In 2008, frustrated with the lack of control over other animals and people in public parks, professional dog walker Bruce Casalis decided to open his own large open space where four-legged friends could run free to their hearts content, while still being safe and under supervision.
“I initially rented a five-acre field from a local farmer,” said Bruce Casalis, founder of Bruce’s Doggy Day Care. “Their land had been split by the M25 and this plot of low-grade farmland had been left unused for years following the decision to sell the dairy herd and come out of the industry. The farmer decided to back me and my idea and I am hugely grateful because we have been able to develop the services and prove that there is high demand for this previously unheard of concept.”
Simply put, Bruce’s Doggy Day Care has successfully created an alternative to basic dog walking and sitting services based on a children’s nursery model. At each of the two current sites, dogs are split into ‘classrooms’ (groups of up to 35 dogs based on age, size, and personalities), have access to heated cabins, a grooming salon and play equipment such as swimming pools, trampolines and agility apparatus, and are looked after throughout their time by dedicated carers.
“Our carers are not lifeguards waiting for something to go wrong, they are very hands on,” said Bruce. “We have strict entrance criteria and only enrol social, friendly dogs. They attend at least once per week which allows our carers to get to know them and build a bond, so the dogs feel comfortable and happy. The dogs also get to know each other and develop friendship groups so there is rarely any barking on site.”
Over the last decade, Bruce’s Doggy Day Care concept has created a huge demand among a range of owners and today the business has 60 members of staff looking after over 300 dogs per day across Bruce’s two sites in Surrey.
“Interestingly, people imagine that doggy day care is just for owners who work and obviously there are many customers who have full-time careers,” said Bruce. “But our average attendance is two days per week. We have seen a drastic increase in customers who send their dogs here because this kind of environment is very hard to replicate and they want their animals to be able to socialise and have enriched lives.”
While locals opt to drop off and collect from sites, Bruce also offers a minibus service. The fleet of 18 ‘doggy buses’ travel up to 30 minutes from site and have allowed the day care business to tap into more urban, affluent areas and the London boroughs.
Having far exceeded the simple open space concept Bruce initially envisaged, there is now an extensive waiting list for doggy day care places and there are imminent plans for a third site to be opened.
“Doggy day care is now a recognised concept throughout the UK and we have even worked with DEFRA to help bring about industry licencing regulations,” said Bruce. “The Cobham site is really a showcase of best practice and how successful it can be. Over the past decade the farmer has rented a further 20-acres and, in a few weeks, we will be renting another 10-acre site from them to open another branch.”
Although this new centre will help to address the demand around Fulham, Guildford and the south west London boroughs, Bruce is now on the hunt for land to rent across the South East. Bruce’s Doggy Day Care has recently taken on land agent Ed Daniell as head of property to find the right sites, allowing the business to grow responsibly and offer its award-winning services in new locations.
“From a farmer’s or landowner’s perspective this is an ideal partnership,” said Ed. “Bruce has created a successful concept, as proven at Cobham. The farmer originally supplied unused land to see how it would work and it was so successful they have now taken a parcel of arable land out of rotation to allow us to open a new site. Clearly we are a very viable business proposition for them.”
As the industry leader strives to open new sites throughout the region, Bruce’s Doggy Day Care is looking for parcels of land, from one to 25-acres, with good road access, in well populated areas and close to busy, affluent, urban areas, such as Brighton, Guildford, Reigate, Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Windsor, under long-term lease agreements.
“I don’t want to take customers on if the future of the site is not secure. Our current sites, for instance, are under a 20-year tenancy agreement,” said Bruce. “It is a long-term opportunity for farmers and landowners to add a diverse stream of reliable, non-seasonal income to their existing portfolio. What we can offer is likely to suit most landlords; you don’t even have to like dogs. We are simply looking for a landlord-tenant relationship with those who have suitable sites.”
While a connection, or the ability to connect, to mains water and electricity are preferable, Ed and Bruce are both flexible in their approach to finding the ideal site. Buildings, or existing footprints are favourable to help achieve a change of use to sui generis. Infrastructure such as hard standing is ideal but equally doggy day care is prepared to invest in the sites themselves.
“Case by case it will depend on how much the landlord wants to invest in the site,” said Ed. “If they want us to develop it ourselves, great, and if they want to put up the buildings and infrastructure, that is fine too. We are not being prescriptive with people and we can look at how to make things work on different sites.” The doggy day care developments have little visual impact on the landscape, with the ability to use horse stables, barns, or other rural structures as the field shelters, and Bruce is keen to maintain the land to the highest standards in keeping with their positioning as a premium brand.
“We have to be presentable to our customers and we like the dogs to be in the countryside,” said Bruce. “We have a team of contractors who keep the sites looking tidy and our staff also keep everything immaculate. We are also very conscious to not change the feel of the site and while there are a few more vehicles coming and going, and members of staff and dogs, it is still open fields.”
With farmers and landowners continuously looking for new, innovative ways to diversify and secure lucrative income streams, Bruce’s Doggy Day Care is offering a unique approach to help make the most out of underused land assets.
If you have suitable land please call 0333 366 0239