Jeff Voelpel’s business, The Pet Spot, offers themed "luxury villas," including one of his favorites, the Bearcat room.
There was a time years ago when Jeff Voelpel's day began with the usual office routine of emails, meetings, entertaining clients and a seemingly endless to-do list. But now, as manager of his own enterprise, The Pet Spot in Norwood, his days are a little different.
When the doors open at 7 a.m., Voelpel, Bus '97, gets ready for more than 140 canine clients for "doggy day care" -- just one of the services his business offers to busy pet lovers.
"It gets pretty hectic during the morning rush, but we really enjoy getting to see them all come in," says Voelpel, who founded The Pet Spot with business partner Terry Rath in 2005. Usually, the animals are even more excited to see the staff and the other dogs for a full day of play.
Voelpel's marketing background has played a huge role in branding the subtle difference between day care and boarding, which strikes a chord with loyal customers who entrust his staff with their four-legged family members.
"When people talk about boarding or kennels, they picture cramped, stuffy cages, dirty floors and dogs that are isolated all day," he says. "Our facility isn't anything like that, and once people come in and see that dogs get to spend time with one another and see the building is clean and climate-controlled, it gives them peace of mind about leaving their animal with someone else."
The facilities include more than 70,000 square feet and two floors of space, as well as 40 "luxury villas" which include televisions and other amenities for discerning pups. Some rooms are even themed, including rooms for Reds, Bengals and (of course) Bearcat fans.
"Our sports-themed rooms usually get booked the farthest out, so there's definitely a demand for these types of amenities," Voelpel laughs.
Transparency is also a big selling point. Webcams are linked up all around The Pet Spot's facilities, play areas and boarding rooms, so nervous or homesick owners can check on their pet anytime they want. Voelpel's path to founding and operating The Pet Spot mirrors that of many UC alumni, as he had to navigate a number of challenges involved with changing careers and gaining new skill sets. An alumnus of the Carl Lindner College of Business with a degree in marketing, Voelpel landed a first job after graduation in warehousing and logistics.
"The experience I gained was great in terms of seeing how businesses run and how to work with clients, but the hours were long, and there was really no room to move up.
"After a few years there, I wanted to go back to school in veterinary medicine," Voelpel continues, "because I've always loved animals. I even considered being a vet before going into marketing. When I saw that I'd have to leave town and be in school for three more years at least, I decided to earn a grooming certificate and see what I could do with that."
Voelpel was leaving behind a well-paying, stable position in the corporate world with no clear plan for his future. But that's where the experience he gained at UC through his co-op assignments came in handy. After finishing training, Voelpel pooled together everything he had and opened a grooming business, Hyde Park K9 Kamp. The property was small, and Voelpel ran the entire operation by himself for a few months, only to break even and keep the bills paid.
It can be frightening to move away from something you know, but if you think about it enough, you can probably come up with a few things you would rather do for a living
-- Jeff Voelpel, The Pet Spot
"The beginning was definitely a challenge, because almost everything I made went back into the business or covered my living expenses," Voelpel recalls. "I wasn't doing much else besides working and staying home because I had to spend as little as possible -- but I felt it was worth it to be in business for myself and be working with animals."
Referrals from happy customers brought in substantial new grooming business, allowing him to expand operations and include doggy day care that maxed out at around 40 dogs per day. He also was able to hire a second employee -- who, as luck had it, would turn out to be his future wife. And thanks to a loyal customer, things were about to get much better.
"I had developed a business plan for The Pet Spot during my time at my first shop, and the bank loved it," Voelpel remembers. "The problem was, I had no way of coming up with the down payment I needed to get their funding.
"One of my clients, Terry Rath, asked me one day if I had ever thought of expanding, and I told him about my plan and the challenges getting a loan. We realized our vision was the same in a lot of ways, and he told me he wanted to invest in making it happen."
Voelpel paired his love for animals with his marketing degree and created a successful grooming and boarding business.
With funding secured and a location found, construction was rushed to open in time for the 2005 holiday season. Voelpel brought his entire base of clients from Hyde Park K9 Kamp to the bigger operation, and soon more referrals started rolling in. Jeff and Terry continued to invest in the business and hire staff to handle the demand for day care and boarding, as well as grooming and training classes.
Today, Voelpel has more than 1,000 day care clients, hundreds of grooming appointments each week and customers who book boarding rooms months in advance.
Looking back on his experience, Jeff offers straightforward advice for alumni who are considering (or have been pushed into) career changes of their own. "It can be frightening to move away from something you know, but if you think about it enough, you can probably come up with a few things you would rather do for a living," he says. "Once you find out what they are, don't be afraid to invest in yourself or take a risk.
"It probably sounds strange that I wanted to be a groomer with a business background, but the end result was worth it. Be prepared to make some sacrifices. If you believe strongly enough in what you are doing, it won’t be as painful as you may think."