Episode 377: From Dog Walks to Dreams. The Unleashed Success Story of Randa Clark

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Ever dream of diving into the pet business ocean but don't know if you're diving into calm waters or a whirlwind? In the ever-evolving and competitive landscape of the pet industry, understanding the journey to success through firsthand experiences can be incredibly enlightening. This week on "Bella in Your Business," we have an episode that you simply cannot afford to skip, especially if elevating your pet business is at the forefront of your goals.

This week I  am joined by Randa Clark, a veteran in the pet industry with over 20 years of experience. Randa’s narrative from initiating a dog training venture to diversifying into pet care services is nothing short of inspiring.

We unpack the layers behind Randa’s strategic decisions. The pivotal moments (including an accidental email that led to a substantial business opportunity), and the challenges faced in enlarging a business foundation. If you are thinking about franchising or want to expand your business, these tips are for you.  Randa’s got the lowdown on picking the best growth routes, nailing your branding, and making your clients feel special. If you’re after tips on how to grow your business smoothly, this episode is like a GPS for success.

Topics & Key Points

  • Entrepreneurship and overcoming fear
  • Starting and growing a pet business
  • Transitioning from home-based pet care to a brick-and-mortar resort
  •  Growing a pet resort business
  • Branding, marketing, and work-life balance


  • [0:08] Overcoming fear with Randa Clark
  • [1:19] How Randa started Tailchasers
  • [6:17] How she transitioned from home-based pet care to a brick-and-mortar resort
  • [10:46] How Randa began her pet resort business
  • [17:30] Tips on branding, marketing, and work-life balance

Notable Quotes

[08:46] “But it made me uncomfortable to leave my clients somewhere that I wasn’t sure they were going to be well taken care of and that the focus was going to be on them being comfortable in their, their mental health. So we wanted to be able to provide that service because these dogs are part of our family”

[13:50] “So it was like I got to start over from the beginning and create everything the way that I should have where I document every single thing that I do.”

[25:26]  “It is, it’s really important for our brains to like, get out of that workload and that stress mode, because that also is where we’re able to, like reset and be creative. You know, like our brains can’t like it’s like a car, it can’t operate at six RPMs all the time, it needs to shift out of gear.”

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Welcome to another episode of Bella in Your Business. My name is Bella Vasta. I got so much great response and feedback from when we had our clients that I thought I would give you another inspiring business owner who I’ve known for years. Her name is Randy Clark out of Barrington, Illinois, and many other locations, which we will get into today with tail chasers. Randall, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me, Bella, you guys are gonna love her whole evolution of what she’s been doing. It’s been really exciting for me to watch her grow. And, also, you know, of course, I’m sure you’ve been scared through it all, but I like the way that you deal with fear and just push past it. And one thing you told me a long time ago is you just work at putting yourself out of a job. And I think you guys are all going to see that and hopefully take that away with many other things. But before we get into it, Randall, why don’t you just give everyone an intro of who you are and how you originally started? What were your past lives that led you into this maybe even a little bit about your family I know this truly becomes like a family business for you.

Well, my name is Randa Clark. As Bella said, we are approaching our 20th year in business. So it’s our 20th anniversary in March. So we got like one more month. And so before owning up pet business, I went to school to be a band director and I still have a passion for music. Our children are very musical Matt’s a songwriter. But I just didn’t fit in in the school system. So I ended up going to school to become a dog trainer because I had a horrible dog. No arm, I mean, like I loved him very much. And he is still my favorite dog of all time. But he was very naughty. And he bit several trainers and we got kicked out of every obedience school that we went to. So I ended up going to school to become a dog trainer just so I could keep that dog. So his name was Max. And he kind of was the whole reason that tail chasers were started. So as a dog trainer, and I’m sure many of your listeners are dog trainers, the dog training industry, ebbs and flows, especially in the Midwest, no one wants to take their dog out and work on loose leash walking in January when it’s 10 below zero and icy. So I learned quickly that I needed something that was going to ebb and flow opposite of dog training so that I would have a steady income and would be able to support myself. So I mean, everybody has to pay rent and eat. So I started the dog walking business, I thought it was a good complement to dog training because it also gave us a nice funnel of new dogs coming in as training clients. Because when you’re the dog walker, you learn quickly what behaviors the dogs need some work on to be polite family members. So I started the dog walking business on March 1. What was it in 2004? So it started with just me but it quickly grew, I ended up about six months in I had to have surgery that was going to put me out of dog walking for eight weeks. So I had to hire I kind of didn’t have a choice. So it kicked me into gear and I said okay, how do I duplicate myself because I’m very particular about how the dogs are handled? How do you know how response time is with customers, how do you speak to customers to make sure that you’re making them feel comfortable not making them nervous about the person who’s caring for their pet? So I kind of got thrown into growth because of the surgery but I mean, it was a blessing in disguise anything that has happened to us business-wise and in our life. We’ve always taken it as a lesson and tried to find the positive spin on it and think okay, what, yes, this is a struggle. Yes, it’s unfortunate, but why did this happen? And what am I going to learn from it? So I learned how to expand because I was forced to hire. As a dog trainer, you still get to work with dogs as a dog trainer as a dog walker too. But what I started to learn is I enjoyed dog walking or dog training requires a lot of thought you have to be on your game whereas in dog walking, you get to have all the fun part of the pet you’re not working so hard. So I enjoyed dog walking is still have a huge passion for behavior and dog training. But so it was pretty easy to hire people because dog walking is fun. I mean the schedule is a little difficult. It’s not a full-time job, but it’s a very enjoyable job so yeah, our dog walking grew, and then pets came along with dog walking Because when people go out of town, you’re the person that they trust with their pet, you already have access to their home. So it was, you know, just kind of organic.

That’s awesome. And I remember like when you had, it wasn’t even called till chases back then it was called something else.

It was called Tail Chasers in the beginning. And then we thought about franchising. When we went to look into the name, there were some other tail chasers we were we were the first ones, but there were some other ones that were going to cause it to be a little bit more difficult to franchise. But as we got deeper into franchising, I didn’t want to give up, not that I didn’t want to give up control. I just know how hard I work and what a struggle it is. And I know that most people just don’t have the grit to be able to do it. And I didn’t want the tail chasers’ name on another business when they might be like, You know what, this sucks, I don’t want to do it anymore. And just kind of let it go by the wayside. Tail Geezers is like my third baby. So I’m I just didn’t want them to degrade my brand by not taking it up to the high level of care that we do offer. So we pulled from franchising and ended up expanding on our own.

I love the thought that you put into that because I think a lot of people don’t give it the care and concern that it deserves. And those examples that you gave are so true, you know, and it’s something that you’ve got to think about if you’re ever thinking about franchising. So I think we met maybe in like, 2017 2016 or so and you had the dog walking in the pet sitting in the dog training, and then all of a sudden, you were like, or at least it was all of a sudden, to me, I’m sure it wasn’t for you. But you’re like, I’m gonna buy a resort, and I’m gonna move into it. And and and I was like, holy cow, this woman’s amazing. So how did that transition from, from, you know, service-based business in the home to an actual brick and mortar, which I think is a lot, like a lot of our listeners start off dreaming about that, or might have that dream right now? So what was that tipping point that made you go from, alright, we’re operating this in our house, we have sitters and trainers and dog walkers out there to we’re going to buy a place and move into it and you know, do the boarding and make this a big business.
So we had a pet taxi service as part of our dog-walking company. And so we would bring dogs to and from the groomer to and from the vet. And we would take dogs to their boarding facilities when their owners were going on vacation. Because not all dogs are suitable for pet sitters. I know, my dog in particular would not do well with a pet sitter,, unless they were there. 24/7, I mean, he’s, he’s used to me being here all the time. He’s a pointer. He’s super anxious. So it just it doesn’t work for all dogs as much as I’d love to say, oh my gosh, pets, things better in homes better that I mean, that’s, that’s what we do a lot with our advertising. But there are some dogs that it just won’t work for. And we recognize that and so we would drive even though we would say hey, are you sure you don’t want us to care for your dog, we would take the dogs to their their pet resorts and drop them off. And it’s just, it’s like dropping your three-year-old off for the first time at preschool, even though they’re, they’re my clients. They’re there. You know, I’m friends with these dogs. I love these dogs. And so it just kind of made me feel a little bit uncomfortable. To drop them off. I didn’t you know, I didn’t know the people that ran the resort. I didn’t know what was going on inside the building. So it was a little scary, even though I mean their bare owners were fine. They had booked the you know the reservation at the pet resort. But it made me uncomfortable to leave my clients somewhere where I wasn’t sure they were going to be well taken care of and that the focus was going to be on them being comfortable in their mental health. So we wanted to be able to provide that service because these dogs are part of our family. And we want to make sure that they’re receiving the best care. So we just kept an eye out. It’s a crazy story about how we ended up with this particular pet resort. I had had a search on you know, loop dotnet and then some other realtor pages just with you know, kennel pet resort in the search, and I had one pop up. And so I had a couple that I was looking at and I have ADHD. So I do a lot of things all at once and sometimes make silly mistakes. I emailed the wrong realtor. So the resort I was trying to look at was for sale. However, I emailed the wrong realtor and ended up speaking to the realtor of this resort that we own, which we had no idea was for sale. It was very secretive. They didn’t want their customers to be worried about a change. So we scheduled that Everything I was talking back and forth with this realtor, it took a long time for them to respond. We were actually in the process of leasing a space right across the street from our house in rolling meadows, and we were set to sign the lease on July 5. So this realtor finally got back to me on July 3 and said yes, they do want to sell, and they’re ready for people to come and tour the property. And I said, Well, here’s the deal. I have an appointment to sign the lease on the fifth, I’m not going to cancel it. Unless I can see it right now. So we came to see it. Full pet resort Fourth of July. We got to see it. I hated it. Matt, Matt. So I’m the one who sees all the like, oh, no, this is gonna happen. This could happen. This would be awful. And Matt’s the one who stands behind me and kicks me off the cliff. And I just have to figure out how to fly. Because I love that, right? This is what we want. This is what we’re looking for. It’s in our area, it was the resort where we boarded our pets. So he made me do it.

He made you do it?

So okay. So I mean, it’s what we wanted, but it’s just I see all the wrong things, and all the problems that I’m gonna have to solve. And Matt’s like, Nope, this is what we want. This is where we’re headed, and you’re gonna have to figure it out.

Sounds like you guys are good motivation for each other good team, you know?

Yeah, that’s me. I was worried that we weren’t even trying to look at it.

So what challenges did you have once you got your first pet resort?

I mean, we didn’t think about buildings like I mean, I know lots of things about dogs. I know lots of things about psychology and learning. I don’t know anything about buildings, fixing things, and plumbing, and all those sorts of things in this place were built in 1975. It required a lot of work that I didn’t know how to do. There’s, there’s all kinds of crazy things when you want a facility that you have to do, there’s all sorts of filters that have to be changed, like things need to be drained. And it’s, it’s crazy, we didn’t understand a lot of that. But we ended up pairing up with a great contact contractor what I’ve learned, in expanding my business, I can’t do everything. I need to find people who know how to do different things and put them on the team. So once we got our contractor in place, then things became a lot easier because he could say, oh, okay, this, this has happened, these drains are clogged because of this thing over a year that we need to fix. And it’s going to cost you a whole bunch of money. So that was a big challenge. We didn’t. It was, it’s hard when you’re buying a business, the sellers aren’t always completely honest about everything because they want to sell their business. Right. So we learned that they weren’t as absentee as we thought they were. So the teammate needed more support than we were expecting. And then we were dealing with people who had worked here for a long, long time, and had strong opinions and didn’t necessarily like the fact that it was sold and didn’t necessarily like us, I mean that everybody’s going to like us. But that was a big challenge. The staffing was a big challenge. But COVID took care of that for us, because we had to lay everybody off. So I mean, I mean, COVID was horrible for everyone. But for us, it was it was life-changing. I mean, our our business is so much better, because we were forced to lay everybody else off and do everything ourselves. So it was like I got to start over from the beginning and create everything the way that I should have where I document every single thing that I do. I mean literally if I put a staple on a piece of paper instead of tape, I now have it written down as to why I do that. So it was a blessing. A very heartless but in the end it was great.

I love that staple instead of tape guys. It gets that grainy and it does it. I love that. Um, okay, so I know that you didn’t just stop there at your first resort. You got another one. So how did that come about? And I love one another.

He just keeps shoving me off these cliffs. So we had a customer who was a longtime customer. No word ended up liking us when we took over and they owned a building that was leased by a doggy daycare. And he decided he didn’t want to renew his lease. And so they reached out to us they were already talking to us because we weren’t Thinking about opening a store next door to this facility. Because he didn’t want to keep the entire space, he was just going to reduce his space. And then he decided to completely cancel it. And they’re like, Please, open your business here. This This space is amazing. You should be here. And I’m like, Well, I’m not ready to open another resort. I just bought this one. I’m still trying to get everything ironed out. But you know, I mean, the lease is up, and somebody is going to move in there and open a doggy daycare right in the middle of where we started our dog-walking business. And I, we couldn’t let that happen. So Matt and my executive director said, No, we’re doing this. I’m like, No, it’s not the best time like it’s just coming out of COVID. Everybody still works at home. They’re like, Nope, we’re doing it. Sorry. So it was like having another baby. I was up all night for months trying to develop what the schedule was going to look like and what the program was going to look like because this one was starting from scratch. This one doesn’t come with customers who are already coming in the doors, this is us taking over, shutting down, remodeling it, and revamping it. So the awesome thing was is I got to design the daycare exactly as I would want for my dogs. And so it’s an enrichment, focus daycare. There’s lots of training involved very small, playgroups, highly trained technicians, they’re working with the dogs. And the very best baby daycare experience that I could develop, it’s expensive. My team bought me on how expensive it is because it’s a harder sell. But it’s worth it. And the people in the area that understand the value of really luxury level they care, about are willing to pay the price because they know their dogs are safe. And they know that this isn’t daycare where you’re warehousing to honor dogs, this is my dog’s life is enriched because I dropped them off at this daycare every day while I’m at work. So that’s, that’s cool to design it myself and see it work and be able to iron out every single number and say, okay, every time this dog comes in, we’re going to use this towel, which is going to cost me this much to wash and all of those things. So I know exactly, I can look and see how many dogs are there today and tell you exactly how many dollars that make that location is making, which is I think it’s difficult at the pet resort because there’s more moving parts, but for sure that you got to create that boutique experience.

It sounds like from the ground up as a dog lover, Owner, trainer, and caregiver. And I love I love the theme the thread through here that, you know, if it were just up to you, you probably wouldn’t have made so many jumps, you wouldn’t have been pushed off that cliff which is I think, where a lot of our listeners are stuck at right, they have this dream, but there’s no one around them. That’s like pushing them or around them to also help them build that parachute on the way down if you will.

Right. And I can’t I can’t say there haven’t been sleepless nights there are sleepless nights
of course, yes. But you’re not alone in it. You’re not alone in your head. It sounds like you know, you’ve got you’ve got other people to bounce that off of into support and, and dream with you. So with. If you didn’t stop there either. You have like another one, right? You have like, yeah, we can keep track of everything. I think you have three locations and a pet. Pet food.

Yeah, we have a bit. We have a Pet One franchise, which is hot, it’s high-end, small-batch cooks pet food that they ordered by the pound so they can get it weekly, they can get it monthly. And that way it’s very, very fresh. Because, as a trainer, you know that the dog’s health needs to be in good shape. Otherwise, your problems are simply from their home. Yeah, and just incredible. Owning a franchise was a cool experience. So I’m kind of like, I’m kind of addicted to it. It was very fun.

That’s amazing. Absolutely. And like I said, it’s just so fun watching you grow because it’s kind of like oops, I did it again. Oops, we’re doing another one. I’m like, Of course, you are your brand new Clark. Babies
you’re like oh look, it looks like we’re rolling. So with all of these brands and stuff, right, I know it’s been also interesting wrapping your head around how to do the branding and the marketing and present them all as you know we have all the solutions for you. Which one do you want? How did you wrap your head around how you were going to present your businesses into the market with marketing and branding?

I still think it needs some simplifying because I still we’re still confusing people I need I’m working on developing a better flowchart of okay, you’re entering here, here’s where you could go or you could go here to map it out more for them. But Well, we wanted to make sure that we included is that all of our locations and all of our services included the name Tail Chasers because that’s the name that people know. I mean, we’ve been around for 20 years, we’ve touched a lot of families with our services, and they know us, they feel comfortable with us. So when a new resort opens up, so we’re not, for example, our new resort, the enrichment daycare when it opened, I didn’t want these people that oh my gosh, there’s another daycare in that building. I wanted it to have that Tail Chasers brand, so people could think back and go, Why do I know that name? Oh, yeah. When I had the little schnauzer they came and walked my dog for me, I know. So we added the name on top of the resorts. So when we took over Barrington Pet Resort, it was called Barrington Kennels, The pet resort is just much more comforting and it is a resort where we have all kinds of adventures that dogs can go on while they’re here. But I wanted to make sure that people coming in knew that it was tail chasers who were now managing it in control of it. So we added tail chasers and then the Barrington pet resort underneath. It also helps with some location and some searches and some SEO for people that are saying, you know, pet care and Barrington. We didn’t want to put everything just under one social media for tail chasers because a lot of people tag the different locations like there may be someone up here in Barrington, looking for dog daycare, if you just put tail shaves, when they see we’re in Arlington Heights, they’re not gonna want to go there they want it to go by. So when it has the name Barrington on it, that helps them kind of recognize where it is, it helps with people tagging us on different pages. Because if they tag tail chasers, people are gonna think that’s just the dog walking services. So the second one is called Arlington Pet Resort with the tail chasers on the top of it. So that’s what we plan to add, when we add more resorts to will probably keep the name of the resort. Like I don’t know, if it was Fidos house, it would be tail chasers Fidos house.

So if you think back to Randy Clark 2004, what most important piece of advice would you give her?

Document everything you do. So learn how to fix a problem, write out the procedure, and make a video of it, so that the visual learners and the audio learners are going to be able to understand it, and save it in a file that’s easy for you to find later when your brains all scattered. Also, know your numbers don’t work for free. Yes, sure your numbers from the very beginning provide enough income to be able to get the team that you need.

Those are very good. That’s a very good piece of solid sage advice right there. So with that, you know, maintaining the kind of income you need, that also leads to work-life balance. And I mean, you live on the resort with your two incredible sons, which I’ve had the privilege of virtually watching in a row. I mean, we had our second you had your second at the same time I had Olivia. Um, and it’s been beautiful watching you. I mean, you homeschool them, right? And you’re back in school now.

But yes, we did. We did homeschool that school

you’re like super mom opening these businesses like doing all that stuff. So engaged. I love watching that I admire that part of you. So how do you? How have you I know it’s a flow, right? It’s not an actual balance like it balances out? It’s always a flow. But how do you balance that work-life flow?

You have to have a really good team like you have to have another one of you basically, that everything is spelled out so that they’re never gonna have to contact you to ask you a question because you’ve answered it somewhere that they can find easily. And take two days off a week. Like you have to have at least two days off a week completely off so that you don’t need to worry about your phone going up. Because owning a business as I’ve gone through these 20 years, you start to develop this almost panic response when your phone rings, you think the worst thing possible is happening. And it messes with you, even if they’re just calling you to say, Hey, I’m gonna order lunch for the team. Do you want me to order anything for you? That’s not what you thought when the phone rang. And I’ve even worked with our team now because we have a manager’s phone. I’m the manager on duty right now. Don’t call me. Email me text me don’t call me because if you’re calling you need an answer right now and that means it’s something stressful. Yeah, but you mean two days to just not Think about it, and trying not to think about your business. I know it’s really hard. I’m always thinking about it. It’s like, like my child. And I mean, I’ll be running on a Saturday morning and think, oh, I can add this service. And this is how I would break it up. Don’t do it, don’t do it, send yourself an email for a Monday. And think about it on Monday watch some stupid, like mindless. It is, it’s really important for our brains to like, get out of that workload and that stress mode, because that also is where we’re able to, like reset and be creative. You know, like our brains can’t like it’s like a car, it can’t operate at six RPMs all the time, it needs to shift out of gear.

So in our final moments here, um, what advice would you give to pet sitters just starting who’s dreaming about you know, opening a facility one day?

Know your numbers and have everything written out because when you open this facility, you’re gonna be there a lot. Make sure you’re physically fit because the boarding industry is very physically demanding the cleaning is hard. Running playgroups is physically hard. Be ready for it. Don’t wait till you’re older like I do. Um, it’s, it’s a whole nother beast. But it’s a wonderful beast. It’s I mean, it’s, it is fun, like, playgroups. And when dogs are boarding, it’s, it’s fun. I mean, you’re the person that they’re looking to, for all their attention a lot like when your pet sitting. But you know, they’re at your place, you can go put on her dogs when they if you want to, right, um, save your money, because pet resorts are expensive, and you’re gonna have to put down 10% Be ready for it. Have a plan. So if you say okay, 10 years from now I want to open a pet resort, look at the pet resorts in your area, see how much they cost, and start saving that 10% down. We were able to leverage our current pet-sitting business as part of the downpayment. But we still had to have that money to put down and then we got it back in the closing because we had leveraged our business. So you do need to have really good credit otherwise you’re going to pay crazy interest rates is not going to be worth it. You don’t necessarily have to even own the building. We’ve been talking to some private equity groups to prepare for someday if we want to sell and most of them don’t even want to deal with a building you end up holding the building yourself or having a real estate company hold it. So don’t let that hold you back. Like oh, I can’t afford to buy this building. Some of them are in leased spaces. If you want to open your own from scratch as we did with our doggy daycare, our enrichment daycare plan is to not make $1 for three years for sure. Try not to finance anything because you just can’t it’s not going to grow as fast as you expect it well. And you don’t want that pressure on you that you think oh my gosh, I need more dogs and you start cutting what you’re charging right well hold understand why you are charging what you’re charging make your service worth it, and hold tight. I mean it’s it’s gonna be a lot of work and it’s hard.

But there you go, you guys you got the 20 years of experience for multi-business owner Brandon Clark would tell chasers. Randa if people want to go cyberstalk you how can they find you?
www.tailchasers.com  is our website. And we have Facebook pages with each of the business names that you’ll see on that website. And that says my 14-year-old son Miles does all of our social media. So enjoy the comedy there.
And he’s doing a fantastic job if I do say so myself.

Randa, thank you so much for your time today. I appreciate it. I know that you’ve inspired a lot of our listeners today. You guys. I would love to hear what your biggest takeaway is. To find out where you saw this post go ahead and tag Randa and just let her know that her time here was well spent and how much you appreciated it because I sure did. You guys remember when life gets you down always keep jumping

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