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Rising Stars: Meet Hayley Efird

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hayley Efird.

Hi Hayley, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstories with our readers.
The inspiration for The Doghouse came to me back in 2016 when I was in town hanging out at a friend’s house and grabbing a snack from the fridge. I noticed these proud fur parents had their dog’s progress report taped to their refrigerator from their doggy daycare. It was a simple checklist of activities and behaviors from the dog’s day.

Nothing too fancy, but it sure blew the socks off the parents. That’s when my mind started going places, creatively speaking, as it naturally does being an Art Director in Advertising. I thought this could be much more than a list of checkmarks. It could be so much more personal through the power of creativity. I thought about what my dog, Pete (now the school’s Headmaster), would enjoy doing and how I (the parent) could enjoy that experience, too. Having never taken him to daycare or board, other than to Petco for a much-needed bath, I realized that dogs deserve a more personalized experience because, after all, he is my child.

Fast forward to Spring of 2018 after two years of dabbling around the city for the perfect location and continuing to problem-solve and ideate on what all I knew was inevitable. I received a call from my Financial Advisor while working at my Advertising job here in Memphis that would change the game forever. When I hung up that call, it was game time. We had finally locked in the perfect location for what was about to be the most magical, new kind of experience to be offered to my favorite type of existence – dogs.

Within the first 24 hours of hanging up the most historical phone call I’ve had to date, I started checking off my never-ending to-do list by starting with the most vital organ of the business–the magic school bus. I went online and purchased a retro short bus from a private school in Alabama. You can imagine the calls I received about the first purchase to hit the bank and the questions around ‘this large purchase’ that I proudly spoke to.

During that summer of 2018, my team and I turned a large 3-story house on Summer Avenue into a dog’s playhouse. A place where dogs called the shots for once. I was very grateful and blessed to have found the initial team I did to help me build this beautiful beast. One of my first employees, Erin Looker, is now the CEO of the business and most recently became my official partner. There is something consequential between a rare team of two who share the same values and passion for the company, can balance each other out through smooth and rough waters, and give their 100% at all times, even on days when your battery is on low. I wouldn’t be here without her, and neither would the company. Fun Fact: Erin and I are 13 years apart, which speaks volumes about how lucky I have been to find such a rare breed.

The Doghouse School is the complete opposite of the traditional dog care business. It’s a place where messy is good, mud feels right, and being you is a good thing. When we say ‘school’, we are not talking about training. This place is more like your toddler’s elementary school experience. On their first day, each kid receives a personalized school bag, a top-secret journal to write in, and a folder to send home notes, crafts, and letters to the parents. As they return to school, they earn badges on their school bags (similar to Boy Scouts) based on their personalities, what they become infamous for in class, or for marking essential milestones as they grow up. The students also partake in arts and crafts during recess and participate in school projects such as Science Fair Experiments. We also give each student a school folder inside their bags to take home to the parents that contain notes, invitations to future events, crafts made that day, and more. Some days we partake in music class, movie time, and spontaneous adventures in the magic school bus.

We made it very clear on day one we aren’t anyone else. We’re a new business, a new brand, and we’re going to do things differently. We want each dog’s experience to be like visiting a friend’s house, not going to a facility. And all that is said with believing that every place should be different because different isn’t bad. Just like humans, dogs also need options, and that’s a big part of why we exist. Things like music and art lessons may seem silly for dogs, but the volume of positive effects we’ve seen on the dogs is so powerful. Dogs are highly emotional and intelligent animals and thrive on learning new things and engaging in new experiences in safe environments. You can’t just write off music class because it’s a dog. Some dogs will sit there the whole time; it’s really cool. And just like parents of human children, it means something to their clients too. It is exciting to be a part of the story Memphis is unfolding. It’s incredible–one of the best feelings. The Doghouse is proud to call this city home.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It has been a wild, beautiful ride. We’ve had many amazing people and various types of teams throughout these past four years. It’s crazy to look back and see how much impact the team has had on that phase of the business. When I look back at all the different types of teams we’ve had over the years, the level of strength and passion of each is so evident. It makes all the difference. Even when the waters were extremely rough, the much-needed testing and growth opportunities made us who we are today.

The biggest struggle remains with finding the right people and ensuring the business can invest back into each employee at the rate they are investing in us. The dog daycare industry is highly challenging if you aren’t a hybrid facility with additional revenue sources like vets. Daycare is not cheap, but if you break down the numbers for the average daycare cost, people are paying anywhere from $2-$4/hour for daycare. And when you offer unique experiences such as art, field trips, bag swag, and other personalized touches that are of no additional cost, it’s imperative to find consistent, passionate, hard-working employees that understand what it takes to become great.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am an Art Director in Advertising and the owner of The Doghouse School. I specialize in using the power of creativity to make a difference in people’s lives.

I am known for starting a new kind of dog daycare here in Memphis, TN – my hometown. We are one in an industry of none and that is what makes me most proud. I’ve always loved the saying, “Everyone wanted to be like Mike. Mike did not want to be like anyone else.” for several reasons. The Doghouse School was created to offer something new and different. We never wanted to try to be anyone else nor will we ever. We just do us and that’s powerful. On the other hand, we’ve inspired other businesses across the world just like we were inspired and continue to be by other influences.

However, when other places have tried to replicate what we do, it’s nowhere near the level or outcome of what is produced at The Doghouse. And the best part of all this is that there is no secret method or recipe. We show our cards and welcome anyone behind the scenes. What it comes down to is staying true to yourself–your individual culture, values, passion, and vision. So far, that’s been the key for my team and therefore it has been everything for the Doghouse Pupils who attend our school.

What matters most to you? Why?
Respect and transparency.

Respect: No matter what you do or what industry you are in, being respectful of one another and each other’s work is one of the most valuable traits to have. I believe that you should always respect everyone, even when you feel the competition coming on hard. Competition is a great thing and should always be healthy. I enjoy moments of “I wish I thought of that” or “Man, that was so smart!” whether it’s related to The Doghouse or my Advertising job because it helps me think differently and reenergizes me to push my limits. It also creates a sense of pride and honor for the creators of the work.

Transparency: Being transparent is one of the most game-changing elements in every relationship and situation. It’s easy to be transparent when everything is already known. However, maintaining transparency in rough waters is the most beautiful form of human connection. It keeps you free and honest. It also reciprocates a level of trust and respect that you can’t achieve if you aren’t transparent. Transparency is one of our core values at The Doghouse School, and to date, it has been one of the many game changers in our relationships with the parents.

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Image Credits
The Doghouse School

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