Five days a week, hundreds of dogs in the Richmond area walk to their neighborhood “bus stop” and run to their seats on remodeled school buses.
When the buses turn onto Lewis Road in eastern Henrico County, the dogs start to howl. They know they’re about to arrive at the Woofy Wellness Ranch.
Jeff Kellogg, a former corporate business executive, founded the Woofy Wellness Ranch in 2016.
Within the next three years, he plans to franchise five locations across the US
“Twenty five years ago, if you told me I was going to start a dog care business I would laugh,” Kellogg said. “I was just lucky enough to accumulate all this experience that positioned me to do this the way we’re doing it. It’s a classic example of following your nose during your career and taking on anything that comes your way if you can learn something.”
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The 2-acre ranch in Varina is simple and utilitarian, with no fancy playscapes or toys.
“We don’t want any of that,” Kellogg said. “We want the dogs to interact with each other and we want the dogs to interact with the ‘ranch hands.’”
The “ranch hands” teach the dogs proper behaviors: how to play, how to ask to play, how to say ‘no’ the right way.
“When I was sitting in boardrooms six years ago, I’d be laughing at this stuff. But it really works,” Kellogg said. “They get all the physical stuff that you see, the wrestling, the fresh air and all that. But because we’re constantly working with them, and they’re constantly engaging with each other, it really wipes them out mentally.”
Customers call it the “woofy hangover.”
The ranch hands are trained by dog expert Bill Howard, who runs the safety and training side of the business. Howard says he is the first to apply the type of psychological training that he employs in a group setting.
On the ranch, the dogs are split into four groups, based on personality. On one end of the spectrum are older dogs who want to sun themselves, and on the other end are puppies who want to wrestle all day.
As dogs spend more time on the ranch, they tend to shift groups because of the psychological training, said Kellogg and Howard.
“There’s no playbook. There’s no training materials,” Kellogg said. “We’ve actually had to step back and create training materials from scratch.”
The 2-acre ranch sees between 100 and 150 dogs each day. Kellogg said there is enough land to increase capacity to accommodate 400 dogs at a time as the business grows.
In the early years, bus stops were set up at a few businesses around town, which was convenient for people working in offices. In 2020, Kellogg set up more residential stops due to the increased demand.
In March 2020 after Capital One announced a shutdown at the onset of the pandemic, Kellogg said the phones started ringing off the hook. Customers wanted to cancel their memberships.
March and April were lost.
But then the phones started ringing again, and people wanted back in. Business doubled by the end of the year.
Kellogg said that people soon realized that working from home with a dog wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And many people adopted new pets during pandemic shutdowns.
“We were a good way for people to have the dog, have the companionship and care for something, but during the day come here so they can work,” Kellogg said. “The dog is also coming home better behaved, coming home mellow, because it’s been out playing all day and having fun.”
There are now 17 bus stops in the Richmond area. The largest concentration of customers are in the Wyndham area of western Henrico.
The daily rate for day school including transportation on the woofy bus is $39.95. Most people opt for a two- or three-day a week monthly pass, which costs $300 or $440 a month. The business also offers a-la-carte services such as in-home training, grooming and boarding.
While the goal is to become a national business, Kellogg said he wants to stay headquartered in Henrico with the centralized administration. Kellogg did not give specifics on revenue growth, but said the business has seen double-digit percentage growth each year.
“The goal is to expand. This will work in every city. Everybody’s busy, everybody wants a dog, and everybody needs help,” Kellogg said. “We allow people who normally wouldn’t be able to have a dog, we help them have a dog because we help them care for it. We help them give it a safe, good place to go and learn every day.”