Mobile pet care service prospers
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 13:01
When asking a college student what their five-year plan entails, one might hear about graduating, applying to graduate school and finding employment in a certain field. But Shawn Nielsen, a senior in interdisciplinary studies, is following a road less taken.
Nielsen launched a business last June with his wife Alyssa. Alyssa is the business executive and Shawn is the self-proclaimed CFO. Their enterprise: mobile pet grooming.
“‘Alyssa’s Doggie Do’s’ is the first of its kind in Cache Valley,” Alyssa said. “I drive in front of people’s homes and pick up their dog from the front step, groom them and about an hour later drop them off.”
Alyssa first became interested in starting her own mobile pet salon when she realized the demand for grooming services.
“I went to pet grooming school in Colorado Springs and they were everywhere over there,” she said. “There were 38 different pet mobile grooming businesses in the area and they were all booked solid. There were none here in Logan.”
Alyssa said the greatest difficulty of a new business venture is finding a customer base.
“The demand is there. The market is just hard to break into, especially here in Cache Valley,” she said. “People do what they always have done. It’s not until someone hears that your product works, and then it catches on pretty quick.”
In the beginning, the couple didn’t have the assets to start the company. Shawn said he bought a dilapidated brown trailer through KSL and with the help of relatives and friends performed extensive renovation on it. He received construction help with the trailer from Andrew Hastings, one of Shawn’s close friends and a junior majoring in business administration.
“We had to put in a lot of sweat equity, especially in building the trailer,” Hastings said. “We had to rip out the original framing, rewire the whole thing, put insulation in and install new paneling and equipment. They ended up repainting the outside too, with Alyssa’s logo on it.”
Hastings said they went to pick up the trailer in the Salt Lake area, but it was in terrible condition. The previous owners didn’t have the trailer lights working so they spent hours in the Autozone parking lot trying to fix a mess, Hastings said.
“We couldn’t get it to work so we drove back to Logan with one left blinker and a few working tail lights,” he said, “We were worried we’d get pulled over on the way home. Luckily, the Logan police force wasn’t on patrol.”
Despite the cost of renovation for the trailer, Shawn said the start-up costs for the company were not overwhelming.
“We didn’t even take out a bank loan,” he said. “Mostly we just borrowed it from relatives. It’s already almost paid off. It would be, too, if it weren’t our main source of income.”
Alyssa said her stepfather loaned them most of the money.
“At first, he was kind of skeptical because he didn’t know if I would do well,” she said. “But I started it out of his basement before we got the trailer and he saw how quickly I got clients and kept them, and the overhead for our business is really pretty low. It doesn’t cost us a lot. We were able to do almost everything by ourselves.”
Shawn said the couple is creative with their marketing scheme as well.
“We’ve focused a lot on free marketing,” he said. “I can just go leave the trailer next to a park or out on the street for a couple days if Alyssa doesn’t have appointments.”
Last July, the couple marched in a local Fourth of July parade with the Doggie Do’s trailer in tow. Alyssa handed out flyers, sold specialty doggie accessories and scheduled appointments with new clients.
Shawn said there is no need to be elaborate when it comes to a business and marketing scheme. He said hard work and drive are all people need to be successful entrepreneurs.
Hastings, a budding entrepreneur himself, said passion is also important.
“Skills can definitely be learned,” he said. “The other thing would be a problem-solving mindset. You can always find a solution to a problem.”
The entrepreneurs mentioned difficulties they have experienced while balancing student life and new business ventures.
“Balancing work, schedules and homework is hard,” Hastings said. “You lose a lot of sleep. R and D can be frustrating. You run into unforeseen problems.”
Alyssa said one of the most appealing aspects of starting her own business was being able to be her own boss. Hastings said he loved working with his family.
“One of the best things about entrepreneurship is that you work closely with friends and family and you have the good times and hard times together,” he said. “It’s definitely a team effort, and I don’t want to work for someone else.”