as a commercial developer.
"But we still have people ask us where the hot dogs are," said Coslov with a laugh.
Coslov said the Strip District location should draw business from dog owners Downtown, where the population has increased to more than 3,600 from about 2,700 in 2000, according to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. He expects plenty of clients will come from Strip District apartment complexes that opened in recent years, such as the Cork Factory and the Otto Milk Loft, as well as from residential developments on the drawing boards.
Kane projects revenue will grow from $1.4 million in 2012 to $1.7 million this year, excluding any estimates from the new location.
The Dog Stop is poised to license its first franchisee, with a letter of intent from someone who plans to open a location on 11?4 acres in Monroeville as early as next spring.
Mark Lando, who joined The Dog Stop in June as chief operating officer with 35 years of retail and franchise experience, said they plan for conservative growth in Pittsburgh and markets close to it in size and proximity.
"We want to be the best, not the biggest," said Lando. "We want to be able to service the franchisees right."
Competitors for dog-only services tend to be small businesses and tend to be in the suburbs, versus The Dog Stop's Pittsburgh neighborhoods, said Coslov. Plus, the big chains, Petco and PetSmart, are pitching all things to all animals.
Other factors feed The Dog Stop's growth, said Lando. With baby boomers aging, there's more empty nesters, and many of them buy dogs needing care. Plus, people tend to spend on their dogs, even when the economy is down.
"Dogs are America's favorite pet. So even when money was tight during recession, people took care of their dogs, and their spending has risen," said Tierra Bonaldi, spokesperson for the American Pet Products Association. It estimates the pet product and services industry has grown from $43.2 billion in 2008 to $53.3 billion last year. The association did not have dog-only data.
But Martin Deeley, executive director of the International Association of Canine Professionals estimates dog care and products accounts for about $50 billion of current spending. He said that today, "there's more dog trainers walkers and day-care centers than ever."
Laura Burke, a dog owner who lives in Fox Chapel, began using The Dog Stop four years ago in East Liberty, where she drops off "Buddy" for the day while she taught school in Homestead.
"They are not even on my way to work anymore, but I still use them," said Burke, who now runs a karate studio in Wexford. She uses The Dog Stop for grooming and for boarding when she goes out of town.
"There's no reason to try other places because they serve all my needs, and everyone who works there treats your dog like their own," she said.
Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com