Dog sitting on sofa
Six years after opening Paws Chateau, her luxury hotel and day camp for dogs, Louise McCullough has had to suspend operations for the time being as the coronavirus pandemic led clients and their pets to stay at home.
In early March, the Huntington Beach, Calif., business started receiving calls from customers canceling reservations after the outbreak halted their travel plans. McCullough spent much of the month seeking ways to keep furry campers coming in the door.
Then on March 19, to help combat the dangerous virus’ rapid spread, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered Californians to stay home except for necessary activities and directed that most businesses close, except for those providing essential services. The following day, Paws Chateau, with 23 employees and two co-owners, had no campers.
“He told everyone to stay home and they did,” said McCullough, a certified dog trainer who owns the business with her entrepreneur father, Peter King.
“We unfortunately had to temporarily close. We had devised ways to try to weather through this, including targeting healthcare workers and other essential workers and providing discounted rates. The plan was to deliver flyers to local hospitals, medical centers, grocery stores etc.,” she said via email on March 23.
“These people have to work long hours and might need their dog taken care of and healthcare work long hours will get longer. If we could increase dog day campers and boarders from these markets, it would help increase the numbers with our existing day camp customer base,” said McCullough.
Like many small businesses across the United States, Paws Chateau has been hit by sweeping stay-at-home policies aimed at slowing the highly contagious virus. After Newsom’s announcement, the pet day care tried to brainstorm ways to keep the business running.
“We ran the numbers every possible way and couldn’t figure out how to just break even and cover salary and rent. We made the difficult decision to close for a month and furlough all our staff. We told the staff and there was a lot of tears. I tried to assure them that we are strong, we have customers who love us, and we will come back stronger after this,” she said.
The business received an outpouring of support after emailing its customers. “I cried as I read the email responses. It was validation that I was doing the right thing and that our clients did love us. Clients offered to buy day camp packages now to help generate cash. They left voicemails just to say they love us and they’ll be back as soon as we open the doors back up,” said McCullough.
After the last dogs went home, she found it “surreal” to walk around the building. “It was eerily quiet— no happy barking dogs, no staff voices, just absolute silence. We opened on March 24, 2014, and six years almost to the day, I am standing in an empty white facility like I did six years ago,” she said.
“The part I will miss the most is the dogs. Not seeing those faces everyday and how excited they are so see me. It has been an emotional week, and there are good days and bad days but we will be back and this will make us stronger.”
Last week the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES, was signed into law to help support the economy, including small businesses, during the pandemic. The U.S. Small Business Administration, which offers information on outbreak-related aid available to businesses, announced on Tuesday a new $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program to help employers maintain operations and pay their staffs.
McCullough said Tuesday it wasn’t clear yet exactly what may be available through the CARES Act.
This is one in a series of stories about coronavirus outbreak effects on small businesses.