Have you ever been so passionate about something that you would go through hell and high water for it? Have you ever believed in something so much that you would risk everything just for a chance to turn your dream into a reality?
Over seven years ago, Erin Foate, a college student at the time, took a chance and pitched an idea to her entrepreneurial classmates at California State University of Fullerton. Inspired by her own dog, she dreamt of starting a dog daycare.
Being a relatively new concept, and not very common in most cities, Erin’s idea was met with mixed emotions. From family and friends to complete strangers – some thought it was a great idea while others had a hard time imagining anyone would use such a service. But Erin had faith in her idea and was able to write her business plan for her senior project.
At the end of the school year she and her team presented it to a panel of judges who gave positive feedback. One of the judges even showed interest in helping her get her initial start-up loan. Erin was elated at the thought of being able to start her business right after graduation. But, when she pursued the opportunity, it turned out to be a dead end. The reality was that she needed two to three years of industry experience or one-third of the money she was asking to borrow.
“I was heartbroken that my plans would have to wait for a little while. But I was young and fresh out of college, and still really optimistic that it wouldn’t be long before I could move forward with my daycare.”
She continued at her office job, working to save up and apply for a loan as soon as possible. Then a co-worker told her about a new dog daycare opening, so Erin applied and was the first to be hired. It was not long before she went from working part-time on the weekends to managing the facility full-time. But when she realized nearly three years had gone by, and she had made no progress on moving forward with her dream, she only felt more discouraged.
“I felt further from my dream than I ever had. I had become complacent. Nothing in my life was going the way I had planned and it put me in a miserable slump. I knew I had to make a change.”
In an attempt to shake things up in her life and rediscover her passion, Erin decided to take time off to travel. Her boss agreed to hold her position for her until she returned. But about one month later, Erin learned that her job would not be waiting for her when she returned.
“In January of 2011 I found myself living back home with my parents. I had no job, no car, and I was living off what was left of my savings while my parents and (then) fiancé helped me cover my bills. I felt like a helpless burden on everyone. I applied for a few jobs, but the prospect of working for someone else was daunting. I wanted to determine my own fate, so I decided it was time to try again for a loan.”
Erin dusted off her business plan and updated it before calling the Small Business Administration (SBA) to apply for a loan. Unfortunately, they were not interested in her schooling or industry experience. Instead, they referred her to the Inland Empire Women’s Business Center.
“I didn’t understand why they would send me to the business center for classes when I had gone to school for business. But what choice did I have? So I went anyway, and it actually was the best place for me at the time. I met a lot of other women (and men) struggling like me to make their dream a reality. A majority of them had lost everything in recent years and they were starting over. It gave me hope.”
It was then that she started Erin’s Pet Sitting and Care Services. Different from her original plans of a daycare and boarding facility, providing in-home pet care was a way for her to work with animals without a facility or a loan, and as her own boss.
Through the women’s business center she started taking free and low cost classes, meeting with experts, and talking regularly with a business counselor to make sure she was on the right track for her daycare plans. She was also introduced to other programs, like the Riverside Community Action Partnership IDA (Individual Development Account) program, which helped her raise capital injection and allowed the company to continue growing.
“My business was growing and I was feeling confident, so I went back to the SBA again in an attempt to get a loan. I had the schooling, a solid business plan, and good credit. I had the experience and money to contribute. And I was now a young, growing company looking to expand. I didn’t have collateral but my fiancé agreed to be my guarantor, so I felt my chances were good.”
But while Erin felt strongly that she was ready, the loan specialist did not. To Erin’s dismay she was told it would be another two to three years before she was ready. Frustrated, Erin started looking at other lending possibilities, such as an unsecured loan or an investor, but neither seemed like viable options. And funding was not her only challenge; finding a suitable location was just as frustrating. Between strict ‘animal use’ zoning regulations and weary landlords, Erin had her work cut out for her.
But she did not give up. And finally, in 2013, she got a slight break after contacting the SBA one more time. The loan specialist was optimistic about her chances of qualifying, so she started the paperwork. Around that same time Erin had interest from a potential investor and found a potential building to rent as well. Everything seemed to finally be coming together.
Then the bad news started rolling in. First, she did not qualify for one of the loan programs she applied for. Then, the building she was pursuing turned out to be in a special zone that did not allow animal use of any kind. The blow of sequential setbacks left Erin feeling stunned. And while she was trying to regain confidence, she experienced a great personal loss that almost made her give up entirely.
“I was exhausted physically and crushed emotionally. The thought of all the struggles I had been through, the feelings of frustration, anger, and hopelessness collided. I did everything I was asked. I had been so patient all these years and fought so hard, despite what anyone else thought, but none of it seemed to matter. It felt like chasing paper in the wind – every time I got closer it just blew further away. I didn’t think I had any fight left in me.”
Feeling defeated, Erin gave up on her dream to expand. She told her potential investor that she was pulling the plug and she stopped looking for a building.
“After a couple of months of sulking I realized I couldn’t give up, even if I wanted to. This was my whole life, everything I believed in and everything I had worked for. There was no Plan B or ‘if this doesn’t work out then I’ll try something else.’ This was it for me; and no matter how much I was hurting I had to get back in the game.”
So she revised her business plan one more time. With new plans to start a much smaller daycare, and focus on in-home pet care rather than boarding, she set out to try again. This change allowed her to quickly find a building in a retail location in Anaheim where she could offer grooming, daycare, and training while still providing clients with in-home pet care and taxi service.
Now that she had a building in mind she went to the SBA one last time in hopes of securing a loan. And while it was still an uphill battle to secure the loan, Erin finally got the answer she had been waiting for.
“I was approved! I was ecstatic, but also apprehensive that they would change their mind and I would be back at square one again. But they didn’t, and we were able to open our doors on June 16th, 2014.”
Forever grateful to her (now) husband, family, and business associates that helped her along the way, Erin could not be happier to see her facility up and running. While she still has big plans for the future, she is focusing on her company in the present. She hopes that her story will help others find the strength and courage to get through their own personal challenges.
“I truly believe if you have a dream you are passionate about then you have to be prepared to fight for it. There will always be people who doubt you, or put limits on you, but you can’t let them deter you. Even when the odds are stacked against you and all you want to do is quit, you can’t.”
As Erin cleans up after the grand opening for her new company, Dachs 2 Danes, Inc., she reflects on her journey and the motivation she found to keep going.
“It has been a long and winding road to open this dog daycare facility, but I never gave up on my dream. I wanted to have a daycare where dogs could not only enjoy their time away from home but could actually benefit from it; and that’s what we aspire to do here. It’s never too late to have a happy, well-balanced dog and, given the right environment and structure (like you find here), dogs can achieve that with us. At Dachs 2 Danes we strive to enrich the lives of pets and pet parents by helping them experience more joy with one another, giving them peace of mind in each other’s absence, and helping them find balance. Seeing the happiness it brings to people and knowing their lives are fuller are the reasons I fought so hard to make my dream a reality.” – Erin Foate, President.
About Dachs 2 Danes, Inc.
Located at 227 N State College Blvd. in Anaheim, Dachs 2 Danes, Inc. offers in-home pet care and training throughout North Orange County as well as dog daycare, grooming, and training at their facility. Their intimate daycare and puppy preschool programs are training based, focusing on reinforcing balanced pack mentality and curbing bad behaviors that can be passed on to other dogs. They offer a wide range of services and care for all pets, with the goal of giving peace of mind to the owners while away.
For more information call 714-533-BARK (2275) or visit www.dachs2danes.com