Phil Miller was working on cruise ships when he met his wife, Amanda, and they began brainstorming about what kind of business they should start together.
Amanda Miller was working as a veterinary medical technologist at the time, so they naturally gravitated to the pet business.
At the end of 2006, they opened their first pet care facility, the Citrus Pet Resort, in Citrus County, Florida. It was an immediate success, but Phil Miller was drawn to the University of North Carolina Wilmington to earn his master’s degree in business administration, so the couple moved to Wilmington in 2008.
Managing their business from a distance facilitated additional leadership skills that Phil Miller did not realize he possessed.
“It made me a much better leader. It taught me how to not micromanage,” he said.
As he earned his MBA, the Millers sought to expand their business footprint. They expanded to their second location, Surf City Pet Lodge.
“As I was getting my master’s, I got a vision of a unified brand that would mean something. I talked to a lot of folks in the area, and came up with Pawville,” Phil Miller said. “It’s about being a village. It is large enough to get everything you need but small enough to know everybody’s name.”
Pawville was established as a one-stop shop for pet care that includes dog and cat boarding, doggy daycare, grooming, a self-serve dog wash, dog training, retail and even pet-friendly baked goods, made on the premises. Each of the boarding kennels is built to look like a residence with pitched roofs, windows, shingles and mailboxes.
Condos are the budget option, where dogs have their own kennel and are walked four times daily. Townhomes are larger kennels and have private yards. Villas are the luxury residences that have even bigger kennels, larger private yards, TVs that play Animal Planet and web cameras so owners can keep an eye on their pet.
In 2015, the Millers expanded to their third location in Jacksonville, where they opened their first Pawville. Recently, they opened additional locations in the Cape Fear region.
In August, Pawville ranked on the 2021 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest- growing companies in the U.S.
Growth has involved “learning how to work the deals and get our balance sheet to where it needed to be,” Phil Miller said. “The MBA program provided the vision for something larger and gave me the confidence and tools I needed.”
Early in 2020, the Millers acquired Trulie Dogs in Porters Neck, which has become Porters Neck Pawville.
“I have begun to understand the different components of business, and that location taught me a lot about retail,” Phil Miller said.
Since then, the Millers have also acquired Salty Paws Pet Resort in Sneads Ferry and Pups Stay and Play in Scotts Hill. They will be rebranded as Pawville locations. Pawville is also expanding outside the area, as the Millers just bought land in Clayton to build a location there.
As they renovate the new Scotts Hill Pawville, grooming services have been moved to the Porters Neck location. Services will be expanded to include cat boarding, two additional doggy daycare pens and dog training.
“We obsess over the client experience because we know our success is a hundred percent dependent on when clients walk out that door happy – people and dogs,” Phil Miller said.
That means considering every detail from window placement in the lobby to where each kennel faces.
“We have solid panels between kennels to cut down on the spread of disease, and we have created a small dog boarding area so a small dog is not across from a Great Dane to limit the stress level. We limit dogs being directly across the aisle from each other, so there is less stress,” Phil Miller said.
To many owners, their pets are like family members.
“Pets are like their children; in some cases, even more so, so it comes down to a boring answer: focus on the client experience,” he said. “There are many different amusement parks, but none are like Disney. We want to be the Disney of pet care.”
Phil Miller said they have modeled their business after the Disney experience with consistency and coherence among staff and locations. Each location will look similar, and all of their 110 employees wear uniforms and name tags.
Pawville is expanding to meet the growing needs of the industry, which seemed to get a boost from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Instead of a baby boom during the pandemic, there was a COVID puppy boom,” Phil Miller said.
The newest location at 3532 Carolina Beach Road has 83 dog boarding enclosures and 12 cat enclosures, each of which has special ductwork to “bring in a lot of fresh air.”
The doggy daycare has two covered outdoor play areas and a door that leads directly inside for optimal indoor and outdoor play. Dogs are separated based on size and temperament, and pools are available for quick dips to cool off on a hot day.
That location has an additional building in front the Millers purchased that is currently under construction to expand their daycare facilities, which will include a pet valet service for easy drop-off and pick-up.
“We strive to out-execute everyone else,” Phil Miller said. “Whoever has the best client experience wins.”