LivePlan Customer Interview: From Fish Tanks to Doggie Day Care

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One of my favorite parts of my job here at Palo Alto Software, is the time I get to spend speaking with entrepreneurs and small business owners. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mandie O’Neill, founder of Luckydog Day & Night Care (Eugene, OR), and the Downtown Hound (Boise, ID). She shared her entrepreneurial success story with us, and how LivePlan is helping her continue to grow her businesses.

Mandie has always been an entrepreneur, and she’s always been passionate about pets. Back when she was 13 years old, she started a fish tank cleaning business. Today that same passion for pets and entrepreneurship has translated into starting and growing two successful doggie day and night care businesses.

Is this the first business you’ve started/owned?
Yes, it’s the first – that is, if you don’t count my fish tank cleaning business when I was a kid!

What do you sell/provide?
Dog daycare, overnight care, grooming, dog walking, adventure club – where we have a van that picks up dogs and goes to parks, hikes. The dogs love it!

How did you get started in this business/what did you do before you started it?
I was a normal pet parent, and I used to do some traveling – when I moved to Eugene there wasn’t a doggie daycare service that I was accustom to using. I had a bad experience at a local doggie daycare, and knew other pet owners were probably struggling with the same problem. I decided to open my own doggie day and night care business. Only six months later, thanks to careful planning, I opened the doors to Luckydog.

How many people do you currently employ?

What were some challenges you had starting your business?
Getting customers initially. Marketing and sales was a challenge, but I placed a little ad in the Business Beat in the local newspaper, and people started showing up with their pets! Word of mouth has been a fantastic customer source for me. I do some posting to Facebook and Twitter as well.  We’ve got a great website too, so we get customers finding us from searching on Google. We also did a Living Social deal where we offered a discount on pet grooming and the response was amazing!

How did you overcome those challenges?
I was the one who worked with the dogs everyday, so I’ve had to learn how to “work on my business, not for my business” – so I’ve had to train my staff to take on more ownership of our goals, and it’s working out really well.

I also read The E-myth, and Pour Your Heart Into It for inspirations – both have been very helpful. I’m now reading The Carrot Principle. I recommend all three to anyone starting a business.

What are some major milestones you’ve achieved?
Expanding my business into Boise.

What are some major milestones you’re shooting for?
To be better about increasing my sales. Now that I have my budget defined in LivePlan, using it to motivate my employees to take ownership of it. So basically moving from me being the one pushing to achieve those goals to empowering my staff to. It’s going well.

What did you learn about expanding into Boise?
Boise was difficult for me. I had to take my current business model and roll it out in another city, in another state. It’s allowed me to test the idea of franchising though, which has been great.

I learned everything about what not to do! I learned how important it is to have a strong management team, and that change is hard for staff and clients. I also learned that it may not be the best idea to change a system and change staff at the same time.

How has your LivePlan business plan helped you?
Having a business plan has helped keep my ideas and goals organized. Writing a business plan, and revising that plan often, forces me to sit down and really focus on where my business is going. Too many businesses get stuck in the rut on working in their business, and not enough time working on their business – LivePlan helps me work on my business more effectively.

What is the best thing about owning your own business?
The best thing about owning my own business is that I am the one determining my success. Although this is very daunting at times, it’s also very rewarding.

What’s one thing about owning your own business that you didn’t anticipate?
The one thing about owning my own business that I did not anticipate was how hard it is to step away, create balance, and set boundaries with employees relative to my time. This is something that I work on every day.

What advice would you give somebody just starting out?
I would advise that you first define your values. Then, always stay true to those values. Your values will help define your business in the ever-changing marketplace.

LivePlan is incredibly easy to use. LivePlan’s web-based nature allows me to log in anywhere (for me it was with my Mac Book Pro or iPad). At times writing a business plan can be a overwhelming task, especially when it comes to formatting and layout. LivePlan has made it easy to focus on putting your business ideas and goals on paper instead of fussing with all the other pesky stuff. I really liked how each section is defined and gives examples of what a quality business plan should look like.”

— Mandie O’Neill, founder of Luckydog Day & Night Care and the Downtown Hound.


Posted in Customer Stories