Luxuries have had to be looked at in a different light since the COVID-19 pandemic hit almost two years ago.
Whether it is due to safety, time, or finances, the things people splurged on have to be considered and reconsidered before a decision is made.
One area at home that hasn’t taken a hit has been how pets are treated. As the saying goes, they are part of the family. And thus, doggy daycare has not skipped a beat for one’s four-legged friend. While there have been a couple of hiccups – like when practically all non-essential businesses closed in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic – pet owners have continued to send Man’s Best Friend for a day or two of romping, slobbering and napping with their best friends, both human and canine.
“We’ve been really busy; real consistent throughout the pandemic,” said Nicole Bryant, co-owner, with her mother, Kim Gleason, of K9 Club in Concord. “I can’t say (the pandemic) has affected us.”
Others experienced a brief slowdown in business, only to rebound – and then some.
“When people lost their jobs (at the start of the pandemic) I thought (doggy daycare) is a luxury item and not a necessity and I could be in trouble,” said Christy Martel, owner of Four Paws Inn, in Meredith. “It was scary for me. I didn’t know if it was going to go back to normal.”
And it certainly was scary for Martel at first. She estimates she lost 30 percent of her business in 2020. But, she noted, with the help of money from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Main Street Relief Fund she was able to right the ship and provide services for her customers by hiring new employees. She was also able to offer paid time off, health care and a retirement plan for her 20 employees, which was up from 17 before the pandemic.
“I am so thankful for the help from PPP and Main Street Relief Fund,” Martel said. “That money helped me keep my business open. Now I am thriving, and even making repairs. Without that money, I am not sure I would have survived.”
Four Paws Inn didn’t only gain employees during the pandemic. The Lakes Region business added grooming.
“We are back and we are booming,” Martel said. “We are busier now than pre-Covid.”
Coastal Canine Resort in North Hampton, like many others, had to withstand the initial shutdown that came for practically all industries.
“We have experienced a roller coaster of sorts since the pandemic,” General Manager Corey Crisp said. “We shut down when everyone else did on March 17, 2020, until about mid-April. When we opened up it was pretty much crickets. We finally started to turn a profit again in June (2020). We only lost money those three months. After that, business has been really great for us.”
Part of the reason for Coastal Canine’s sustained success was that Crisp and ownership stepped back and looked at how the business was run and what changes needed to be made in the new pandemic world.
The most obvious differences were shaving off an hour at the end of the day during the week and eliminating weekend daycare, which had been offered from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. And without being staffed all day on the weekends, pick-up time for boarders was now limited to four time slots.
“As far as our employee’s happiness, they love the one less hour,” Crisp said. “And they work harder because they know there is one less hour in the day.
“It took a couple of months (for all of our clients) to first catch on, but the majority of them knew where we were coming from.”
One thing that has helped most facilities has been the “Covid puppies” phenomenon.
When Covid struck and much of the population was stuck inside, droves of people felt it was the perfect time to get a new member of the family. After a few months, new owners started to realize the balls of fluff needed to get all their energy out. With people heading back to the office or engaged in work from home, calls were being made.
In addition to daycare, dog walkers were also being contacted as a way to occupy a dog’s time. For Rebecca Cormier, owner of The Buddies, a dog walking service based in Laconia, she jumped at the chance to take advantage and help grow her nascent company.
After three months of dog walking on a part-time basis, Cormier switched to full-time in July 2019. Any clientele she built up was practically wiped clean when Covid struck. “Covid puppies” helped her rebound.
“I am pretty active on social media and am part of community pages and dog mom groups,” Cormier explained. “I noticed during (the pandemic) lots of posts of people looking to get a dog. I was able to market to them because I knew people were getting dogs and eventually they would go back (to work) and need help.”
Martel, at Four Paws Inn, said she’s noticed more people getting dogs, but until she can get a bigger location – or a second one – she’s had to turn them away.
“I have no place for (Covid puppies) – that’s how busy I am,” Martel said. “I was looking for a second location, but unfortunately there is nowhere to purchase in my area.”
Another area that has seen its ups and downs has been dog boarding. At the start of the pandemic, no one was going anywhere. Vacations were being postponed or canceled and trips to friends’ houses were put on hold. And the industry felt it. Once vaccinations were introduced and virus contraction numbers went down, those vacations that had been on the back burner, as well as newly planned trips, were back in motion.
“I noticed in 2021 there was a huge uptick in overnight care due to people not being able to vacation in 2020,” Cormier explained. “However, now with Covid once again drastically spiking and flights being canceled, I have been receiving more cancellations with my overnight care.”
Coastal Canine Resort has come to expect the unexpected.
“We had never been too busy on weekends once school starts, but this year we were so busy because people needed to take a vacation,” Crisp said. “We would have 30 dogs a night when we would normally average 5 to 10. We try to gauge from past years for staffing, but this year we can’t know what to expect anymore.”
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.