We were lucky to catch up with Dee Hoult recently and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Dee, thanks for joining us today. Can you tell us about an important lesson you learned while working at a prior job?
When I was 14 I worked my first real job at an aquarium store. I’ll never forget the store owner, Jay. I have really vivid memories of him sitting at his desk, diligently writing checks, using his calculator and shuffling through paperwork. It really struck me that he was always so focused, dedicated, and seemed to not get distracted by the things going on around him. He put a lot of trust in his employees, myself being the youngest on his team at the time, to run his store. He set really clear expectations for what he expected from everyone, and then stepped back to let us do our jobs. He allowed more seasoned employees mentor newer ones like me, and he allowed us the space and freedom to have fun while we were at work. I absolutely loved that job. Looking back on it now through the lens of a business owner with over 20 employees, it’s safe to say that sort of boss really leaves an impression on you – the kind that lets their employees shine, each in their own way. He was willing to give anyone a chance, but didn’t hesitate to show them the door if they weren’t the right fit for the culture or if they weren’t doing their job.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Dee Hoult and I’m a certified dog behavior consultant, casually referred to as a dog trainer. I got into dog training as a little girl (5yrs old!), but turned my hobby into a career shortly after finishing an undergraduate degree in marine science. My company provides four core services for dog owners: private in-home lessons, group training classes, a day school program and a doggie bootcamp board and train program. My company’s mission is to help dog owners improve the quality of their life through enjoyable, connected relationships with their canine companions by providing engaging, positive education, and humane, non-intimidating training, so that they can have the well-behaved dog they always wanted. Sounds easy right? Maybe on the surface it is, but there’s a reason I have the largest dog training company in South Florida: my employees. I am the most proud of the team(s) that I’ve built throughout my 15 years in business. They are absolute rockstars and they blow me away again and again with their dedication and commitment to our pet parents. When I first set out to build a business I never knew I”d fall in love with the actual business side of dog training. I do of course, personally, love training dogs myself, but really this industry is about the people. It’s about the people you’ll hire and train to train dogs. It’s about the people who come to you for their dog’s education, and it’s about the people you’ll impact through the education about dogs that we provide. What’s always set my company apart is our profound love of people. We put people first, because without the people we wouldn’t have all these beautiful dogs to train. I’m so very proud of how successful my company has become throughout the years because it’s created so much room for philanthropic giving in so many ways for us to be able to give back to causes that are important to us, including shelter dogs, of course!
Can you talk to us about how your funded your business?
From the beginning I knew I wanted to have a training facility, but that was a goal that would be a long time in the making. I’m not embarrassed to tell people that because of the amount of student loan debt I left college with I wasn’t able to get a loan to launch my business forward.
I had to grow my business the old fashioned way —one step at a time, with determination and hard work. The first few years I was a solo-preneur. Although very fulfilling, my calendar quickly filled to capacity and customers were having to wait 4+ weeks in order to have their dog trained.
It was a scary step, but I knew I had to hire another dog trainer to join my team. Before I could do that, I knew I needed someone to help me keep up with emails, answer the phones, and do the behind the scenes stuff that comes along with the territory of running a business.
Hiring my first administrative assistant was the best move I ever made. The heart and soul she put into my business is a huge reason why I was able to continue being successful while adding trainers to my business.
After many years of hard work and dedication, I started to think that we would never open a facility. Even though we were running a reputable and profitable business doing private in-home lessons and group classes in the parking lots of veterinary partners throughout our Miami-Dade community, I could never seem to save enough money to put a down payment on a training space.
I don’t feel like in 2013 I “gave up,” but I do feel like I had pretty much resigned to the idea that maybe it wasn’t my path to open a facility. I had accepted that I wasn’t meant to have a facility, and that I should continue to focus on the successful private in-home training business I already had.
I was totally ok with that idea. But then, something really cool happened.
The year that changed me & the future of dog training in Miami
It was a Tuesday afternoon at 4:30PM when I arrived for a private in home lesson appointment with my client Mark, whose dog I had been training every week for the last six years.
Over the years I had grown very close to this family. Mark and I talked about a lot of things throughout the years that had nothing to do with dog training, and occasionally we would discuss my business and how things were going.
On that particular Tuesday, Mark asked me if I was any closer to my vision of opening a facility. When I told him I had decided to change directions, he asked what it was that was holding me back. I told him it was purely financial, and that I just felt like I would never be able to acquire enough capital to make it happen since, again, getting a loan was not an option.
Throughout the years I have had several clients offer to loan me the capital I needed to open a training facility, but I have respectfully declined. I was certain that Mark was about to make that same, generous offer, yet what he said next was a game changer for my company.
“You’ve been coming to my house every week, one time a week for the past six years. My dog is only halfway through his lifespan, and I have no intention of you going anywhere. My dog loves working with you, my son enjoys your lessons together…”
I listened as he continued.
“How much money have I spent with you since we started working together?”
I quickly did the math and realized that it was about $13,000. Then he proposed something I would have never thought of myself.
“What’s the best deal you could give me per lesson if I prepaid a few years of training? How many clients do you have just like me? If we all pre-bought training programs, do you think that would give you what you needed to open your facility?”
The largest dog training facility was born
And, just like that, I approached all of my best, regular customers, and had the $50,000 I needed.
It was less than a few months from the time I secured all the capital I needed from pre-sold packages, to the time we signed the lease, to what is now our AYP Canine Training Center in South Miami.
I will always be blessed to have had that client give me the idea that changed my life —the idea that hopefully will change your life, in some small way, too.
I am still humbled by the handful of clients who believed in me enough to participate in the pre-sale we did to get our doors open.
Today, my company sees approximately 80 dogs a day in between the dogs in programs at our two facilities and our team of in-home private lesson instructors that spend their day on the road making house calls.
That’s roughly 28,000 training hours that we spend with dogs each year!
How cool is that!?
To think that I went from being able to help dogs 4-5 hours a day (<1,000 training hours a year) to >20,000 training hours a year is truly a blessing!
Any insights you can share with us about how you built up your social media presence?
I built my audience on social media the good ol fashioned way — through story telling! I was using Facebook for business before Facebook Business was even a real thing. I’ve always been a story teller, so it was just a matter of putting it all out there for everyone to go along for the ride. I was an early adopter, before you had to pay to play, and grew my audiences organically from the heart. That’s the honest truth!
The best advice I have for people starting out now is to understand how wildly competitive the social media space is. You cannot half-ass digital content. It must be authentic, engaging, funny, otherwise the consumer is just going to pass it up. And, if you want to be in it to win it on social media you must participate across all platforms. I know, its over-whelming. I’m a pro and it still overwhelms me how much there is to do! It really is a full time job if you’re going to do it right, so don’t hesitate hiring a digital content creator to help you. They’re worth their weight in gold.
- Website: www.applauseyourpaws.com
- Instagram: applauseyourpaws
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/applauseyourpaws
- Other: Be sure to check out our non profit prison dog training program on IG and FB @MagicCityK9 — its our companies way of paying it forward with our success!