Refresher course Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

After 34 years of operation, the Kennelwood brand was due for a change. Co-owner and Chief Marketing Officer Chris Danforth says that the company was founded as Kennelwood Village, and it had a “village mentality.” At the time, it was one store that did pet boarding and grooming, with some elements of retail. Now, the company, which has grown to 2007 revenue of $9.5 million, has changed its name to Kennelwood Pet Resorts to reflect its new concept: a vacation spot for pets, with plans to expand to new markets.

“We saw an opportunity to change our look and tie it all together,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Danforth about how to plan a rebranding effort and how to expand without getting in over your head.

Q. What advice would you give a CEO who is considering rebranding?

As we’ve just begun the process and are learning about it, we have been conservative. We want to make sure we’re doing it right. We don’t want to rush in and grab into a market we’re not prepared to be in yet.

You have to do your due diligence and really understand that cities are becoming more and more like each other, but there certainly are some differences. Make sure you understand the differences in the marketplace. If it takes a little longer, that’s better than rushing into it and realizing you missed it or you’re in over your head.

Q. How do you decide where to expand?

The way we’re targeting is looking geographically and making sure there are households with a propensity to spend. We’ve also looked at competition. We know we can open up multiple locations in Chicago, Nashville or wherever, then break down the market and use our partners to research real estate.

That helps make sure we’re in the right areas. Get close proximity to the ZIP codes we want to hit. In St. Louis, we know what ZIP codes we want to hit, but we also know that we might not want to be right in that ZIP code. We could be a stone’s throw away and save some money on leasing or owning land.

We rely on the experts we’ve brought along the way to help us out. The real estate brokers, the construction management company, whatever.

Q. How did you get people on board with the new direction of the brand?

There are two elements to it. There is one in the consumer market, and one is the internal employees. They certainly have strong opinions, and when you’re trying to change something they identify with, it’s hard. It’s just as important to get them on board. So, we try to include them as much as we could on the decision-making process for logos.

For example, we had everyone come in and vote [on several different logos]. We tried to engage them as much as we could in the process.

Our concept has changed over the years. Now, moving forward with the franchise is sort of a resort theme. We wanted to tie everything together. The logo now is a dog in a beach chair.

All the posters and brochures tie heavily into the resort theme and borrow heavily from the travel agency look with destinations and really making the pet stay about them going on a vacation.

Also, we tried to have fun events at the store — not only for the customers but for the employees — to teach them about the history of the company but then introduce the new brand to them, as well. We inform them of the thought process, like why we chose that particular logo.

Communication is vital and has been something we have been trying to do as we implement change in our local market and certainly as we venture into franchising.

It’s been a challenge for us, just making sure the key people not only know what’s going on but why it’s going on, so they can buy in to the idea.

Q. How do you get buy-in on branding ideas from your employees?

I like to be fairly open with what we’re doing and bounce ideas off them. It’s the ideas that matter, and if people take ownership of them, if it’s presented in a certain way, they feel like they helped craft it.

It could just be as simple as floating out a top outline idea and having a sense of the direction you want it to lead, help drive that process but let other people fill in the blanks and let them feel like they are part of the decision-making.

Get employees involved through meetings. Present ideas and have them go back to other people and survey their staff, or just think about it for a while and then get back to people.

Just be honest and lay things on the table. When I’m explaining the direction or explaining a decision or explaining a new concept, I try to give as much background as possible. Try to be open and have dialogue back and forth.

HOW TO REACH: Kennelwood Pet Resorts, (314) 446-1000 or www.kennelwood.com