It’s a classic startup tail: Disillusionment with corporate life sends a would-be founder fetching for fresh ideas and more innovative inspiration. Woof’s Play & Stay provided Andy Wiltz the opportunity to scratch that itch, the dog spa owner said.
Purchasing the plateauing brand in 2015, Wiltz turned his original Merriam location into a model for doggie daycare and spa sites in Leawood, Manhattan, Topeka and Lawrence, he said. Three of the stores are already operational, with the other two set to go live in early 2019, he added.
“The dogs are happier, parents are happier, and instead of spiraling out of control — it spiraled in control and just kept feeding on itself,” said Wiltz, president and owner of Woof’s. “It got to the point where we were at capacity most of the year. I was having to refer my customers to competitors whenever we were full. But now that we’ve got another location here in Kansas City, I can just refer to my other location.”
Sharing ownership with partners and being retained as president was part of Wiltz’s growth strategy for the brand, he added, noting he collects royalties from the Manhattan location as a fully-licensed and independent space.
“My constraints were that I’d only be able to open up maybe one store a year, get it profitable and then focus on the next store,” said Wiltz. “So I could only grow at a certain pace, but by partnering with somebody who has more money and capacity — that’s why we’re able to open up more stores more quickly.”
To grow the original Merriam site, Wiltz focused on customer engagement by updating the dog monitor system and social media presence, as well as investing in employees to decrease the high turnover rate, he said.
“[Having] a low turnover is good for my human customers; they’re seeing the same faces every day. For my four legged customers — when they go out to the yard, they already know that person and the person knows the dog, so we can manage the dogs better,” he added. “The dogs go home happier, and when the dogs go home happy, their parents are happier, so they bring their dogs more.”
Now responsible for maintaining more than 40 jobs, transitioning from 10 years in the corporate world meant the initial loss of an established sounding board, said Wiltz.
“When you’re the owner of a business, you don’t have peers that you can interact with on a daily basis,” he said. “One of my peers is a dentist and he owns his own dental practice, and the other ones are veterinarians, which is fairly close to what I’m doing but different. So that was an initial struggle.”
With several years of financial history for Woof’s already on the books, the business had an easier start and clearer growth projections, he added.
“I could see that [Woof’s] were growing up to this point and then they kind of plateaued and then it started sliding down,” said Wiltz. “I could see the trend that they’ve been on. So, [my] projections weren’t strictly a shot in the dark.”