As a technology sales executive, Amy Nichols felt guilty that her long work hours didn’t leave enough time for her dogs Bodhi and Griffin. She realized that many other busy professionals shared her concern, and began making plans for opening a dog day care service in 2001.
Nichols analyzed all the information she could find on the growing pet care industry. She also enrolled in Up & Running, a 13-week training class for new business owners at the non-profit National Women’s Business Center (NWBC). “The class covered a lot of ground,” says Nichols. “We learned about everything from finance to strategic planning to marketing.” Also importantly, weekly meeting with a like-minded group of soon-to-be entrepreneurs alleviated Nichols’ pre-launch stress.
In June 2002, Happy Tails Dog Spa, a full-service dog daycare center, spa and boutique, opened its first location in Tysons Corner. By 2004, the company’s revenues exceeded $1 million/year. Given the popularity of her services, Nichols saw an opportunity to replicate Happy Tails’ success nationwide. “For someone who loves dogs, this is a great business,” she says, noting that total US pet expenditure exceeded $34 billion in 2004. In May 2005, she started a franchise program and signed up 6 franchisees before year-end. Also in 2005, Nichols launched K-9 Support, a charitable organization that raises funds for military and seeing-eye dogs, and sponsors local rescue missions and foster programs.