We’ve probably all heard it, right? Dad said: “don’t touch the puppies until their eyes are open.” Well, according to research done at Purdue University, waiting to handle pups is not a great idea and here’s why.
Mike Miller Vinyl Tech Kennels
TDJ: Currently, are most of your buildings portable shed style, or are you also building permanent structures?
In Collaboration With: Mike Miller and The Dog journal
MM: All of the actual building of the structures we sub out to other builders. We don’t build any actual structures ourself. Our work begins after the shell is completed, then we go in and build the actual pens and kennels. This would be the wall liner, fronts, dividers, and basically anywhere where the dogs are housed. Most of these pens come in plastic, aluminum, or stainless steel. A larger percent of the buildings we do today are for permanent structures with foundations, and for those we install the pens after they are built. Any portable structures we do, we get the building after it’s completed and then install everything at that point.
TDJ: What seems to be the up-and-coming trend, portable versus permanent structures?
MM: The current trend is permanent by far. I would say to put a percentage on it, I would guess that around 90% of the structures we work on are permanent. That’s for us specifically, but there are other companies out there that specialize in portable structures only. My estimation would be that 70% are permanent and 30% portable.
One good reason for someone to go with a portable structure is if someone is renting their current property or if they are a small scale breeder. The downsides, then, are less structure, and you have some space limitations. There are lots of State of the Art portable kennels in our area.
Some of the benefits of permanent structures are more stability, as well as the fact that the building can be repurposed at any point, if a breeder decides to move or leave the industry. The thing is, almost all of the features and options that are available in permanent structures are now also available in portable buildings, so that’s nice. AC, plumbing, pen design, flooring etc., its all available in either option.
TDJ: What are some new or trending features or products that you get a lot of demand for?
MM: The latest big thing that has really hit the industry are the open, poly fronts on the pens. What we hear a lot is that breeders can socialize with their dogs and puppies much better, and there’s a lot more human/animal interaction. Socializing is very important when raising these puppies, and this feature allows for more of that in an easier way. Also, most of the kennels we fit have large exercise runs, in addition to a separate fenced off play yard where the dogs and puppies can run and play. We recently started manufacturing furniture and toys for these yards that give the puppies a real in-home experience. They will learn to use retrieval toys, ramps, stairs, slides, and swing sets.
The most typical whelping systems we install in our buildings have a heat plate that is heated by hot water and can be adjusted to the perfect temperature.
TDJ: How often do different laws and programs dictate trends that make you change the way you build your structures?
MM: Well, that depends, and I don’t know that there is a real rhyme or reason for these changes. One thing that’s important to remember is that even though nobody likes changes, it doesn’t take long after a change is made before we would never go back to the way things were before that change. For example, the change in laws forced us to get rid of multiple layers and focused on more space, which was great. More space for the dogs, which creates less health problems, and in the end, that makes for happier puppies going to their forever homes. I would never want to go back to those cages of the early days!
TDJ: How has Covid, and more recently, the slowing down of the economy affected your business?
MM: Obviously after Covid happened, we experienced a major increase in business, and up until about February or March of this year we were trying to catch up. Since then, our business has slowed back down probably about 60%, and it has forced us to look for other options outside of this industry. We are currently doing some marine mechanical work, fixing boats. The main purpose for that is to keep our employees busy, and to be able to supply them with a paycheck. That has opened up a lot of opportunities to connect with people outside of the industry. I feel like Covid created a bubble, and we’re suffering from that a bit. I do see hope for the future, and I would estimate that within the next year or two, we’ll start seeing increases again.
One thing I do appreciate about the dog breeding industry is that it’s a very friendly crowd, with friendly people and friendly competition. Most industries aren’t that way, and again, that’s something I’m very grateful for in this industry. We wholesale lots of our products to other “competing” companies, but we all work together. It is really important to me to keep the communication open. Yes, we are competition, but we’re in competition together. We buy from them and they buy from us, and we all help each other out.
TDJ: Do you have any other options or avenues you would like to explore within the near future?
MM: Yes, actually we do. The demand for open style fronts, initiated the decision to purchase a CnC machine. This machine has allowed us to venture into all types of custom routing including wood, poly and plastic sheeting. The latest product that we offer is a child safety fence for your fire ring. We do not believe in reinventing the wheel but feel that this is a very cost effective product that has a huge value. In my mind, 1 prevented burn would pay for all the R&D.
We also have a list of dog wardens, rescues, vet clinics etc. that we would like to start marketing to. Up to this point, our target customer has been the commercial breeder. I do feel like there is a demand out there, though, in other areas in the industry. I don’t know exactly how to pursue that market, but I feel like somebody should, and I have intentions of trying it. There are similar units and products available online, but I believe we have a superior product to what is available. Whether that’s someone owning one dog or a number of them, I think the opportunity to provide our products outside of the local community is out there. My employees do play a big role in bringing on new ideas and deciding what we try and pursue, and I am grateful for that. We do prefer staying within the kennel industry, but I appreciate their willingness to also transfer to other industries with me if that is what we choose.
TDJ: What’s been the most challenging thing you’ve experience since you’ve taken on the company.
MM: Growing from 2 employees to 6 has probably been the most challenging part of the process. I am better at working on something by myself than things like financing or human resources. The area in which I’ve struggled and learned the most in is definitely human resources, whether that’s making sales, improving employee relationships, or really, anywhere where people are involved.
Honestly, some days it’s tough. The stress that goes with owning a business, not being sure of how we’ll pay the bills, not knowing how to respond to conflicts etc. I am extremely grateful for the mentors that have helped me in my company, and my father comes to mind first. Lots of friends have helped me, one of which has told me that I wouldn’t be happy working for someone else, and without a challenge like this I would get bored. The challenges of owning a business have tested my ability to switch roles and go from working in a company to working on a company. I do enjoy the opportunity to influence people in a positive way, though. For example, when an employee comes to me with the intention of starting his own business, and then is able to actually accomplish that. That to me is very rewarding, it’s a mountain top experience for me. If I can help someone reach their goals, either by them working with me, or just getting to know me as a person, that’s a mission accomplished!
TDJ: Mike, thanks again for taking the time for this interview. Best of luck with your company, and I look forward to seeing you next time!
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