ADOGO Pet Hotel

Giving Dogs the Four-Star Treatment

Monday, April 1, 2013

Two of John Sturgess’ passions are the hotel business and dogs. For more than 20 years in corporate America, this ’08 MBA’s entire career has been in what he calls the “human hotel business.” After enduring many years of traveling for work and having to bring his two golden retrievers to boarding facilities, Sturgess was struck with the idea of merging his love of pets with his knowledge of the lodging industry. From this, ADOGO Pet Hotel was born.

Located in Minnetonka, Minn., ADOGO Pet Hotel offers dog boarding as the name implies. But it also offers other amenities such as daycare, grooming, and training. “We are focused on the high-end segment in all services we provide,” Sturgess says. “Local news stations have called ADOGO the Westin of the dog hotel business.”

Sturgess knows that, like him, people love their pets and want them treated first-class—and he has the numbers to back him up. “The pet industry is the seventh-largest industry in the United States,” he says. “It has grown from a $17 billion business in 1994 to over $53 billion in 2012. This growth has been two to three billion dollars per year since 2008. Thirty-seven percent of U.S. families own a dog, with over 80 million dogs in the U.S. More importantly, the segment I am focusing on is relatively new and will continue to capture market share as pet owners treat their dogs more like family members than pets.”

To get ADOGO up and running, the Carlson Executive MBA program (CEMBA) was an integral part of his business plan, Sturgess says. “Several aspects of the CEMBA program assisted in giving me the tools and confidence to move forward with starting ADOGO,” he says. “First of all, the professors structured most classes from a consultative perspective in which we discussed solutions and outcomes as if we were decision-makers, not just students analyzing a specific problem.”

Another benefit he highlights is being with the same students during the entire two-year program. “We became our own critical sounding boards and consultants,” he says. “With such a broad range of experience and expertise, we held many internal—during class time—and external discussions.”

Sturgess also credits the program with strengthening his accounting acumen, building on his marketing knowledge, and helping him understand the role organizational behavior and business ethics play in decision-making and engagement. “Decisions we make at ADOGO have to be in balance with the following three issues in order to move forward: quality, market share, and profit,” he says. “We look to build sustainable cash flow, quality, and market share in balance with each other.”

Sturgess can even point to specific professors and their classes that helped him get ADOGO off the ground. “Ken Roering’s marketing class was effective in showing us how to grow business and the strength of a good plan,” he says. “George John’s analytical marketing class and Aks Zaheer’s management class focused on the bottom line. And Mary Zellmer-Bruhn’s organizational behavior class was a great opportunity to look at companies internally to see how they communicate and build corporate culture and employee engagement.” Ed Joyce and Charlie Caliendo’s accounting classes are also credited by Sturgess, as well as a statistics course taught by Christopher Nachtsheim. “Chris’ stats class opened my eyes and sometimes glazed them over, but when I did a regression analysis, I had the “a-ha” moment,” Sturgess said.

Although ADOGO keeps him busy, continuing a relationship with the Carlson School is important, as well as enjoyable, for Sturgess. “I have been on panel discussions, spoken in classes, and have been a mentor in Carlson’s mentor program the past two years,” he says. “Even though I am still in the early stages of building my business, I will continue to work with the Carlson School, from speaking, mentoring, and other roles that will benefit students and future entrepreneurs. I do believe I can be a valuable resource to students because they can watch ADOGO evolve in its early stages.”

As for being an entrepreneur, Sturgess has a simple credo: “It is a journey that will be successful if you are engaged and committed to it! And I am!”