Small Business Partner Spotlight Sponsored By American Express: Pet Camp

Pet Camp has been providing care for San Francisco’s dogs and cats at its Main Campground in the Bayview neighborhood and at its Cat Safari location in Presidio Heights since 1997.  Started with the basic premise of “what would we want for our pets,” Pet Camp is not only the largest family owned pet care provider in San Francisco, with over 20 years of experience, Pet Camp is most experienced.  Accepting American Express® Cards is just one of the ways Pet Camp strives to make both their four-legged and two-legged clients happy.  What’s more, over 38,000 more places in the San Francisco area started accepting American Express® Cards in 2018.* We sat down with Mark Klaiman, Pet Camp’s Senior Counselor to learn more.

How did Pet Camp get started?

Virginia Donohue, my wife, and I were both working at the United States Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco, but we wanted to start a business that would allow us to take our dogs to work.  In the classic “be careful what you wish for” we went from wanting to be able to take our own dogs to work to getting to spend the day with 100 dogs.

But I still remember brushing out a Newfoundland one afternoon thinking I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this; I would do it for free.   This was the beginning of the Dot Boom and while everyone we knew was going high tech – we went low tech.  We spent a lot of time questioning our decision; but Pet Camp is still here and that company with a sock puppet that sold dog food on line is long gone.

What makes running Pet Camp unique?

The first 18 years we were open we not only ran the business together; we shared an office– which was also the server and telephone room.  During this time, we also started a family and had 4 children.  Pet Camp is the true family business.  When we first opened we rotated nights sleeping at Pet Camp (we didn’t want to leave the dogs alone at night) and once we had kids we rotated our days off so one of us could work and the other could be with the kids; our kids learned about branding at the kitchen table, spent many years dressing up as Santa Paws, and even made a video for our Barktoberfest Party.

I think that keeping Pet Camp as a family run business and allowing the business to reflect all of the quirkiness and craziness of our family and has allowed Pet Camp to continue to grow without becoming stale or corporate.  Our decision to stay in San Francisco and to raise our family here has kept us part of the San Francisco community that so many other businesses lack.  We see our customers everywhere and understand that our relationships with them is as much personal as it is professional.

What are some projects that your organization has been a part of here in San Francisco?

Pet Camp joined the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce almost as soon as we opened.  Subsequently we’ve joined other small business advocacy groups: Economic Development of Third Street, the Bayview Merchants Association, and the Potrero Hill Dog Patch Merchants Association.  We think it’s important the voice of small business and especially the voice of business in the neighborhoods of San Francisco, such as the Bayview, that are too often left out of the discussion are heard by the decision makers at City Hall.  We have also been active in San Francisco Aid for Animals which funds veterinary care for San Francisco pet parents who can’t afford care and Friends of San Francisco Animal Care and Control.

What makes Pet Camp different?

When people ask me what makes Pet Camp different it’s easy to say things like our amazing 20,000 square feet of outdoor doggie play space; our Safari Solarium or our retractable roof. Sure, all those things are cool and no one else has them; but really, it’s the Pet Camp Counselors.  In an industry with an estimated 125% annual turnover rate for employees, we’ve had counselors work at Pet Camp for 20 years and about 25% of the counselors have been here for more than 10 years.  They get Pet Camp’s values but more importantly they get understand what pet parents want when it comes to caring for their fur babies.

*Based on internal comparison of American Express small merchant locations in December 2017 to American Express small merchant locations in December 2018.