Behind the Brand: Ninth Street Barking Lot - Automobile Alley
Today, we're meeting with Kyle Gillum and Savanna Means and learning the story behind 9th Street Barking Lot, a dog daycare and grooming facility located in Automobile Alley.
It's 4:45 AM.
Kyle Gillum, owner of 9th Street Barking Lot begins his day (every weekday) - which consists of a morning workout, making breakfast + hanging out with his daughters & wife before they leave for the day. By the time that's done, he heads to work at Barking Lot and meets with Savanna Means, Director of Canine Relations at Barking Lot (and Co-Director of Country Roads Animal Rescue in Oklahoma City), fills her in on what's happened since she left the previous day, and by 7AM - they're ready to take on the 35+ dogs they manage everyday.
Matt: We'll start with something easy. Where are you both from?
Kyle: Oklahoma City.
Savanna: Oklahoma City.
M: Got it. So what are both of your backgrounds?
K: I worked in the Oil & Gas industry for Sandridge [Energy] for over 8 years, in the security industry. That was pretty much my first job out of college - I started as the Fitness Center manager and then working my way up into the security world.
S: I worked at a Vet clinic through college and also shortly after college. I have a Photography business and I co-direct [Country Roads] Animal Rescue in Oklahoma City.
M: So how did you guys meet each other then?
S: [Uncertain] High...school?
K: Yeah - my sister, Kayla, and Savanna were in the same class and were best friends all throughout high school, and I was a Senior when they were Freshman.
S: The correct answer to that question is I met Kyle through my best friend, Kayla, okay? For the record.
M: [Laughs] Got it - for the record. So I know you guys have a ton of experience with dogs, and I can see how that translates really well in this business. Savanna, can you remind how many dogs you have again?
S: [Laughs] I currently have 14 dogs.
M: 14 dogs! What made you take on that many dogs?
S: A lot of them have health issues or behavioral issues. They’re all rescues, and a lot of them started as fosters. Before I worked for [Country Roads] Animal Rescue, it was harder to adopt animals out. I just didn’t have the audience to adopt them out to, especially adult dogs with issues. So before I started working with the rescue, we had 10 or 12. Some of the ones I have now are hospice animals from the rescue, so they just come in and have probably less than a year to live, but they’ve had kind of a rough life so I’m just trying to give them a good happy ending to their life. And then, working between the Vet clinic and the rescue, you just kind of accumulate dogs.
M: Ah, I see. So, why 9th Street Barking Lot? The 9th Street is obvious, because you’re on 9th Street in Automobile Alley, but I love the term “Barking Lot”. Who came up with the name and concept?
K: The name I can take no credit for, but I chose it out a list of names that my best friend from college [who’s] in the Advertising & Marketing world in Chicago. So when I decided that I was going to do this, he was always throwing names out there for me, and [Barking Lot] was my favorite one. We originally tried to do just the “Barking Lot” but it was already registered, so to make it a little bit more distinct, we went ahead with "9th Street Barking Lot".
M: Nice. So did you come up with the concept of a dog daycare?
K: Yeah, it was actually something that my dad had an idea about that he’d seen in other cities, and [he] had tossed it out to each one of us siblings to see if any of us would take the bait on it. So eventually, I kept picking his brain and decided that “Okay, if we’re going to open a dog daycare, where should we do it?” and with me working downtown, you know, since 2007 and kind of seeing the evolution of what was happening downtown since the [Oklahoma City] Thunder had come and people were moving back downtown, I felt that there was a really good need in the service industry for pet owners that could be utilized for daycare.
M: So you’re in Automobile Alley now. Were you looking at any locations outside of Automobile Alley - maybe not even Oklahoma City?
K: We always targeted downtown, and the factors that I was interested in were easy entry and exit off the highway for people who were going to and from work, and in an area that was going to be close to apartments. Downtown, as a whole, is not very big, so we could pretty much achieve all those factors that we wanted to [in Automobile Alley]. I think we looked at 5 or 6 other buildings, but pretty much ended up being in Automobile Alley. I think we looked at a couple on the Westside, but they were in a lot of need of extreme rehab. In terms of our checklist, we knew that at that time, the highway [didn’t have] a 10th Street exit built that you could exit off 10th going northbound on I-235, but we knew that was in the works, so Auto Alley seemed like it was the most beneficial for what we were trying to achieve.
M: So you think it was a good fit for Barking Lot? You like Automobile Alley?
K: Yeah, for sure! I feel like we’ve both [points at Savanna] been to a handful of the Retailer Association meetings here, and I feel like the Automobile Alley presence is a really good group to be a part of. District wise, I feel like it has everybody’s interests at heart, and there’s more of a connected feeling - more so than Bricktown or any of the other districts.
M: What was the spark that made you go from just owning dogs to managing them on a day-to-day basis? 5+ days a week of that seems like it can get tiring.
K: I think more than anything, I was ready for a change in my professional life. So my dad asked me “What are the things you value the most in life?” - and 3 consistent things that kept coming up for me was my family, my dogs, and an array of other things. But those were really my 2 top things, so that’s when we really made the connection. You know, here’s this idea he’s been throwing out and pretty much setting up on a tee for us, and much like Savanna, dogs have been pretty much been a part of my life all my life, and my family has been rooted in the veterinary world for a long time - I worked for a Vet clinic in college and worked for my family’s company, which handled veterinary distribution, all throughout high school, so it was a consistent theme. I got to do something on my own and run my own business and but I was also doing it was stuff I like to be around - dogs, friends - so it was kind of all-incorporating.
M: So what made you want to get out of the veterinary industry, Savanna?
S: I really didn’t like the business side of being a Veterinarian, it’s still a business - which, I mean, this is a business, but it’s different.
K: Here you get to make connections - you know, we see dogs everyday, and usually we’re around the owner’s dogs more than they are. So in the vet world, you are saving lives and helping, but it’s not the same type of connection.
S: There was typical maintenance, you know - vaccines and stuff like that, but yeah, I wasn’t interacting with dogs in the way I thought I should be, I didn’t know how I should be at that point, but I knew that that wasn’t the right path for me and that was about 5 years ago, and I’m just now finding out the path that I want to be on, which is more nutrition, behavior, and [improving] quality of life.
M: I like this question because I get very different answers from everyone - but what motivates you to get up in the morning?
S: [Laughs] Hmm... There’s a lot of mouths and creatures that are depending on me to keep them alive. It’s rewarding but also emotionally and physically draining. I mean, I’m around animals 24/7. And I love them, but it gets very hard, but the rewarding part is seeing animals here - the animals get a break, the owners get a break, and I think the relationship between the dog and dog owner really benefit from them coming here. It’s really neat to see the relationship between the dogs and the owners strengthen, and we do a lot of fostering here for Country Roads Animal Rescue, and I’d say a really cool part about that is that 90% of dogs that we pull come from horrible situations - health situations, abuse situations - and when they get adopted into very good homes, it makes it all worth it.
K: I’m pretty competitive, so I like the fact that I’m probably in the minority of people that are up that early in the morning. I’m not in competitive sports anymore, but that drive gets me up and to the gym. And then once I’ve started off that good in the morning, I can get things knocked out around the house, and that translates to me getting down here and keeping things going. My other motivating factors are my family. I’ve got two young daughters - a 3 year old and 1.5 year old - and I’m trying to support for them and provide for them and my wife. Although, definitely right now, she’s providing for me because we just opened a business, so that’s a nice crutch to have.
M: [Laughs] Shout out to her.
K: [Laughs] Yeah, shout out to Lizzie - thank you! She’s my sugar mama for sure. And also, now that I have my own company, I get to leave my own stamp on Oklahoma City.
M: If you could go back in time before Barking Lot existed - before you even came up with the idea - is there anything that you would do differently?
M: [Laughs] Okay.
S: The answer is no because I appreciate everywhere I’ve been. I really wouldn’t change anything - but there are times that I think about what would have happened if I had changed things or had chosen a different college path, but I really am grateful for all the mistakes and decisions that I’ve made. You’re too young when you’re 20 - 22 to decide what you want to do with your life - or at least I was - I had no clue. So I feel like I’m finally starting to figure that out, so I’m grateful for everything that’s happened to me.
M: No regrets.
S: [Tries to make hashtag symbol with hands] #NoRegrets. Squad. Word.
M: I want to be a dog owner - eventually - and you’ve (Savanna) been pressuring me to get one since we started working together [last year], but do you have any advice for dog owners or anyone wanting to be a dog owner? I know there’s one thing you’re really passionate about when it comes to people that are thinking about getting dogs.
S: Right - it should never be an impulse decision. You should never, ever get a dog or pet before you’re ready. And I know it’s hard to know when you’re ready, so a good way to test that would be to dog sit for a friend in your own home to get an idea of what it’s actually going to be like in your home. They’re a huge responsibility. A lot of times, our shelters in Oklahoma are overflowing with dogs whose owners just didn’t want them anymore.
M: They just drop them off?
S: Yep. Daily. Dozens daily. You know - Christmas puppies, birthday puppies. Surprise puppies are the worst idea ever. Don’t ever get a dog for someone that doesn’t know they’re getting one or doesn’t want one. It should be a family decision, it’s a financial commitment, it’s a time commitment - I mean, you could be committing to a dog for 15+ years. It’s a very big time commitment. Don’t do it unless you’re #serious. (She really said the hashtag.)
M: For sure. And always bring them to Barking Lot, right?
S: And always bring them to 9th Street Barking Lot!
M: What are your own favorite local businesses? I know by being downtown, you have that community around you - there’s a lot of businesses in Auto Alley, and other districts like Plaza District and Midtown nearby.
K: Man. We really like and know the owner of Plenty Mercantile and we really enjoy going in there. They’ve just kind of a cool, eclectic mix of different things in that shop. If I ever need any kind of present for my wife or girls, then usually I’ll just stumble in there. I also like Java Dave’s - and we have a relationship with Steve - the owner over there. S&B’s is a great place for a burger. And Sara Sara Cupcakes is definitely our favorite place for a cupcake - plus, they have a really good creperie (Pierre Pierre Creperie) in there.
S: Sara Sara cupcakes is awesome. We love their crepes, and their cupcakes are, of course, amazing. I was actually in the same grade as Sara’s brother, Scott, and what happened to Sara was most definitely a tragedy, but a wonderful way to remember her. (For the full story behind Sara Sara Cupcakes, please click here.) Plenty Mercantile is absolutely the best place for gifts. I’ve bought all my gifts there since I’ve become familiar with them. The Fit Pig is awesome! Really good food. Interesting healthful options, but different than your normal idea of healthy meals, but you know that.
M: I do know that. (The Fit Pig is one of our clients.)
S: And Hidden Dragon Yoga is great! Desiree brings her dog over here and...
M: Wait - do you know anyone that’s tried it?
S: [Yells] Kyle Gillum!
M: You’re telling me Kyle does Hot Yoga.
S: Yes! He’s tried it out and to his surprise, he really liked it. He’s been going regularly ever since.
M: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and who was it from?
K: Hmm… Probably from my dad. A couple different sayings always ring out true, and I used them on a couple of employees the other day. It was “A job worth doing is worth doing right.” I don’t even know how many times I heard that growing up.
M: And the other one?
K: The other one he told time and time again was “Life is all about the books you read and the people you meet.” So I use those consistently, one way or the other - I can always hear my dad saying it in the back of my head. Usually, you can find some practicality with those and put them to use in everyday life.
M: Oh, for sure. What about you, Savanna?
S: You know, I don’t know if this is direct advice. But my mom has put a huge emphasis on being happy. She’s just obsessed about me and my brother’s happiness. “Are you happy?” resulted in me questioning whether I was really happy. My idea of what I wanted to do with my life has changed many times, but I’m always constantly keeping that as a #1 priority - which is a luxury. I’m very thankful to have been able to focus on something that makes me happy. And I don’t just drop it and quit it when I’m not happy, but I figure out a way to be happy. It’s so important. There’s a lot of unhappiness and stress in the world, and we spend so much of our time and lives working - so it’s really important to find something that makes you happy. I know people say that all the time, but truly, if you can say that you’re happy with what you’re doing...
M: You’ve won.