By Hunter Cloud
Photos by Joey Brent and Bruce Newman
Dallas, Texas; Granite, Colorado; Kohler, Wisconsin; Mebane, North Carolina; Jasper, Arkansas; and Oxford, Mississippi all have two things in common. They are destinations for people and they are home to the Wildrose experience.
Wildrose International owner Mike Stewart selected towns which drew people naturally as he developed new locations. Dallas is home to the oldest hunting and fishing club west of the Mississippi River and is filled with sports and outdoor enthusiasts.
Granite, Colorado, is in the Rockies with cool temperatures and is tick and snake free. Kohler is near Chicago and home to a resort and casino. Mebane is similar to Oxford and is near Hillsborough and Raleigh. Jasper is close to the Buffalo National River in the Ozarks.
“Each one of them had to be a destination. We sell an experience here at Wildrose,” he said, while talking from his porch in Colorado. Stewart and his wife, Cathy, live in the Colorado mountains in the summer and go to Jasper, Arkansas, for the winter.
And in turn, Wildrose is helping make these communities an added destination. Wildrose has placed dogs in 50 states and internationally in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and Thailand. Stewart said about 90 percent of those people have been to Oxford to pick up their puppies, as Wildrose is one of the few kennels which requires an owner to pick up puppies in person.
While Stewart has built a successful business on breeding and training award-winning dogs, his growth model is based on a motorcycle company.
“I went to school at Ole Miss and they talked about Harley Davidson in one of my classes for a week,” Stewart said. “They talked about how he turned the business around by creating a brand. I set out to create a brand of dogs. I wanted to create a brand.”
Reflecting on how Davidson taught people to ride motorcycles as part of his eponymous company’s efforts, Stewart sought ways to apply the same philosophy to Wildrose.
“We need to be teachers,” he said. “To create success we had to teach. I got our workshops going and it became highly popular. When I first held a workshop we had 12 people in my garage and in the last course we had 70.”
Harley set up weekend rides and bike tours, and Stewart said giving customers an experience is part of what he emulates at Wildrose.
This same experience is what drew Wildrose Mississippi owner Tom Smith into the company. He bought his dog Dixie from Wildrose in 2008. At the time, he worked in construction and was in a hotel room. He didn’t have time to train his dog, but he still wanted to do it himself.
Smith got heavily involved with Wildrose, attending workshops and coming to the Oxford location as often as he could. He said he always knew when he retired from construction he might want to train dogs.
“I fell in love with it, the people, the grounds and the training ideology,” he said.
In 2019, he bought the facility and took over Wildrose Mississippi. Stewart entrusted him to take the company and run with it. Smith was able to make changes he wanted to make, within the budget of course, and he did so. His biggest change was improving the grounds.
They upgraded the facilities and hired a bigger staff.
“We didn’t always keep the ponds manicured. We didn’t cut the fields as much. Now we have been and we have it looking just right,” Smith said. “We did a photo shoot for Mercedes Benz and the photographer asked if we were on a golf course. I just chuckled and said ‘no, we train dogs.’”
One of his goals is to hold more events on the grounds for his clients. Already, he hosts a Friday cookout with kayaks and music for the staff but hopes to include more for the customers.
Three years ago, he started a quail hunt partnering with the town of Wilson, Arkansas. A man had bought the town of 60,000 acres and he wanted to make it a travel destination with a sporting component to it. Wildrose was the answer for the town which is molded into an English village.
“We do quail hunts there and our clients can see labs and pointers work hand and hand out there. It gets the dogs we are training more bird exposure,” he said.
Wildrose’s mission is to deliver the premium dog to the sportsman. A cabin on the property can provide a place for clients to stay if needed. Wildrose will also board dogs and pick up clients from the airport.
Puppy pickup day is the best experience a client will have at Wildrose, and it is a day Smith looks forward to each time. Clients arrive at 9 a.m. and get a tour of the facility. They do demonstrations and go into a classroom where the owners are taught how to get their puppy started in the first six months. This gives the dog a good foundation for when it returns to training.
“People put a pin on our map. We have a map in our classroom which has pins from everywhere our dogs went,” Smith said. “We get a family picture with the sire and the dam with the puppy and the clients. We put it on social media.”
Oxford has been a great fit for Wildrose. “You couldn’t ask for a better partner and better business environment to be in,” Smith said. “We don’t want people to come here to just get a puppy. We want to give them an experience they will remember for a lifetime. We want them to feel like they are part of our family and to become engrossed in our family. I picked up my puppy 14 years ago and I still remember everything. It is not just a retail exchange.”