Starting a business might sound a little ‘ruff’ at first.. but helping rescue puppies makes it all worth it. Read Nancy’s story of opening Frederick’s Wagsmore Adopt & Shop, a new retail business partnering with Lonely Hearts Animal Rescue.
Motivation to Become a Business Owner
Moving to open Wagsmore Adopt & Shop really came out of a need to have a location for adoptions through our non-profit efforts at Lonely Hearts. Lonely Hearts is a small non-profit rescue group made up of a network of foster homes located in Maryland.
Previously, we had hosted Lonely Heart Adoption Events from Petsmart and PetCo. But we didn’t like that we couldn’t control the environment, so we moved the adoption process to our homes. But there were drawbacks to that as well – we couldn’t host the public events we wanted to and were limited to pre-approvals. Plus – the sheer volume was building. On average, our group is finding homes for about 460 puppies a year… We started to realize we needed a permanent location that we could oversee and that could be flexible with moving puppies in and out.
Opening Wagsmore gives us the ability to get more dogs out of bad situations, and with the retail component, the store gives people an opportunity to support the environment that is facilitating the rescues.
Finding the Storefront
We opened our doors April 1, 2019. The start-up process, though, started much before that. It took about two years – most of which was spent finding a place. Getting someone with an empty building to respond and take you seriously proved to be much trickier than I would have imagined.
When I first started, I thought I would ‘do a little shopping around’ and weigh my options. With retail on decline with modern trends, I thought the landlords would be clamoring after me. But it was surprisingly difficult for someone of my size needs to catch their attention.
When I found the space I’m in now – I knew I wanted it. It had good visibility from the highway & a large outdoor area, and was large enough to hold the retail piece … it was a good fit. So I learned I had to be persistent. I kept visiting, kept calling back, and eventually the owner met with me.
Signing a Commercial Lease
Once the landlord agreed, we had a real estate lawyer help iron everything out. Having him was extremely helpful. He went over the lease with a fine tooth comb. I would recommend a real estate lawyer to anyone -- just to have them look at the lease.
We were back and forth so many times on things we certainly wouldn’t have thought of ourselves. It’s a totally different process than when you buy your home. You’ve may have been through residential inspections, but commercial ones are different. But with our agent’s knowledge base, the process went smoothly and the leasing company worked really well with us.
Helpful Resources Along the Way
SBDC helped me complete my business plan. They introduced me also to a ‘LivePlan’ website that gives you all these examples of what the plan should look like and some starting numbers to work with. I was at a loss – how much am I going to make? How much is my electric? How much is my rent? Etc. These starting points were very helpful.
There was also a gentleman Charlie Thomas with Score Mentors that was very helpful. He asked a lot of questions about my business structure. He helped me look at the business from an outside perspective. I would call him and make sure I was on the right path.
Really, I was asking anybody and everybody. The other small businesses in this center were phenomenally helpful. I went up to the sports memorabilia guy – “What’s it like? Who are your customers? How much are you paying your workers?” I talked to the Dance studio people. The salon… Even the ‘competition’ was helpful. I went to some of the big pets supply companies, because we had a relationship with them from our previous adoption events. I spoke with the mangers and asked them “What are your best sellers? What gets stolen? What trends are you seeing?” They were very helpful.
Advice to Others
Be persistent. You have to be persistent. You have to believe in what you are doing.
Believe in your own ideas. People will second guess you. You can take other people’s advice into account, but you have to trust your own ideas and remember it’s you that will actually be pulling it off. All of this is a lot easier if you have a good team behind you as well.