Story by Amy Geiszler-Jones Photography by Madison Ham
Editor’s Note: CEO Spotlight is a recurring monthly feature on CEOs, presidents and business owners in the Wichita area.
Erin Dean loves to travel and owns a rescued dog named Sydney. Those two things are reflected throughout the two Kansas locations of Dean’s company, from the businesses’ names – Sydney’s Pet Resort in Wichita and Sydney’s Pet Spa in Leawood – to the motifs of the rooms within the businesses. In the Wichita store, small dogs go to the Mexico-themed room, while big dogs romp in the Hawaiian-themed room. And since Dean spent six months studying abroad in Australia and named her dog after the country’s capital city, there is an Australian-themed room, too.
“It’s like a Disney World for dogs,” said Dean, of trying to provide fun, travel-themed rooms.
Dean, a Wichita native and Maize High School graduate, went to Kansas State University to earn a marketing degree, and after college got a job that had her living in Kansas City but traveling most weekdays around the country to do insurance agency startups. She also adopted a sweet 8-week-old puppy from a rescue organization, and her four-legged companion needed a place to stay while she was traveling.
At the time – 14 years ago – her only option was boarding Sydney at a vet clinic. “But vets usually deal with sick dogs,” Dean said. Sydney and Dean didn’t like that arrangement so then Dean started meeting her mom halfway between Kansas City and Wichita so her mom could “babysit” Sydney.
That’s what led her to open Sydney’s Pet Spa in Leawood in late 2006, one of that market’s first such boarding and doggie day care facilities.
When she was ready to expand her business a couple of years ago, the Kansas City pet boarding market had become saturated with similar businesses so she looked to Wichita for her second location. With family in the area and a dad who’s in the construction business, Wichita was an ideal market. Her dad, Randy Dean, owner of Randy Dean Custom Homes, helped build Sydney’s Pet Resort at 11024 E. 28th St. N., which opened in March 2015.
With 10,000 square feet, the Wichita store is much larger than the Leawood location. The Wichita location can accommodate up to 250 animals per night, while the Leawood facility can board up to 150 every evening.
At both locatons, boarding and grooming services are offered for both dogs and cats and day care services are available for dogs.
Vacation-type amenities like one would find at a spa or resort of the human kind are also available. Customized, add-on services include things like upgrades to a luxury suite, a nightly tuck-in with a biscuit, a relaxation massage, special treats like an ice cream social and even pawdicures. Cats can roam among the cat cottages and play with the two resident house cats or just chill out by themselves. During the day, televisions play, simulating home-like environments, while at night, music to sooth the pets is played.
Outdoors, dogs can play in a splash pad or take a dip in a pool during those dog days of summer. The Wichita facility has artificial turf in outdoor play areas, making it far easier for staff to sanitize and deodorize the area daily.
Depending on the season, Dean employs as many as 15 staff members at each location. Three full-time groomers work at the Leawood location; two full-time groomers are in Wichita.
Just as her business has grown, so has Dean’s own family of fur babies. A newlywed, Dean’s family now consists of three dogs and two cats.
Not long after opening Sydney’s Pet Spa, she adopted Daisy, a Maltese yorkie, from a client who wanted to rehome the little dog.
“I was always telling her, ‘Oh, I love your dog,’ and one day she says, ‘Do you want her?’,” Dean said. “I love all the dogs so can you imagine if all the owners said that?” Daisy hadn’t fit in well with the family’s larger dog.
With her marriage, Dean gained the third dog, Layla. Cats Lillian and Carmen joined the family about 4 years and 1 year ago, respectively.
Dean admits she went into the pet care business “a bit blind.” After researching the market back when she was considering starting the business, she connected with an owner of a similar business in Tennessee, whom she now considers a mentor, asking him if he’d consider sharing tips. She still talks with him monthly, she said.
What she’s come to love about the business is meeting all the clients – both human and pet. With her business being the resulting solution of wanting to provide a safe, fun environment for her own dog, she understands the connection between people and their pets. Many of her human clients, she said, are either young couples, single pet owners or retired couples, for whom pets are valued family members.
“It’s really a fun business. Yes, there are messes, but the animals are always happy to see you.”