Reinvent with a Pet Business

These women launched new careers to care for our furry friends. Here's how you can, too

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Raise Cash

Her Inspiration: When Heidi Ganahl and her husband, Bion, couldn't find suitable care for their dogs, they drew up a business plan for what would later become Camp Bow Wow, a doggy daycare and overnight camp franchise. Only Bion died suddenly in a small plane crash. Five years later, her brother helped her pick up the pieces and launch Camp Bow Wow. "I have always had a genuine love for dogs," said Ganahl. "I sought solace in my dogs after my husband Bion’s death." Camp Bow Wow has now grown to a $50 million brand.


Her Advice: "Always work on raising cash for your business, even if it’s not an immediate need – as growth takes cash!"



Photo Credit: Camp Bow Wow

Feel The Love

Her Inspiration: Susan D'Aniello worked in the emergency department as a nurse before launching DoodyCalls, a pet waste removal franchise. "Some people ask how I felt about going from that to cleaning yards," she said. "Believe me - cleaning up dog poop is a much cleaner job!"


Her Advice: "Don’t underestimate the love people have for their pets. Pets are people’s children. In some cases their only children. Get creative! A business that can solve a problem for them, help fill a need, or help people better care for their pets will be a successful one."

Photo Credit: Greg Knott

Surround Yourself with Inspiring People

Their Inspiration: Because Ali Jarvis' dog, Luc, had health problems, she took him everywhere. But couldn't find dog-friendly information online. "Sure, we found websites with some dog parks, or articles listing a few dog-friendly shops," said her business partner and fellow dog owner, Beth Rutledge. "But there was not a single local site where all this content lived, and was really tended to and cultivated." 


Now Jarvis and Rutledge run Sidewalk Dog, an online resource about dog-friendly Minneapolis/St. Paul, including a blog covering topics from dog park etiquette to “Almost Famous Dogs,” a series about the pups of local celebs.


Their Advice: "Surround yourself with people who support you. And always, always be open to new ideas."

Photo Credit: Kiersten Jarvis

Use the Competition to Motivate Yourself

Her Inspiration: Attorney Jana Simmons hated hearing her puppy, a pug named Arabella, cry during crate training. Her veterinarian and dog trainer recommended she put a ticking clock, a warm water bottle, and a small shirt with her scent on it in the crate. 


When it worked, she designed Cuddle Up Pup, a kit to comfort your puppy during crate training. From there she opened Arabella & Fern, an online boutique selling high-quality, stylish products for dogs. "My dogs are such a part of my life, I wanted products that my dogs loved to use, but that I would otherwise want in my home," Simmons said.


Her Advice: "Don't be discouraged by the competition, but rather use the competition to stay motivated to keep innovating your products and developing your business."

Photo Credit: Studio 306

Save Up Before You Make the Leap

Her Inspiration: Amy Nichols made six figures as a sales representative in the telecommunications industry--but felt guilty leaving her dog, Griffin, home alone for long hours. So she left her job and shortly thereafter founded Dogtopia, a dog daycare and spa franchise, in Tysons Corner, VA. "We look and operate much like a child care facility, with large, brightly colored rooms with play equipment and toys," she said. "Our customers love being able to see their dogs happy and playing with their friends. It takes away a lot of the guilt of them leaving their dogs while on vacation or traveling." Now it's grown into a $12 million business with 23 locations across the country. 


Her Advice:  "Make sure you have enough money saved to maintain your lifestyle without taking any salary for the first year or so. It might mean that you have to save for a while before you can start the business, but you will not be an effective business owner (and you certainly won't enjoy it!) if you are stressed about paying your mortgage."

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Dogtopia

Identify Experts--And Use Them

Her Inspiration: When entrepreneur Natasha Ashton's cat, Bodey, became ill, she received a veterinary bill for $5,000. "As students, my husband and I were already saddled with debt, and the only way we could afford to pay for Bodey’s veterinary care was by downsizing our apartment, which we of course did," she said.


That led her and her husband, Chris Ashton, to launch Petplan, a pet health insurance provider offering lifelong coverage for any pet, of any age in the U.S. "We have a 'pets come first' philosophy, so we offer a suite of tools, including vet-authored health tips and feature content offered on both our website and in fetch! magazine," she said.


Her Advice: "Identify the experts in your field and surround yourself with them. One of the best decisions we ever made as a company was to recruit Vernon Hill as company Chairman. His extraordinary experience in the financial services industry as the co-founder of Commerce Bank, coupled with his passion for creating fans, not just customers (and his own experience as a pet parent), allowed us to take the business to the next level."

Photo Credit: Peter Olson

Do Your Research

Her Inspiration: Dentist Jennifer Jablow couldn't find an easy way to clean her pets' teeth. "Dogs hate the toothbrush," she said. And she felt most pet companies used dangerous ingredients. "There is even one company that uses xylitol in their water additive for pets that is widely known to be fatal for dogs even though it is great for humans." 


Knowing how important dental health is, she founded PAWfect Smile, a pet dental pen that eliminates the need for a toothbrush. "It was a natural progression since I already had the knowledge contacts in the human oral care products."


Her Advice: "If you think there is a product out there that can be improved or a problem that can be solved, do your research, build a prototype and ask your friends or colleagues to give you honest advice before you invest too much money." 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Suska, jSteel Design LLC

Know Your Market

Her Inspiration: After executive Quincy Yu adopted a shelter dog, she struggled to find an effective cleaning product that was safe. "I looked at all the pet cleaning products offered in the market and realized none of them met my criteria: must work, must be safe for my family with no fragrances, and must be safe for the earth," she said.


She co-founded Clean+Green by SeaYu, which offers natural and effective pet stain and odor removers that deliver instant results in a non-toxic, eco-friendly solution. 


Her Advice: "Know the market you are entering (i.e. have or get domain expertise in your management team, board of directors or advisors). Always keep vigilant about your market and the pulse of your consumers."

Photo Credit: Courtesy of SeaYu Enterprises

Don't Take Rejection Personally

Her Inspiration: While Susan Weiss attempted to salvage a small supplement company, her 10-year-old standard black poodle, raised on commercial dog food, died. "He was a great dog, though never really thrived," she said. "Around the time he died, more veterinarian articles were talking about vaccinating, natural health, and better dog foods." She decided to incorporate supplements into natural pet health products. In 1996, she launched Ark Naturals. "Our goal is to educate pet guardians on the hows, whys and benefits of natural pet care products," she said.


Her Advice: "Don’t start a business if you can’t handle rejection. Very few businesses are successful out of the box. Unless you have something new to add, don’t start a business that has a bunch of me-too products already in the marketplace."

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Susan Weiss

Be Inspired

Her Inspiration: Adrienne Shamie helped her husband with his children's furniture company, Delta Children's Products. Then one day, she and her daughter Lorraine, a student at NYU, noticed a void in the market for attractive yet practical pet products. "I knew that with our sense of style, being on top of both current trends and classic style, and the backing of our parent company, Delta, we could fill this void," Shamie said.


She and her daughter created LazyBonezz, pet furniture made out of materials like wood, stainless steel, and plush fabrics to complement home decor. At the end of November, they're introducing new lines, including throws, collars, harnesses, storage, and joggers.


Her Advice: "Try to find something that inspires you but is also unique to the market."

Photo Credit: Gloria Shamie

Look at Your Market Area

Her Inspiration: As a single parent, realtor Lisa Sawin was focused on job security and patterned income. "In addition to a love for animals, I knew I had the ability to address the handling and time constraints that come with a grooming career," she said. 


She founded BowWow Barber, a boutique pet grooming salon in Manhattan, working almost exclusively on one dog at a time to deliver quality work with care.

Her Advice: "I would strongly urge a potential entrepreneur to review who is already in place doing business in the market area. Convenience and price are often the first dictators of how people make their selection for a pet care professional."

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lisa Sawin

Be Willing to Put in The Hours

Her Inspiration: Once Jennifer Kirk's girls started school, she grew bored and searched for a hobby. Formerly a controller, she started selling designer kids' clothing on eBay.


Then she saw her daughters dressing up their Chihuahua. "I actually felt like it would be a fun thing to sell after getting bored as my kids grew up and no longer interested in selling kids' designer clothing," she said. She launched Posh Puppy Boutique, an online marketplace targeting upscale pet owners--and was an official wardrobe partner in the movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2. 


Her Advice: "Research, research, research! So many people fail at online business because they do not understand the whole picture and think that running an online store you simply sit back and wait for money to come in. My website is not turn key and I have invested 1000's of hours of time and work into this to make it the best online site."

Photo Credit: Damion McAnally Photography

Do Your Research

Her Inspiration: Elissa Cohen was working as a vice president at a financial institution when she felt inspired to follow in her husband's footsteps. He'd left his job as a technology consultant to become a dog trainer. "As a result, I learned a lot about the subject of dogs," she said.


Often his clients asked him how to get their dogs enough exercise, and if he could watch them while they were on vacation. Cohen decided to come up with an answer to both questions. She launched Canine Kindergarten, a doggy daycare providing cage-free boarding, training and grooming, which she now co-owns with Lisa Smith. 


Her Advice: "I would say do the research, make sure you know what you’re getting into. I spent some time in Michigan in a dog daycare so I could understand what the business was really about. Be prepared for a lot of hard work. It’s not playing with puppies. You need to love the dogs, but you need to love the business aspect of it too." 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Elissa Cohen

Separate Your Personal Life from Your Professional One

Her Inspiration: When Charlotte Reed, a compliance officer, hired a dog walker, she didn't expect to come home to him wearing her make-up and clothes, dancing in front of her mirror. "I said, 'I'm going to be back in about 15 minutes. Leave the keys on the table, take the outfit with you, and I'll send your check in mail.'"


When she shared her story, she heard similar experiences with dog walkers: owners returning home to find a boyfriend in the shower, stuff stolen. So Reed quit her job to start "an extremely professional dog walking service," which she called Two Dogs and A Goat. Now as a pet expert she appears on television, does radio interviews, and hosts seminars. She's also the author of Miss Fido Manners Complete Book Dog Etiquette.


Her Advice: "Because people treat their dogs like children, it can be extremely time consuming. It can be one of those businesses you take to heart. Separate your personal life from your professional one."

Photo Credit: Pet Socialite

Remember It Takes Hard Work

Her Inspiration: When a dead kitten was found in paralegal Candy Sullivan's backyard, her husband vowed before God that he would never let a kitten suffer in their backyard again. "I took him up on it," Sullivan said. Now she's the founder of Candy's Cats, a private, not-for-profit, no-kill rescue. Volunteers foster stray cats awaiting adoption in their home. 


Her Advice:  "It has been said that if you follow your passion, you will be successful. I follow my passion, which are cats, and my trail ends at the litter box. It involves lots of hard work, and can be devastating and heartbreaking, but when that one kitten or cat (especially our adults) finds its way to its forever home, that is the passion."



Jennifer Jeanne Patterson is a freelance writer and author of 52 Fights. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three children. Find her blog at Unplanned Cooking.

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Photo Credit: Shelly Koch

First Published November 7, 2011

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