Barking Up the Right Tree
As pet spending reaches historic heights nationally — $72.56 billion in 2018 alone —new local business Pawlins Total Pet Care is finding quick success offering four-star accommodations for the four-pawed set.
This past September, Pawlins Total Pet Care opened the doors of a new 18,000-square-foot facility on River Road dedicated to bringing a new level of quality and service to the local pet-boarding market.
The company is the creation of husband and wife team Mark and Laure Starring (Baton Rouge and New Orleans natives respectively), born of what they saw as a lack of quality options for boarding their own pet.
“Mark and I love to travel, and we love our dogs,” said Laure Starring. “If we were able to stay in a four-star hotel, why couldn’t they?”
What does a four-star experience look like for a dog? At Pawlins at least, it starts with gourmet snacks, nutritional supplements and a home-like environment where pets are welcome to sleep on beds and couches, and continues to a level of opulence that borders on unbelievable.
“Everything makes us different,” she said. “Because first impressions are indelible, our lobby looks like a luxury hotel with a concierge who greets and opens the door for you with a warm welcome to Pawlins.”
The company’s selection of suites ranges from the top-of-the-line Royal Suite ($70 per night) to the upscale standard Pawlins Classic ($52) and Petite Suites ($49). Daycare is included in the price of boarding, as well as baths for dogs after three days of boarding.
“Our Royal Suites are our most luxurious spaces — appointed with chandeliers, flat-screen televisions, stereo speakers with soothing music for nap time, comfy Kuranda beds, a large window and full access to [each animal’s] own private yard,” Laure Starring said. “There are 4G cameras so that pet parents can watch their pups 24 hours per day from our website. The dogs get to watch DOGTV’s patented programming which was designed and developed with world-leading pet experts to support a dog’s natural behavior patterns.”
Add-ons include organic gourmet treats from local restaurant Hippie Kitchen and frozen peanut butter filled Kong toys. Multiple pet boarding is also available.
The facility offers its boarding and daycare facilities for both dogs and cats, in fact. Cats are boarded in a separate dog-free area “with luxury condos and a playroom with kitty perches and climbing areas and lots of toys,” according to Laure Starring.
“Some people may think I’m crazy, but I know many people who feel just like I do and want hotel-like accommodations for their pets too,” she added. “Everyone I know treats their pets like family members.”
More than just “like” family members
This year millennials officially overtook the baby boomer generation as the largest population group in the United States. Now at one quarter of the population, these 83.1 million millennials (vs. 75.4 million baby boomers) are largely putting off marriage and having children, and many are turning instead to pet ownership. According to Zulily, three-fourths of Americans in their 30s have a dog, and over half own a cat. Describing millennials as “pet obsessed,” Zulily noted that “92% of millennial pet owners purchase gifts for their pets, such as toys, clothing and treats, with more than half (51%) purchasing a gift for their pet at least once a month.”
Many millennials have no problem spoiling their pets.
According to cultural strategy and trend forecasting company Cassandra in a May 2019 article by Business Insider, over the last year, 14% of millennials bought a luxury item in pet-care category. The same article highlighted millennials spending more than $400 on designer dog clothes.
According to a March 2019 report by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), “Pet care spending in 2018 reached a record-breaking high of $72.56 billion compared to $69.51 billion in 2017, an increase of over 4%.” This report encompasses “pet spending in the market categories of food, supplies/over-the-counter medications, veterinary care, live animal purchases and other services.”
Add this tendency to spoil to the fact that a January 2019 survey by Wakefield Research found that millennial pet owners find it more stressful to be separated for a week from their pet (65%) than from their cellphone, and you have a market very well suited to the idea of luxury pet boarding.
In fact, less than two months after opening, Pawlins reported a growing client base, with more than 750 dogs attending day care, boarding or grooming services as of late October. Pawlins currently has the capacity to handle 165 pets at one time.
Promising peace of mind
But more than just luxury, the Starrings are also selling a high level of safety and security.
Doggie day care is a big part of the pet care menu that Pawlins offers, with a variety of packages and full- and half-day stays. A standard full day is priced at $32. Created with the same eye for detail that makes up the boarding facilities, the day care yards and indoor areas were designed with all dogs, and their safety, in mind.
“We have four large separate, climate-controlled indoor play yards with hospital-grade, bacteria-resistant rubber floors to reduce noise and protect a pup’s joints,” said Laure Starring. “Since there is no concrete at Pawlins, the floors will not absorb any smells or contaminants, so that dogs go home smelling fresh and have a healthy environment, like at home. We also have an air exchange system that changes the indoor air with fresh outdoor air every six minutes.”
Pawlins even features a water park designed especially for dogs that the Starrings have named Pawchatrain Park. “Pups can play in freshwater all day, so there is no need for chemicals that could irritate dogs’ skin and eyes,” said Laure Starring.
Outdoor play is a big feature at Pawlins.
“All of our outdoor play yards have K-9 Grass that has been specifically designed for dogs,” she said. “The grass is easy to sanitize and keep clean, so our pups never get muddy and [it is] soft enough for dogs to run hard and tackle safely, providing the best play available. We offer loads of play equipment and toys to keep the pups busy and their minds stimulated.”
The company also boasts a full-service veterinary practice — River Road Veterinary Hospital exists under the same roof. “We wanted to make this the most convenient pet care facility available in New Orleans,” said Laure Starring.
“Our primary focus is on the safety, happiness and wellness of the pets that have been entrusted to our care,” added Mark Starring, who previously ran a medical device company, which he grew from three employees to 130 in 26 years. “Every aspect of the building was carefully designed, including using materials that are easily disinfected and extremely durable, making our operations more efficient, which is important in a business like ours. We have multiple doors and gates to minimize the risk of pet escapes, as well as our exterior fencing, providing the safest place for pets. We have the leading fire and security monitoring systems, as well as a generator, so we are always up and running.”
Staff members at Pawlins are also required to have an exceptional level of experience and training, with company policy including a course with “The Dog Gurus.”
“[The Dog Gurus] is a thorough training with a philosophy of building a strong bond between our staff and the dog, which teaches how to read dog body language and how to best handle group play,” said Laure Starring. “All of our staffers must complete multiple levels of training and are observed through group play to ensure the highest safety for our pets and humans.”
The company already has plans to include even more education and pet care play.
“We are working to build a Pawlins community with monthly educational seminars presented by veterinarians from River Road Veterinary Hospital, as well as basic obedience training, puppy educational classes and “yappy” social hours,” Laure Starring said. “We want to be a resource for the community. As part of these community services, we just started offering an hour each afternoon when a veterinarian is available in our lobby to answer any questions our clients and guests may have. We are also partnering with Take Paws Rescue and always keep one of their rescues at Pawlins to help them find a forever home.”