Law graduate Rhiannon Beach set up Canberra’s first dog walking and day care business, Pups4Fun, in 2008 to help fund her part-time university degree. Ten years on, the innovative start-up has grown exponentially and employs 21 staff supervising 350 dogs each week.
Most small business owners will tell you that running a start-up is no walk in the park. But for 29-year-old law graduate Rhiannon Beach, setting up and running Canberra-based doggy day care business Pups4Fun has involved plenty. The venture began as a casual gig in 2008, when Beach was looking for a job to fit in between classes while studying a Bachelor of Law at the University of Canberra. The work quite literally involved walks in the park – as she began to escort a growing gang of pooches to local dog parks for exercise, giving grateful owners a few pet-free hours off the leash as well.
Ten years on, Pups4Fun takes care of 350 dogs each week, with 21 staff working across two canine grooming salons, a day-care centre and a private dog park. The impressive growth of the business has earned Beach finalist nominations in both the 2013 Telstra Business Women’s Awards and the 2016 Australian Institute of Management Awards.
“I started walking a couple of dogs and then it just grew,” says Beach, who completed her law degree over eight years while running the enterprise. “I actually had to drop back to part time at university because it was just so full on.”
Beach was just 19 years old when she printed a stack of Pups4Fun business cards and started leaving them at the reception desks of local vets around her home suburb in Curtin. She initially offered dog-walking services to Curtin residents, but the word about her innovative day-care program spread quickly throughout Canberra and nearby Queanbeyan. There was soon a waiting list of four-legged “students” who were frothing to join the fun.
“We used to operate in public dog parks, but our groups became so big,” says Beach, who now leases a private dog park complete with a huge sandpit for attendees to dig holes and go wild in. “We ended up getting dog groupies – we would show up with 25 dogs and we’d end up with another 25 members of the public and their dogs who would want to get involved.”
I majored in commercial law and I don’t think I would have come as far as I have in the business if I didn’t have the skills that I learnt through my law degree.
The owners of these “doggle-gangers” were often impressed by – and jealous of – the control Beach’s staff had over such large packs of animals. Beach explains that discipline and structured play time has always been a core part of her business. It is not just about dog walking and day care – she prioritises teaching the dogs new skills and getting them used to social interaction in foreign environments.
“The dogs learn to sit and stay, to heel at traffic lights and so on,” says Beach. “We’re all here to have fun, but we also have rules for safety and organisation. Every dog cannot stop and mark on that tree, otherwise we’d never get anywhere!”
The regulars at Pups4Fun are so well trained that they have earned semi-celebrity status around Canberra for practising sit and stay commands in huge groups. Up to 30 dogs will pose for iconic group photos in front of monuments like Parliament House, or at events like Canberra’s Floriade Festival.
“We’ve been to places with thousands of people and distractions and managed to get 25 dogs sitting down politely, with 30 random people taking photos of them,” says Beach.
But the various Pups4Fun services go beyond dog-walking and viral social media photo shoots. Two grooming salons operate daily – one in Queanbeyan and one in Fisher. A puppy day care to educate and socialise young dogs opens on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Beach’s staff walk another 80 to 90 dogs per week in small groups. And the “Out and about” program provides daily excursions for large groups of dogs that are dropped to the Pups4Fun headquarters in Fisher by 8.30am. Much like a school day, their human parents must retrieve their precious little ones in the evening between 5 and 6pm.
“These dogs are like people’s children,” says Beach. “And we have a lot of clients who don’t have children for whatever reason. They have no problem dropping them to day care and getting their hair cut regularly – usually the dogs have it cut more often than the owners!”
Beach says some people think she’s barking for “throwing away” her law degree to open a dog day-care business. But despite the hefty HECS loan hanging overhead, Beach has no regrets. She says her legal education has opened plenty of doors for her, has helped her navigate legal contracts and business proposals, as well as understand the legal environment her business operates in.
“I majored in commercial law and I don’t think I would have come as far as I have in the business if I didn’t have the skills I learnt through my law degree,” says Beach. “It’s not necessarily the content itself, but how to solve a problem, where to look for information, how to analyse it and apply it. How to put your best argument forward. I use the law every single day.”