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A Doggone Good Idea

You never know where you’ll find inspiration for your next promotion.

Take it from Donald Gorbach, a broker with The Corcoran Group in Palm Beach. He’d been looking for creative ways to supplement his income, but came up dry—until one night last summer when he and a few friends were talking shop over dinner.

“Someone at the table said, ‘It seems like the real estate market has gone to the dogs,’ and a light bulb went off in my head,” says Donald Gorbach. “I decided to find a way to capitalize on the real estate market and the huge pet market.”

He’s specialized in luxury real estate for more than 25 years and understands that affluent buyers typically settle for nothing less than the best—even for their pets. That’s when the idea hit him: Give real estate to the dogs, literally, by building and selling luxury doghouses. “It just clicked, and it was funny. That’s how Doggie Mansions was born,” he says.

Far from the modest “Snoopy”-style, pitched-roof shelter, these “Doggie Mansions” have a price tag of $10,500 to $100,000 and give new meaning to being sent to the proverbial doghouse.

With help from Gorbach’s longtime companion and “Chief Barketing Officer,” Stacy Small, his Doggie Mansions have generated worldwide press. “We had a German TV network tape [our story] for their show, and we had photographers here from Japanese Vogue,” he says. His idea will be featured in an upcoming TV segment on “Access Hollywood,” and celebrities Paula Abdul and Paris Hilton have expressed interest in commissioning his company to build a Doggie Mansion for their pampered pets.

Gorbach can’t attribute sales of “people” homes to the promotion yet, but a buyer to whom he sold a $13 million home last year recently asked him to build a Doggie Mansion.

He recently rolled out a sales program that offers a 10 percent commission to sales associates who bring buyers for his Doggie Mansions. “Within the first few days [of announcing the program], I received 65 calls from agents in every major U.S. city,” he says. “They’re people I never would’ve [reached] in a million years.”

He also started a “Buy one home, get one free” offer. Of course, the free home is a Doggie Mansion (valued at $10,500) with the purchase of a “real” home priced at more than $1 million.

Obviously, not everyone can create a promotion on a scale as grand as Gorbach’s. But here are tips on how to turn a profit with a clever idea:

1. Do Your Homework
Gorbach researched the pet market and discovered that it generates about $38 billion annually and grows by 10 to 15 percent every year. He figured that if people were willing to spend that kind of money on their pets, his affluent clients would jump at the chance to shower their dogs with luxury digs. And he was right. Within six months, he had sold 10 Doggie Mansions totaling $150,000.

2. Assemble a Team
A team of luxury homebuilders and “Barchitects” in the company’s “Dog Pound” warehouse design and build the Doggie Mansions, and an interior designer, known as the “Chief Doggie Designer,” helps owners select paint, flooring and furnishings to create a whimsical, pet-friendly décor. It takes up to 12 weeks to complete a mansion.

3. Give That “Something Extra”
According to Gorbach, “The Doggie Mansions are handcrafted to complement the style of any owner’s home, be it a Spanish/Mediterranean estate, a traditional Tudor, a Southwestern casita, a New England colonial or a unique, one-of-a-kind look. We can build whatever they want. We just finished a doghouse to match the home of NFL ballplayer Carson Palmer, quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals. It’s brick Tudor—with a mahogany door, slate floors, a flat-screen TV, central air and heat, beautiful lighting and a family portrait of Palmer, his wife and three dogs hanging over the dogs’ couch.” The price tag? A cool 25 grand.

4. Constantly Improve the Idea
Gorbach is always coming up with new amenities. “We’re building one mansion that has Bose surround sound music and a waterfall for drinking water going all day long,” he says.

For older, arthritic dogs, special tanning beds will soon be an option. Yet another planned feature is a doggie door, similar to the automatic doors in department stores, which will swing open only for the resident dog (wearing a sensor on its collar).

5. Think Outside the Box
To show off his newest models, Gorbach holds Doggie Open Houses at his warehouse. “More people were at my doggie open house than at my regular open houses,” he says. “About 30 dogs came with their families, and it was very cute.

“I love what I do—whether selling a million-dollar mansion to a client or sitting down with somebody and finding out what they want in a doghouse,” adds Gorbach. “I’m having a lot of fun.”