Since Pupsi opened in 1993, founder Mary Foster and her crew have cared for countless Cary canines – and pups from other Western Wake towns, too.
With a month’s rent, a Yellow Pages ad and years of experience training dogs, Foster launched the business in downtown Cary. The current location, with 15,000 square feet of space for pups to run and jump, is the third incarnation of Pupsi. As the business grew, its services expanded to include boarding, grooming and day care.
Pupsi was one of the first businesses in the area to offer day care, and it remains one of the most popular services. On any given day, between 80 and 100 dogs will be romping, sniffing and lounging about while their owners are at work or traveling. Three hours of morning playtime are followed by lunch and quiet time, when the pups are lulled to sleep with dim lights and soft music. They go back outside in the afternoon, and by pickup time, the dogs are ready for a leisurely evening at home.
Foster retired in 2015, and now her son, Trace Essex, runs the business. He grew up working with dogs and, after returning from a tour with the Navy, became Pupsi’s head trainer. He says working with the dogs is the best part of his job — that and being able to bring his two dogs, Shogun and Shooter, with him to the office.
As they have worked together for much of the past 25 years, Foster and Essex both chimed in on the ups and downs of running a small business.
What’s the secret to long-term success?
E: A lot of faith and hard work! Some of the things that we have always tried to concentrate on for the past 25 years are being honest with our customers about what we do and how we do it, cleanliness — extreme cleanliness, always trying to give the dogs as much playtime as they want in a clean area with plenty of room to run, good relationships with local veterinarians and an awesome staff! We could not do what we do without our hardworking staff that genuinely cares about the dogs, their owners and maintaining the facility.
Has your vision for the business changed since you’ve taken over the daily operations?
E: I can’t say it has; try to take it one day at a time. I’m always thinking of ways we can do better, changes we could make. I would like to expand if a good option came along but, my main daily goal is to try to do the best I can for the customers, the dogs and the staff. I don’t always succeed; I have good days and bad, like everyone else.
What’s been the biggest challenge as a small-business owner?
F: Many have asked over the years if I would have started PUPSI if I had known how big it was going to be. Honestly, that is a difficult question as there have been so many ups and downs. I never dreamed 25 years ago that it would ever be like it is now. Having deep faith in God and always thinking positive gets you through it all. September 11th was a difficult time; no one wanted to go anywhere. We made it through. There have been many financial challenges, but our loyal customers kept coming back.
How does Pupsi give back to the community?
E: We work with Second Chance Pet Adoptions in an effort to get dogs adopted by offering discounted services — training for behavioral issues, boarding when a foster home is not available, and daycare for exercise and socialization. We sponsor and donate to many different charities, events and nonprofits. We tithe to our local church. I believe it is our duty, and it is asked of us as people, not just business owners, to help where we can when we can by investing our resources — time, talent, financial aid and our labor — for the good of others in our community.
What is the most common issue that pet owners come to you for help with?
E: Exercise and socialization while they are at work or out of town is a big part of what we do but, the most common issue I see is leash reactivity or simply walking properly on a loose leash. So many owners seem to struggle with either a dog that is pulling them on a walk, reacting to dogs and passing distractions, or both. We offer several options to help customers with their training needs: house calls, day training, and board and train.
What’s been the best aspect of owning the business?
E: There are several:
- Doing what I love with dogs and being able to support my family while providing a service to our customers;
- Creating a good workplace for our staff and growing the relationships that come from working together;
- Meeting so many different people every day, getting to talk to them about their dog or just how their day is going.
8260 Chapel Hill Road, Cary
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