Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:23 pm
Schwanberg was barking up the right tree with Doggy Day Care idea
By Heather Stur, SBT Reporter
Frank and Beans scamper through the door, Frank heading straight for the playroom while Beans stays closer to adoptive mother Jackie Schwanberg, owner of a unique day care center. Schwanberg gently steps over Beans to tend to Frank before he heads to the playroom. Beans follows Schwanberg into her office and takes a seat at her feet.
Schwanberg’s newest day care center in Milwaukee in some ways resembles any other such facility. A playhouse and a jungle gym sit in the middle of the playroom, a sprawling area with plenty of room to run around. Day care attendants shuttle their charges between the playroom and an outdoor playground for various activities. A daily schedule allots time for snacks, games and naps.
But Schwanberg’s clients are not necessarily parents of young children. They are dog owners, and they seek quality care for their pets.
"People want to take care of their pets," said Schwanberg, owner of Doggy Day Care Inc. "To many owners, their dogs are like children. You don’t skimp on the care of your children."
A lot of southeastern Wisconsin residents must feel that way. At a time when economic conditions are causing some businesses to suffer, Doggy Day Care has expanded.
And Schwanberg’s success has captured national attention; a November issue of Newsweek magazine cited Schwanberg — complete with photograph — as an example of successful entrepreneurs who have used technology to help launch and expand their businesses.
The Newsweek article noted how she used Excel spreadsheets in her business plan, how she used the Internet for market research, and how she uses QuickBooks to handle taxes and payroll, and a custom program to keep information on the dogs.
Schwanberg coupled her career background in sales, marketing and management with her undergraduate degree in veterinary technology to open Doggy Day Care in January of 1997, financed by a home-equity loan. A little more than a year later the business outgrew its original 3,000-square-foot facility on Hemlock Street, near 60th Street and Good Hope Road on Milwaukee’s northwest side, and moved into a larger space on the same block.
Schwanberg later added a facility in South Milwaukee and, through a partnership with Harmony Pet Care, a Waukesha facility was added. Veterinarian Brenda Biermeier, owner of Harmony, became Schwanberg’s business partner.
But after four years in South Milwaukee, the business outgrew that location, prompting Schwanberg to close it in December and to open a much bigger facility in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point, on First Street just south of downtown. The facility, a former International truck and automobile dealership built in the 1930s, features 7,000 square feet of indoor space and 3,000 square feet outside.
Doggy Day Care serves about 45 dogs per day, Monday through Friday at each of its three locations. On weekends it hosts "sleepovers," in which dogs spend the night at the facility. Doggy Day Care also offers behavior assessment, grooming, training classes, pet birthday parties and shuttle services, picking up dogs in the morning and dropping them off in the evening.
Schwanberg attributes the business growth to the love her 40 employee share with her for their animal charges. "The health and well-being of pets is our first priority and people can see that," she said. "People know that there are professionals here and that their dogs will be safe. It’s not like just having family or friends watch your dog."
Schwanberg’s degree in veterinary technology and training in animal psychology have kept the business from going to the dogs. She and her staff determine the compatibility of the dogs for one another, and schedule playtime based on those pairings. To an untrained observer the playtime may seem unruly and that more help is needed, but the dogs are in control and not allowed to get too rambunctious. And, Schwanberg says, too many humans in the room would confuse the dogs, as they won’t know whom to obey.
Right now, Schwanberg has no plans to expand Doggy Day Care to a fourth location. But talk to her in a year, and she may have changed her mind. In the meantime, she’s busy attending to clients’ needs, which sometimes involves tossing tennis balls and reminding a golden retriever that he is loved.
Doggy Day Care Inc.
North: 5780 W. Hemlock St., Milwaukee 53223
Phone: 414-353-9991, Fax: 414-353-9202
Downtown: 420 S. 1st St., Milwaukee 53204
Phone: 414-347-9612, Fax: 414-347-9620
West/Harmony Pet Care: 1208 Dolphin Ct., Waukesha 53186
Phone: -262-446-CARE, Fax 262-446-9773
Daily visits: $17 per dog, $29 for two dogs
Behavior assessment: $10 per dog
Sleepovers: $23.50 per dog for one-day session plus one night stay, $42 for two dogs
Grooming: $25 and up
Nail trimming: $8 and up
Shuttle service: $3.75-$11
Birthday parties: $25 and up per hour
Feb. 21, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee
(The following is the February 1997 Small Business Times story on Doggy Day Care by SBT Editor David Niles:)
Jackie Schwanberg recalls walking her dog on cold winter days at "Dog Park" — an unofficial dog-walking park on the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa.
"Wouldn’t it be great if there were a place for these dogs to play inside on days like this?" she would ask herself.
Now there is.
Schwanberg is the latest to cash in on the growing convenience industry for pet owners. On Jan. 27 she opened Doggy Day Care on the northwest side of Milwaukee. It’s not a new idea – pet day-care centers are located elsewhere in the US. But it’s new to Milwaukee – a situation which Schwanberg notes added a twist to her start-up scenario as Milwaukee city officials had to figure out just what category of business she belonged to.
With that determination made, and a kennel license in hand, Schwanberg’s new business is set to cater to Milwaukee-area dog owners who feel a little guilty leaving their pets home alone all day.
While her career has been in the pharmaceutical industry, Schwanberg holds a veterinarian technician’s degree along with degrees in sociology and business [a minor].
"I’ve always been an animal lover," she said on a reporter’s recent tour of her facility.
The 3,200-square-foot facility formerly served as a dog obedience school, so it was a natural for Schwanberg to take over when the obedience school owner went part-time and merged with another school.
Of the total area, 2,800 square feet is being used for a play area where dogs — grouped by suitability — can romp around together under supervision and get some basic manners training. The area includes a "quiet time" corner where the dogs will be able to rest between play times. There is also outdoor space available for walks.
Schwanberg has set up a fee schedule based on daily, half-day and overnight visits. While Schwanberg said dogs will benefit from the social interaction of the day-care, a five-days-a-week schedule could be too much for a dog, she noted, recommending that two to three days a week would be ideal.
The day-care will accommodate 40 dogs. Before enrollment, dogs must undergo an evaluation.
The center will also offer bathing and grooming and a line of pet food and related products. Full-fledged obedience classes are also planned. Some of the sideline work will be handled by independent contractors.
Schwanberg is the sole owner of the business and has hired Anne Hicks as manager. She anticipates hiring about four more people.
The business was financed via a home equity loan Schwanberg obtained through Firstar Bank. The $20,000 loan and an additional $13,000 from personal lenders provided funds for the building lease and remodeling along with working capital. First-year revenue projections are about $79,000.
The business is located at 5605 W. Hemlock St., just north of Good Hope Road. Schwanberg or Hicks can be contacted at 353-9991.
February 1997 Small Business Times, Milwaukee