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8 business lessons I learned by starting my own company

By Lavinia Wanjau | Updated Wed, April 5th 2017 at 08:56 GMT +3

To many, pet grooming sounds like the height of elitism, but to Angela Mulirae-Kihenjo, the founder of Pets Paradise, what she does is a necessity for every dog owner.

In the same way we all pop into the salon or barbershop to look our best, dogs, too, need to have their coats and claws attended to. Here, she explains what it took to get her start-up off the ground.

1. Chose a scalable business (a business that can grow)

I wanted to do something that I could scale, as well as something that I loved. If you can’t scale your business, then your growth will be limited. You need to have a business that can grow and expand. 

2. Educate yourself

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My background is in finance, something that I did for eight years. However, I didn’t just stumble into pet grooming. I took a course and learned all I could about this business. I still have a lot to learn as there are people in other countries who have 30 years of experience, but I am getting there. In 2014, I paid a researcher and asked her to see how viable the business was. We wanted to find out how the market would take to Pets Paradise before we got started.

3. Define the products or services you will provide

When I first thought about this business, I had a long list of services that I wanted to offer. Right now, I have started with four services. We have pet grooming, which is the anchor service. Pet grooming is more than just washing a dog; we improve the dog’s aesthetics as well as its hygiene.

The second product we offer is boarding, which comes in when a pet owner is travelling. There is also dog walking, and we recently introduced playgroups on Saturdays. For the playgroups, we have off-leash activities that help dogs socialise, get mentally stimulated and burn energy. All our services are pet grooming-adjacent and enhance the business. Charges vary according to the size of the dog, coat type and other factors. An average grooming session lasts three hours and costs Sh3,500

4. Gather the necessary resources

It took a lot to get this business going. My husband and I went round looking for a location for a long time. I needed a place with space, but most landlords didn’t want to house a dog business. Luckily, we eventually found someone who didn’t mind dogs in Karen. I also had to ship in a lot of things, like foldable tables and some of the grooming tools. For the grooming products, I have a friend who supplies me with organic soaps and conditioners that have natural oils. I prefer these for the dogs as they really soften the coats. I am yet to brand them, but that will come with time. I also use products that are locally available in the market.

5. Get your finances lined up

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I could have taken a loan to buy all the high-end equipment that I wanted, but that would have been a mistake. The burden of loan repayments would have been too much for me. Instead, I used my savings and got some money from my husband to get some things that were required. You have to start small. It is more manageable that way.

6. Commit yourself to your new venture

I have always liked entrepreneurship and done things on the side while I was employed. In October 2015, I started doing this part time. I would go to people’s homes to groom their dogs. In April 2016, I went into this full time. I have come to learn that to run a serious business, you have to do it full time. When it’s part time, you are not all in. People had challenges trying to understand what I was doing. They thought that I should do this as a hobby, but I had decided a long time ago that I was going to do this. I had to ship in a lot of things that were not locally available so why invest in all that if I wasn’t going to be serious?

7. Set up proper structures

Business is a process. You can’t learn everything all at once. You may come in thinking that you are well prepared, but there are still things you will have to learn along the way. Right now, I am the main groomer because not many people know how to do this. Before I step away from this job and take on more of a managerial role, I will have to know this business inside out. I will have to have worked out everything so that when I leave it to someone else, it will not collapse.

8. Get the word out

People say that pet grooming is a niche market, but it really isn’t. For anyone who owns a dog, grooming is necessary. The challenge has been in getting people to understand this. I am finding the need to educate people about the fact that when you get a dog, there are expenses that come along with this. Your dog needs to be fed well.

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It needs to get its vaccinations, be de-wormed regularly, get flee protection and all that. These are not luxuries. I am marketing the company on Facebook, but I am not relying solely on it. I also have flyers and posters. A dog is like a member of the family and everyone who owns one needs to know that grooming is necessary.

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