Sunni Liston is the owner of Dogpatch Resort, a boutique dog resort in Clackamas County, Oregon.
The Dogpatch Resort has two large dog parks, spring-fed ponds, custom-built play structures, and lots of room to run. It’s the perfect place for dogs to play together and enjoy the outdoors. The Dogpatch Resort takes pride in its happy customers, whether they have four legs or two!
Can you tell me a little bit about what you do and offer?
We do dog daycare and boarding. It’s a boutique resort, and all of our play is outdoors. When I first started, I would drive to a parking lot in downtown Portland, park my van, and wait for people to drop off their dogs. Then, we’d drive out to my house to play outside, and the dogs would just have a great time. At the end of the day, I’d bring them back into town and their owners would pick them up happy and tired.
What made you decide to open the Dogpatch Resort?
I was a waitress and bartender for years, and one day I lost my health insurance. I didn’t have any other marketable skills, but I loved dogs. And as luck would have it, I knew a bunch of creative people that were dog owners. I realized that if I had one dog a day or thirty dogs a month, I could make my insurance payment and a little more. Luckily everything grew organically. I never had to borrow money, and I just started out with an Astro Van and picked up dogs for a play day. I decided on a play day because the boarding wasn’t that dependable, and plenty of dogs out there just needed to spend the day running and playing.
When I started the business, I didn’t think about buying all of these fancy things. I started slow. And then, one day, I had a successful business. I had to find out how to run a successful business all of a sudden. If you look around for business advice, it’s all about how to start a business. I already had one, and it was doing great, but I needed to upgrade from doing everything myself.
What’s your favorite part of running your own business?
My favorite part of the job is the dogs. My least favorite is the paperwork. The business has gotten so successful that we are working with a third generation of dogs. The dogs and their parents are like family.
Besides the relationships with the parents and the dogs, I get to give back. I do a lot of foster work with dog rescues, and I have one to three hospice dogs at the resort that are usually abandoned because of old age. Just because they are old doesn’t mean they don’t deserve love. They get to live out the rest of their lives here.
It’s really a dream come true: I get to help out these dogs and make an income.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
The biggest challenge is that I almost worked myself to death. Someone told me that the two most common things that can happen with a small business are that it’s either not successful or too successful. I had to make a decision—either keep working myself to the bone or look into hiring employees to help out.
How does Patriot’s Full Service Payroll help you?
Patriot made payroll so affordable and easy I could finally hire employees. To be honest, I was scared to hire employees at work. I simply do not want paperwork in my life. I’ll go scoop dog poop before I sit down at a desk.
When I first looked into taxes and payroll software, it was either too complicated or too expensive and took away from my bottom line. Patriot saved me from the nightmares of working myself too much and paying too much for complicated payroll software. Patriot made my payroll possible at an affordable price.
Tell me about working with dogs. What do you like about them? What unique challenges do you find working with so many at a time?
The main thing is that people don’t send what some folks would call “good” dogs to us. The dogs that are really old or well-behaved can just stay at the house. We get dogs that have too much energy to sit at home. They need to run around and play. And that’s great for us.
But with all those different energy levels come different personality types, and we have to manage those personalities. I wouldn’t put a pit bull in with a huge group of party animals because pit bulls like a smaller group. So we curate the groups of dogs that we put together. Curating, managing, and knowing their personalities is a big part of our work.
The great thing about dogs is that they don’t hide anything from you. They are what they are. So, in the end, it’s a pretty simple thing. I’m reluctant to retire because of how much I love the business. It’s a dream job.
When it comes to your business, what are you most proud of?
I came up with the idea 20 years ago, long before dog resorts were popular. I’m a high school dropout and came up with the business when one career wasn’t cutting it. And I taught myself how to do all of it, running the business, social media, and paying employees. I’m very proud that my business is so successful.
Do you have any pets of your own?
I have three dogs of my own. I’m also fostering two dogs right now, taking care of two senior-age dogs, and we have a resident special needs dog named Bobby.
What advice do you have for people hoping to start their own business?
Try not to grow too fast. What I see happening is that people don’t sit down and figure out how much they’d have to sell to make a living wage. Grow organically and let the money come in.
It’s hard enough to have a business when you aren’t over-extended, But when you put yourself out there like that, you could lose everything. I was never going to put myself on the line like that to start a business.
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*Also, check out Cooper Loves Ice Cream on YouTube. Cooper and Daisy went viral, were shown on America’s Funniest Home Video, and made it to the Discovery Channel.
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