On the up · 16 May 2018

K9 Anytime: The startup revolutionising the future of canine care

In a barn conversion tucked away in some of Shropshire’s finest countryside, lies a “dog’s dream day out or night away” at K9 Anytime.

Co-founder of K9 Anytime Tom Haynes ditched a place at Harvard University to pursue the K9 vision alongside co-founder Luke Bird who worked in national account management.

Business Advice caught up with these dog lovers to find out why they feel so passionate about doggy daycare.

  1. What is your business?

Our Doggy Daycare has two large, secure outdoor areas with agility and play equipment and two large indoor daycare rooms with sofas, blankets, cushions, reggae and classical music (proven to have a relaxing effect on pups – science says so) and raised beds. Social, active and stimulating, our K9 Anytimers enjoy the K9 Anytime 4-STEP programme of socialisation, training, exercise and play – improving their social skills, getting an outlet for their energy with unlimited off lead exercise, brushing up on their training and having some serious fun. All dogs attending K9 Anytime Doggy Daycare have had an induction confirming they are sociable and safe with dogs and people.

K9 Anytime Luxury Hotel has an exclusive number of fully furnished, private luxury bedrooms. Memory foam beds, luxury blankets, fluffy cushions, sofas, armchairs, room service meals, reggae and classical music, 24-hour audio and video monitoring, paired with our quiet countryside location means each dog is guaranteed a peaceful and undisturbed stay. Every guest’s preferences, needs and routines are followed exactly as they are at home, and they are welcome to bring all of their home comforts with them (we’ve had everything from favourite slippers to scrambled egg breakfasts and steak dinners). Of the guests in our luxury hotel, those who are suitable can spend their days in the daycare group.

  1. How did you come up with the concept?

A common downside of dogs’ massive inclusion in home life can be that pawrents overlook the need for sufficient, safe and regular socialisation, and some dogs rarely venture much further than their home and family circle as a result. This leaves many dogs unsocialised, under-exercised and, ultimately, unfulfilled, and was something we wanted to change with K9 Anytime Doggy Daycare.

K9 Anytime Luxury Hotel was created as a result of our own struggles to find care for our dogs when we were away knowing that they were in fantastic hands, a safe environment, and getting the care they need and deserve. The massive shift from sofa snuggles and cosy home comforts to kennels, concrete and cages can be traumatic and unsettling for any pup, and we did not want to put ours through it. There was nowhere in nor beyond the Shropshire/Staffordshire area where we felt 100 per cent comfortable leaving our dogs for various reasons (safety, security, cleanliness, level of care, staff attitude, knowledge and training to name but a few…) and we knew we weren’t the only ones who felt this way. We devised a list of absolutely everything we would want and expect from a boarding service, then we created it, and made it even better.

  1. What was key in terms of getting started?

Passion. We still go a little pale to remember what we invested in K9 Anytime in the early days, but the driving force behind our steady growth and increasing success is our simple passion to create an environment which dogs deserve to enjoy. We are firm believers that financial investment will carry a business only so far, and regardless of what might be pumped in, a startup lacking complete dedication to its cause and an absolutely unfaltering work ethic will hit its limits awfully quickly.

  1. What makes the business unique?

In the ‘dog world’, it’s easy to say you’re a dog trainer, walker, carer etc, but your services don’t meet the mark. We pride ourselves on being fully insured, licensed and experienced, and delivering exactly what we advertise time after time, without exception. Every dog who comes into our care leaves having had the very best day possible, their individual needs catered to and their personal preferences observed in a completely safe, secure and closely monitored environment.

When we say K9 Anytime, we mean any time. We’ve taken 2 am phone bookings for 6 am arrival, we’ve opened early and closed late to work around parents’ lifestyles and commitments whenever we’re able. We’re open weekends and bank holidays – if your pup needs us, we’ll be there.

Finally, it’s our relationships with both our K9 Anytimers and their parents. The key to a happy dog is a well informed and actively engaged parent – everyone who brings their dog to K9 Anytime gets feedback about their dog’s day with us, we discuss their needs on an individual basis and work closely together where support is needed.

  1. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?

The deep-rooted normality of dog walking services and scepticism of the daycare concept as “indulgent” or “unnecessary”. Many are yet to understand that we are not here to simply babysit pups while their pawrents are at work. Trying to educate dog pawrents on the massive social, behavioural, emotional, physical and mental benefits of our daycare service and overcoming steadfast beliefs that their dog “doesn’t need” anything beyond their often limited day-to-day life can be difficult. However, more often than not it’s met with amazement at what they didn’t realise their dog was missing out on by being restricted to an hour solo session with a walker once or twice a week or staying at home alone for long periods.

  1. What’s your biggest achievement to date?

A pawrent came to us and said her pooch had become “the family dog they’d always dreamed of” after she’d started attending K9 Anytime a few days a week. Spending play days with us meant that she wasn’t sitting home alone all day, becoming destructive out of boredom or overwhelmingly boisterous of an evening when everyone returned home. Keeping her mentally stimulated, physically active and properly socialised during the day created a much better balance for her and had an enormously positive impact on the whole family as a result.

  1. Describe your marketing technique – what strategies have you used?

The bulk of our marketing is through social media as the overwhelming majority of our customers are active online. We post across our platforms daily and if we’ve told someone something new or useful, or if we’ve made someone happy, we’ve done our job. We run sponsored ads on Facebook and Instagram monthly – Facebook in particular provides endless opportunity to tailor our marketing, review our campaigns’ success and optimise our online presence.

We love interacting with our K9 Anytime community, keeping them up to date with news, receiving their direct feedback and reviews and having fun with them at the same time. A large number of our bookings are also taken via social media. Being able to reply from any place at any time means we can stay flexible and keep no one waiting.

  1. In five years’ time, I will be…

We will be continuing to perfect the K9 Anytime service to become the future of dog care in the UK and a ‘one-stop’ service for all dog parents. It’s still very early to make entirely concrete plans for our next move, and we would never force something that wasn’t ready at absolutely the right time or stage, but we of course have a lot of ideas. Who knows exactly what the future may hold.

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Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.