By Andrew Wig
SUN CURRENT NEWSPAPERS
Colleagues of John Sturgess wondered why he was abandoning his post as an international hotel executive so he could open a boarding kennel.
But the way Sturgess saw it, he was just swapping humans for canines.
Now, “I just happen to be in the four-legged hotel business,” the Eden Prairie resident said as he prepared to open the fourth location of Adogo Pet Hotels, a chain he founded in Minnetonka six years ago.
The new Richfield facility, which opened last March 17, occupies a portion of the building that used to house the Zerorez carpet cleaning company.
Tucked into the northeast corner of Richfield, directly across Highway 77 from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the pet hotel occupies advantageous ground for serving the jet-setters who must leave their pooches behind.
“We think it’s an incredible location,” Sturgess said.
While Sturgess is an avowed dog lover partial to golden retrievers, he says he was guided more by sober market analysis than by emotions as he got into the pet hotel business. Drawing on his master’s degree in business administration and his experience developing hotels in North and South America, Sturgess did his research and found that the pet business “is one of the industries that’s been growing by leaps and bounds.”
He saw an opening to develop a pet hotel marketed as an upscale option for dog lovers. And it didn’t take much convincing to get his wife, Stacey, on board, either.
“I just thought it was just a brilliant idea, and I just thought there was a need for it, a need for something a little different,” said Stacey Sturgess, who brings a marketing background to the venture and oversees payroll and Adogo’s built-in pet spas and grooming services.
She explained how the business draws from her husband’s human hotel pedigree. For one, there’s always two staff members at the front desk when customers arrive, she explained.
“So it’s run sort of like a people hotel that way,” Stacey Sturgess said.
Similarly, staff refer to the dogs as their “guests,” and “we don’t call them kennels, we call them rooms. Little things like that,” she said.
Business meets love
While John Sturgess saw a business opportunity, the owner of an 11-month-old golden retriever named Maverick said his attachment to dogs was still at the core of his decision.
“If it were only business, I would have stayed in the corporate world,” he said.
Aside from the business acumen gained in his previous role, he notes that working in the hospitality industry for 20-plus years has sharpened his observations of human behavior.
“People love their dogs, and they want their dogs treated well,” John Sturgess said.
As customers leave their animals behind with a sense of melancholy only to be greeted by a frenzy of sloppy kisses upon their return, the Sturgesses have become well-attuned to the emotional connection to people and their pets.
“Dogs aren’t considered pets anymore,” John Sturgess said. “They’re more considered part of the family.”
Stacey Sturgess added, “It’s very emotional for people. And we get it – our dogs are our kids.”
It’s an observation the Sturgesses have made while Adogo Pet Hotels has consistently expanded. After the Minnetonka location opened in 2011, a Maple Grove location opened three years later, followed a year later by a facility at Ridgedale Mall, also in Minnetonka.
The Richfield facility spans 13,000 square feet, with 128 overnight rooms and play areas inside and out. Adogo also embraces its location by offering airport shuttle service.
The company’s consistent expansion tells the Sturgesses they are in the right business, which they entered with little hesitation.
“We didn’t put our toe in the pool, we jumped in the deep end, the two of us,” John Sturgess said. ” … We said we believe in each other, we believe in this concept.”
Beyond their new Richfield pet hotel, the Sturgesses see room for further business expansion as they continue serving their four-legged clientele.
“I’ve even had customers say, ‘Hey, can we leave our kids?’” Stacey Sturgess said. “We haven’t branched out into that area yet.”