Bill Atkinson Interviews Kelly Cullum, Owner at Best Friends Fur Ever

When Kelly Cullum, CEO of Best Friends Fur Ever, went to realize her life-long dream in 2004 of launching a doggy day care business, bankers couldn’t help but scratch their heads.

“I went to seven banks and pitched my story,” she recalled. “You could see them taking notes and zoning out and then the interview was over.”

Susquehanna Community Bank took a chance on Cullum and the fledgling business she started with her husband, Pat Cullum. Within six months of taking in their first dogs the company was turning a profit.

“I am really proud of that,” Cullum said in an interview with citybiz. “There was a need for this. It was just that people didn’t think about it until it was presented. Like in Field of Dreams, you build it and they will come … and they did.”

Cullum, who is also a dog trainer, has quietly built BFFE into a multimillion-dollar business and this year expects to hit double digits in the seven-figure category. BFFE has two locations in Cockeysville and Joppatowne that care for 500 dogs – four-legged children as Cullum would say – each day. The company has more than 100 employees and a customer base of 16,000.

Cullum knows every wrinkle of the dog business and is always looking for opportunities to broaden BFFE’s repertoire of services. In April, she started Dogversity, a training program that provides individualized and ongoing training for pet parents and their dogs.

Unlike many other dog training organizations that rely on negative reinforcement, BFFE uses the “Balance Training” approach, teaching dogs desired behaviors using both reward-based techniques and age appropriate and fair corrections. BFFE’s program is personalized to meet the specific needs of each dog and its parents. It provides ongoing training to continuously reinforce good behavior.

Dogversity is staffed with certified dog trainers who graduated from Kennelwood Academy in St. Louis, MO, the leading dog trainer school in the U.S.

“We are canine counselors,” said Cullum, who noted that 47 percent of the dogs adopted during the pandemic were returned to shelters. “If you need help, if you are thinking about making that drive back to the shelter let’s try one other option. I want to keep that dog in your household.”

Cullum sees continued growth as the market expands and as more private equity firms enter the business looking for acquisitions. Nevertheless, BFFE plans to stick to its mission: “We love your dog for a lifetime.”

To find out more please watch Bill Atkinson’s citybiz interview with Kelly.

Bill Atkinson launched Atkinson Strategic Communications in January 2020 after 15 years in the public relations business and 21 years as a newspaper reporter. Clients include, Coca-Cola Consolidated, the largest bottler of Coca-Cola products in the country, the American Beverage Association, Howard Bank, Ambu, a Danish medical device maker with its U.S. headquarters in Columbia, Md., and Think Systems, a Baltimore-based management consulting firm.

Prior to starting his own firm, Atkinson was a partner in 212 Communications, which he joined in June 2015, and focused on strategic and crisis communications, media relations and grassroots strategies. Before that he was a senior vice president at global public relations agency Weber Shandwick. At Weber’s Baltimore office Atkinson specialized in strategic and crisis communications as well as reputation management. Clients included Constellation Energy, Honeywell, General Motors, Bank of America, Promontory Financial Group and 1st Mariner Bank.

Connect with Kelly and Bill on LinkedIn

Interview Questions:

Q1: What is BFFE and what does it do?

Q2: When did you start the company and why?

Q3: How big is the company and how many locations?

Q4: Talk about the market. How big is it? 65 million Americans own dogs.

Q5: How intense is the competition and how is the market changing?

Q6: What moves have you made to diversify the company – and add more services/training/Kennelwood.

Q7: What lessons have you learned along the way?

Q8: Talk about the pandemic and its impact on your business. (Open new lines. Relentless marketing.)

Q9: What are BFFE’s prospects and where do you see the company five years from now

Q10: How do you reach your goal?

At Best Friends Fur Ever, we understand that your dog is a member of your family, so we strive to provide a home away from home for each furry friend that visits us!

We provide guidance, wisdom, and care in one of life’s most meaningful journeys, dog ownership. Best Friends Fur Ever provides a lifetime of quality care for every dog, every stay, and every day.

Our dog training, daycare, and overnight resorts in Joppa and Cockeysville are situated on over 20,000 square feet and 10,000 square feet respectively, and our facilities far exceed kennel industry standards.

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