Dee Runkle was destined to be a dog lover. An only child who adored her family’s four-legged friends, Runkle soon branched out to helping take care of friends’ and neighbors’ pets. When she and fiancé, Mark Rappa, moved to Florida in 2005, she turned that hobby into a business, Dee’s Dogs.
Now Dee’s Dogs offers pet sitting, vacation pet care, daily dog walking and house sitting to a client list of 400 families. They offer emergency pet care to families who need a sitter on short notice, as well as in-home pet visits for routine feeding and care and house-sitting for traveling clients. Rappa joined the business full-time in 2008, and the Coral Springs couple also have one full-time and two part-time contract workers.
“We learned early on to answer the phone and return calls quickly, and to make appointments at our customers’ convenience, not ours,” Rappa said. “And we’re reliable. We pride ourselves on it.”
While Dee’s Dogs has earned a loyal clientele over the years, it also has brought them an exhausting schedule. Runkle walks dogs and visits pets from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., with each pet allotted a half-hour timeframe. Rappa takes over at 3 p.m. and handles pet-care duties until about 9 p.m.
They charge $20 for a half-hour of pet care on weekdays, and $25 on weeknights and weekends. The business grossed about $75,000 in 2012, and the couple would like to expand its scope. They contacted The Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover, which brought in the South Broward Chapter of SCORE, a nonprofit organization of volunteer business mentors and counselors who provide free assistance to the small business community.
Clifton Vaughn, vice-chairman of the SCORE chapter, led the team of experts. A certified public accountant, Vaughn is a financial services advisor with LINQ Financial Group. He previously worked as an internal auditor for Eastern Airlines and as an assistant finance director for the city of Miami. Vaughn specializes in strategic planning and focusing.
Certified public accountant Alvaro Diaz, a consultant, previously worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and had several Fortune 500 companies as clients. He directed financial operations and internal audit for an IT distributor, and specializes in optimizing business processes for efficiency and pinpointing strengths in businesses wanting to expand. Amikam Yalovetzky, owner of Business to Web, a digital marketing firm in Weston, also lent expertise. With previous experience in international marketing, sales and business development, Yalovetzky specializes in Web development, online presence and mobile apps.
“There is no business too small,” Vaughn said. “Our mission is to help everyone who comes through that door…to fan those flames and create jobs.”
Runkle and Rappa say they would like to hire more contract workers and expand their service area, but have had trouble finding people with their same work ethic. The couple would like to move more into a management role, and outsource more of the pet care.
“We have no life. This is our life,” Runkle said. “We’d like a little breathing room.”
Now that they have created a brand, Runkle and Rappa must protect it, Vaughn said. “You need to police the services and the people operating under your brand,” he said, and develop systems that maintains its function, attracts new customers and reinforces the brand.