by Caleb Talley
Mandy Marshall and Justin Harris were told their idea for a pet resort and spa was a novelty idea that would never work. They didn’t have enough equity. They didn’t have enough experience.
But what they did have was determination. And now, the pair has three thriving locations across the state of Arkansas.
Like some of Arkansas’ best small businesses, Hounds Lounge was born out of necessity. Marshall and Harris needed a sitter for their two “dog kids,” Hemingway and London. They were wary of their options.
“When we only had Hemingway, it was easy to drop him off for a weekend at the grandparents’ or a friend’s house, but when London came along, no one wanted two small horses running around their house,” Marshall says of their two Doberman Pinschers.
“Boarding our babies did not give us the warm and fuzzies,” she adds. “They were locked in a cage and let out to potty just a few times per day. Dobermans require a lot of exercise, and when they returned home, they were full of energy. We always wanted our dogs to feel as if they deserved a vacation, too.”
After having boarded their pets a couple of times in traditional facilities, Marshall and Harris decided to change the model. Marshall knew they could do it better, and the pair spent the following years formulating a business plan, visiting pet spas across the country and attending pet expos. During that time, they also joined forces with John Martin of Moses Tucker and the Arkansas Small Business Development and Technology Center to find the right location and conduct a market analysis.
“Our biggest accomplishment is simply overcoming all the naysayers when we said, ‘We want to create the best doggie daycare and boarding facility in Central Arkansas,” Marshall says. Among those naysayers, according to Marshall, were banks that wouldn’t lend to them and a neighbor who tried to keep them from opening in Riverdale.
“We had no other choice,” she says. “We dumped our entire savings, cleaned out our 401(k)s and took a small loan from Justin’s gracious parents to make our dreams become a reality.”
Since their first location opened in Little Rock’s Riverdale neighborhood, the pair has opened a second location in North Little Rock and recently a third in Fayetteville.
Hounds Lounge offers pet parents daycare services that include leash-free group play, indoor and outdoor play yards and a safety-first priority. Dogs are sorted by size and temperament, even offering private retreat options for dogs that do not do well in social settings.
For overnight stays, Hounds Lounge provides pets with private luxury hotel suites with raised beds. The facility is staffed 24/7.
Pets owners have an assortment of grooming and spa treatments to choose from, including full-service grooming and à la carte spa treatments done by professionally trained groomers. Self-washing stations are also available with no appointment necessary.
“It’s pretty remarkable that our community has embraced us and welcomed us into their furry families,” Marshall says. “We’re so forever grateful to have the opportunity to care for and love on the dogs in our community… Everyone asks if we are a franchise and are blown away when we tell them it is our original concept – owned and operated locally.”
The success of Hounds Lounge has been predicated by Marshall and Harris’ dedication to the pets they care for and the humans they employ.
“Invest in your staff,” Marshall says. “We spend many hours interviewing candidates to join our team and even more hours training our team on how to be professional dog handlers. Our humans are the face of our business — they cultivate relationships with both our human guests and furry guests.”
Marshall also suggests that anyone looking to open a small business align themselves with partners that believe in the vision, including realtors and technology centers.
“John Martin [of Moses Tucker] has believed in our dream as much as we have,” she says. “He’s been there every step of the way and has been our mentor through all city processes. Every city is very different when it comes to starting a new business.
“Our tax dollars provide a fabulous resource for small businesses – the Arkansas Small Business Development and Technology Center (ASBDTC),” Marshall adds. “The ASBDTC will assist with market research, financial projections, loan binders and marketing plans.”
Opening, growing and expanding a small business is not easy. But according to Marshall and Harris, it’s well worth it to see a dream become a reality.
“Be patient,” Marshall says. “Believe in yourself and your dreams, even when you get the wind knocked out of you.”