For Rebecca and Jon Tyler Ylvisaker, operators of Mission Road Kennels at 501 Mission Road Southeast in Cartersville, opening their business late last year was the realization of roughly (ruffly?) half a decade of dreams.
"Personally, we don't have children so our pets are pretty much our kids," said Rebecca, 29, who was born and raised in Bartow. "So we can definitely relate to others when they bring their animals to us, they want their animals to be cared for and loved and that's definitely what we feel like we provide."
The Ylvisakers spent years drawing up the designs for the approximately 4,000-square-foot facility. The finished product sports dozens of climate-controlled doggy suites, each with a covered exterior run so that Rover and Spot have ample room to stretch all four of their legs. And on the outside, there's about an acre of roaming room surrounding the facility — ideal for impromptu games of fetch and leisurely bouts of grass sniffing, naturally.
While it's something of a part-time gig for Rebecca — her day job is serving as a Kids and Co. Pre-Kindergarten teacher for Cartersville City Schools — it's a full-time operation for spouse Jon, who is also 29. His workday usually spans from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. From 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., he said he often plays puppy personal trainer (and occasional pamperer.)
"We offer playtime for dogs," he said. "Some dogs get a bath when they stay with us, if the client wants us."
While her two-legged parents tend to the new family business, a third member of the Ylvisaker clan — 8-year-old Pepsi, a half-Irish Wolfhound, half-Great Dane mix — rests on her doggy bed and nibbles on a bone. Her name, by the way, is derived from her predilection for playing with a soda bottle when she was a pup. And yes, despite the moniker, the Ylvisakers still pronounce a preference for Coca-Cola.
"We're not really too interested in training at the moment or anything like that — there are some private trainers that we've really enjoyed meeting over the past few months, but we would definitely like to hopefully expand and have that option for people to come out," Rebecca said of her future business goals. "We would definitely like to offer more group-type things, especially socialization classes for puppies."
The market for such pet-centric services is certainly growing. Per data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the pet grooming and boarding industries produced $5.73 billion in estimated revenue in 2016 alone. Furthermore, the American Pet Products Association tabs the annual rate of growth for the pet and pet care industry as a whole at 5.4 percent, with the BLS predicting job growth within the industry to increase 11 percent by 2024.
"More and more families are bringing dogs home everyday, the shelters are doing a much better job of adopting out pets and so many more people have pets at home now," Jon said. "For this area, most people have to travel 20 miles either to Kingston or to Acworth or to Canton to have somebody provide a service like we provide … there's a huge market for it, and it's a service that's sorely needed."
Name: Rebecca Ylvisaker, Jon Tyler Ylvisaker
Current City: Cartersville
Hometown: Cartersville (Rebecca), Crystal Lake, Illinois (Jon)
High School: Cartersville
College: Kennesaw State University
Occupation: Pre-school teacher (Rebecca), full-time kennel operator (Jon)
DAILY TRIBUNE NEWS: Before you opened the pet care facility, what sort of things were you doing professionally?
REBECCA YLVISAKER: I graduated in 2015 with an early childhood education degree, but I grew up riding horses and taking care of horses and managing stables here and there. I rode in my college equestrian team and, of course, had a love for animals anyway. While I was in college, I watched people's dogs and I started watching dogs at my house … I got a job in the Cartersville City Schools system and then I continued following the "dog career," I guess you could say. I've always had a love for dogs and an animal passion.
JON TYLER YLVISAKER: I spent my first few years in college, kind of funded my way working at a vet's office — I worked as a kennel tech and a vet's assistant.
DTN: How long have you wanted to open a kennel?
JTY: About five to six years, it's been in the works for us. The idea kind of sprung up on us six years ago, and we began the whole process of getting this going about five years ago, I'd say.
DTN: Was there any particular reason why you chose Bartow as the location for your business?
RY: I was obviously born and raised in Cartersville. I've always had a passion for animals ever since I've been itty bitty. I actually grew up on this property, so we always had some kind of animals of some sort. At one point I wanted to be a vet, but it just didn't quite stick as well, I didn't really know what I was going to do and I kind of transitioned around … with my own pet-sitting service, I had to turn away so many people because I just couldn't do it all. So we decided that we really needed to have a facility here in town that would accommodate for a big need, because there wasn't one.
DTN: What made the Mission Road area appealing to you as a site for your facility?
JTY: This particular location, it's been in her family's ownership since the early 1900s. It was land that was already here and it was a perfect location, because it's just right outside of downtown and it's off a major collector here. So many people pass by it every day and it's on their way to work or their way home. It's very convenient for people to get in and out versus other facilities in the surrounding area.
DTN: Can you give us a quick overview of the services you provide?
RY: We offer dog boarding, which is for people on vacation or whatever it might be, but we also offer dog daycare services, so if you just wanted us to have your dog while you're at work or while you're going down to Atlanta for the day, we do offer half-day and full-day daycare. We also do cat boarding, and then we have plans to eventually offer group play sort of things, socialization for puppies, in the future.
DTN: What would you say makes your pet care facility most different from others in the county?
RY: We designed the facility around what we were ultimately going to do. It wasn't a facility that we took and turned into [a kennel], it was from the ground up. We had the dogs in mind — cleanliness, keeping everybody safe and comfortable … the whole facility was designed for this one aspect, so I definitely think that's an advantage. Also, we're so close to downtown and I think we're only five miles off I-75. We're in the city limits and we're on a major road that's easily accessible to other sides of town … well, as long as there's not a train.
DTN: Is there any specific clientele or demographic you're looking to pinpoint?
JTY: There's nobody we're trying to target, other than people who own dogs and cats … this is an open facility for anybody, really.
DTN: Do you have a strategy for appealing to younger customers, especially millennials?
JTY: Social media has been the biggest seller, especially with the millennial demographic. So many people use Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook, and it's been a huge help in reaching out to people.
DTN: Do you have any plans for outdoor amenities at your business?
RY: Eventually we'd like to. We're trying to figure out how to secure it. We definitely don't want to ever take someone's personal pet outside of a secured area, so that's why we have everything contained to the facility now. But we would definitely like to offer it at some point in the future. Right now we have about an acre fenced in so we've got quite a bit of area for dogs.
DTN: What are some of the regulations you have to meet to open up a pet care facility?
RY: We had to go through a lot of regulation, a lot of hoops to get where we are. Zoning, we had to go through the City to get everything done, building a new facility we had to get a certificate of occupancy, pass all of that, then we had to get a kennel license, which was done through the Department of Agriculture. They came in and inspected and we have to maintain that kennel license as well to continue boarding dogs. We also have to follow regulations as far as vaccines and vaccinations for dogs coming in to make sure everything's secure, then we also follow a strict protocol for cleanliness and making sure everything's sanitary — it's pretty straight forward stuff, stuff we would've done, regardless.
DTN: How many employees do you currently have?
JTY: It's just us starting off for right now. In the future we plan on bringing on some employees to help out with the day-to-day.
DTN: What's a regular day like at the kennel?
JTY: I get here, mainly around 6 in the morning. I come in, I open up all the doggy doors, let the dogs go outside and I take each one out, one at a time. I let them sniff around, run around, go potty, and I bring them all back in and feed them all. I go through and make sure that there are no messes that need to be cleaned up … I'll go in there and clean the run while they're out of it, and from then on, I'm usually handling any clientele that comes in. Usually between 7 and 11 in the morning we have drop-offs.
DTN: How would you like to see the business expand in the future?
JTY: We'd like to hopefully add another facility here in the future, just for group daycare, people who just want to drop their dogs off and hang out with other dogs throughout the day.
DTN: Lastly, a more philosophical question: to you, what does it mean to be a pet owner?
JTY: They're not just dogs and cats to us. These are people's family members that they're bringing to stay with us, and we want to try to give them the care that they could receive at home.
RY: It's been wonderful the experiences we've had over the past few years with our own personal animals ... these are people's babies, essentially, that they entrust to us.