After years in the hotel industry, John Sturgess decided to apply his hospitality and marketing skills to a different type of guest.
"I'm combining my love of the hotel business with my love of dogs," says the high-octane former hotel executive, who owns ADOGO Pet Hotel in Minnetonka, Minn., a western suburb of Minneapolis. He is pursuing a second facility at a vacant office/warehouse that also housed a children's recreation business in the Continental Executive Parke in Vernon Hills
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A Minneapolis resident, Sturgess said he grew up in the Hinsdale area and considers the Chicago suburbs to be prime turf for an ambitious expansion plan in a growth industry. Minneapolis' western suburbs mirror those in northeastern Illinois, he said, noting Vernon Hills and Minnetonka are much alike.
"I knew I wanted to be in the northern suburbs," he said earlier this week after making his pitch to the Vernon Hills village board. "It fits perfectly with what my model is."
ADOGO is described as an upscale enterprise offering boarding and day care with rates for rooms ranging from $34 to $74 per night, not including charges for other services, such grooming or training.
Think 5-star hotel for dogs, says Sturgess, whose biography lists more than 20 years with Carlson Hotels Worldwide, AmeriSuites and other hotel concerns.
"I would like to be the Marriott or Hilton of pet hotels," he said. "My focus is to get a big box in the northern suburbs. The ambition is to grow throughout the United States."
Sturgess says the investment at 500 N. Fairway Drive could reach $1 million, including renovations, furniture, fixtures and marketing.
His impetus is continuing pet industry growth, in which expenditures have risen from $17 billion in 1994 to more than $53 billion last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Sturgess told village trustees that 36 percent to 38 percent of U.S. families own dogs and estimated there were 100,000 dogs in Lake County.
"They treat them like their kids," he said. "Day care is a huge part of this business."
At 16,857 square feet, the building in Vernon Hills is about the same size as that in Minnetonka. It would house a maximum of 100 pets and employ about 30 people. Village board members appeared amenable to the request and gave informal approval to proceed.
However, pet boarding and day care are not listed as permitted or special uses in the village's zoning ordinance or in the business park annexation agreement.
The village board can determine a use is similar and compatible to those that are listed, which includes pet shops, animal hospitals and clinics, day care centers and recreation/fitness facilities for children.
A staff report also noted the board previously allowed PetSmart to offer pet boarding and day care as an accessory use at its store.
Village staff suggested the business park property owners association review the proposal before the formal village approval process begins.