“You have got to be…”
Her friends and family thought Kris Price had lost her mind when she sold her house and left a successful 23-year career with Nike, Inc. to launch her own business. But after four years of hard work and research, Business Plan Pro customer Price achieved her dream in June 2002, by opening Noah’s Arf. The business is a full-service pet care facility based in Portland, Oregon. It provides a safe, clean, and fun environment for pets, whether you leave them at the Arf, or hire the company to visit your pet at your home.

As an exhibit manager for Nike, Price spent a lot of time traveling for business, and finding a good facility at which to leave her dog was challenging. This gave her the idea. She visited dog day cares and dog washes all over the country, but she never found one that had all the services as she imagined her business would. Her first step was to create a business plan.

Getting started right
“I hadn’t written a business plan before and I am not good at writing, so I struggled with it. But I just kept at it and kept at it, and then went back and forth with the SBA and took about a year getting my numbers right. The exercise of writing my business plan totally opened my eyes – I didn’t know what was involved. Business Plan Pro asked questions that made me think about what was involved and made me do my research. There is no way I would have known all that without Business Plan Pro.”

Armed with her business plan, Price approached the SBA for a $200,000 loan. “I had to come up with $70,000 of my own contribution, so I sold my house, and gave my car to the business. I lease this place – I wish I owned it. I have put a lot of money into the building considering it’s not mine, but I had a vision of what I wanted it to look and I don’t think it would have worked if I had not put the money in. A lot of people said, ‘Don’t you think you are getting in over your head. Why don’t you try to launch one thing at a time?’ And I said, ‘That’s not the concept’. A lot of people have day cares, and kitty condos and dog washes but they don’t have all in one. There is nothing else in Oregon like this.”

Open for business
Price’s vision turned out to be one that her customer’s shared. In July 2002 the company broke even and six months after the launch has built up a regular clientele of 20 dogs whose owners drop them off at the Arf every day. The facility has a capacity of 40 day-care dogs and 26 overnight stays, as well as 9 kitty condos. The company currently has two full-time and four part-time employees, and needs one more of each. “We are growing so fast I can’t keep up with it. It’s scaring me, it really is!” says Kris.

The holidays are the Arf’s busiest time. All kitty condos and dog kennels were full for both Labor Day and Christmas, and Kris began promoting the home-care service when they realized that they had reached capacity. In-home care involves visiting the house twice per day to check on animals, and this service becomes more popular around the holidays as Noah’s and other local facilities get full.

The Arf has had to do very little advertising. Business is coming its way through word of mouth as well as some free publicity. There is a dog park close to the facility, and Price is told that her business is “the talk of the dog park”. In addition, Noah’s Arf received the Multnomah Animal Control Facility Award for 2002 and received a front page write-up in The Oregonian newspaper.

What’s next
When asked whether she will expand the current facility, Price says definitely not. “I don’t want it bigger because right now I know every dog’s name and after I walk them at night, kiss each of them, rub them down, give them a hug, I can still be very personal with them and that’s the way I like it. If you get bigger, you lose track of all that.”

“The next stage is to hire people and get them trained so that I can get out of the kennel and think more about the business side of things. I took my first day off in over a year last week, for my 50th birthday. I went to a spa and I was a nervous wreck.” Looking ahead, Price plans to grow the business by opening similar facilities in other cities, and she has already scouted a couple of potential locations.

“I look back now and I can’t even imagine I did it. Every day is like a Saturday now. I work probably 18 hours a day. I was up at 5 this morning. I work till 10 – 11 at night, and I love it. I am working on adrenalin now, that’s all it is.” she laughs.

Noah’s Arf is open 7 days a week and charges $23 per day and $32 overnight for dog care, $12 per day and $18 overnight for cat care. You can read more about Noah’s Arf services and prices at http://www.noahsarf.com/.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.