Karen Beskau of Hastings has parlayed her design sensibility and lifelong love of dogs into Rio Gran Enterprises, a small business empire centered on the premise that people want to pamper their pets.
With an indoor walkway graced with park benches, trees and a copper water fountain, the larger of her two-building complex on the west side of town is a boarding facility that evokes Main Street USA. Each of its 50 dog suites has piped-in music, a cot-style bed and an individual play area. Each suite has a themed facade and furnishings — a log cabin, a movie theater, a police station, a bar.
"I wanted to create something that was all indoors, climate-controlled but made to look like an actual city," Beskau said. The trees are made from preserved tree parts, surrounded by small decorative fences to shield them from dogs that might think they're the real thing.
The mini-metropolis also has storefronts modeled after real Hastings area businesses, including Imperial Counters, Victoria's V Gallery and Dohmen Construction, the firm that built the facility.
"It's a good way to advertise, to add to our visibility, " said Mary Gove, Imperial Counters' owner and a longtime friend of Beskau's. Gove isn't sure how much business her store has gotten as a result, but says many people who go to Rio Gran have told her they've noticed Imperial's faux storefront that incorporates some of the countertop products it sells.
"The first time I saw it, it kind of reminded me of Vegas," said Stillwater resident Charlsie Haynor, whose 3-year-old Doberman pinscher, Patton, was bred at Rio Gran and has been trained and boarded there. Her favorite suite looks like a Harley Davidson store. "It's somewhat fitting for a Doberman, because he looks kind of tough," Haynor said.
The central walkway leads to a red brick entrance for the training academy, where sculptures overlook an arena. The school offers everything from basic obedience classes to advanced training for show dogs.
Patton, who is co-owned by Beskau, began his training at Rio Gran as a puppy, going on to successfully compete at dog shows. He and a Boston terrier co-owned by Beskau and trained at Rio Gran have qualified to compete at this year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York. More than 3,000 dogs will compete at the show, widely regarded as the sport's most prestigious event.
Rio Gran's complex also includes a second building that has additional suites for dogs and cats and until recently housed Rio Gran's grooming operation. That facility moved to a much larger building on the east side of Hwy. 61, just north of the downtown business district. It shares space with a trucking firm operated by Beskau's husband, Rich.
"Both of our businesses have been growing," Karen Beskau said. "I also thought a second location for dog grooming in a more visible spot would be ideal."
The grooming facility also serves as a school for dog groomers. It has high ceilings and tall windows and is decked out with chandeliers and glitz to make it look like a luxury salon. "For a lot of people, their pets are like their kids. They like the idea of something that's high-end," Beskau said.
Beskau noted that even during the recession, the pet care industry continued to grow. Consumer spending on pet merchandise and services nationwide has increased by about $2 billion a year since 2000, and it is forecast to top $55 billion in 2013, according to the American Pet Products Association. The group's survey found that almost 70 percent of U.S. households own a pet, with dogs and cats leading in popularity.