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Backstory: Two families build a luxury resort for pets

Lochsie chews on a giant bone at the Green Beagle Lodge in Chapel Hill on Dec. 16, 2014.
Lochsie chews on a giant bone at the Green Beagle Lodge in Chapel Hill on Dec. 16, 2014. vbridges@newsobserver.com

They call it the running of the dogs.

It’s that energetic moment when the Green Beagle Lodge lets out packs of dog for an extended playtime. Large, medium and small dogs enthusiastically walk, run and sniff their way to clearings where they can jump in an in-ground pool, romp in some sand or get chased by a retriever on ground carpeted with artificial turf.

The scene is one of the systems that the owners of the Green Beagle Lodge are still perfecting as they aspire to build a pet facility based on The Ritz-Carlton standards in an environmentally efficient building.

The 10,000-square-foot lodge has 90 enclosures for dogs, along with pamper and activity rooms and nine cat condos with separate ventilation systems. The 14-acre campus also includes 30,000 square feet of fenced-in space that’s covered with recycled field turf – no longer good for playing sports, but the dogs don’t seem to mind.

The facility, which is lighted most of the day by sun tunnels, includes a roof system that captures and stores up to 3,000 gallons of rainwater. The water is filtered and treated with UV light before it’s pulled through a secondary plumbing system and used for cleaning, flushing, filling the pool and irrigation.

The lodge was an effort conceived and developed by two Chapel Hill families, the Schmidts and the Purners, after the Schmidts explored buying a similar business near Lake Norman.

The families met when their children, who are now in high school, started kindergarten at St. Thomas More in Chapel Hill. David and Margy Schmidt own a Zippy Shell, a moving and storage franchise that covers Chapel Hill and Durham. Drew Purner manages sales for an orthopedic brace company, and Tammy Purner is a flight attendant for Delta.

They moved forward with the idea in August 2011 and successfully sought to buy land from Tammy Purner’s family on the northern edge of Chapel Hill. Personal investment and bank financing covered startup funds for the costly venture.

The Green Beagle Lodge model includes seven revenue streams, with dog boarding expected to cover most of the company’s income.

Other revenue streams include pet day care, grooming, training programs, a pet shuttle dubbed the WAGon, a small retail area and membership fees ($25 per month for the first pet) that gives participants access to fenced in areas after hours, monthly events and 10 percent discounts on some services.

The company is bucking the a-la-cart pricing trend (a base rate plus fees for feeding and taking the pet outside) and experimenting with all-inclusive rates, $45 to $55 per night depending on the animal’s enclosure.

“I don’t want to be nickel and dimed when I go somewhere, just give me a one-time fee,” Tammy Purner said.

The facility opened at the end of June, and its monthly averages have increased from nearly nine dogs a day in July to about 45 dogs in December, Tammy Purner and the Schmidts said in an interview last week.

To expand their reach, the owners have worked to create a website that naturally shows up in Internet searches, visited local vets and participated in or hosted events with organizations, such as Independent Animal Rescue.

Over the past few months, Tammy Purner and the Schmidts have spent a lot of the time at the business and learned to fill in wherever they are needed, be it check-in or cleaning.

“If I have a hard day, all I have to do is go out there in that yard with some dogs and snuggle and throw a ball and be happy,” Tammy Purner said.

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