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From Mediocre to Booming

TenderCare Pet Salon and Day Spa, Maria Conneway

Title / Role: Owner/groomer
Location: Fort Myers, Florida
Formed in: 2012
What do you do?

We are a pet grooming salon specializing in skincare therapy.

What inspired you to start your business?

I started my business thinking I could help rescue dogs and dogs with special needs that get turned away at other salons.

What's special about your business?

We separate ourselves with the highest quality equipment, we set up our employees for success, and we are totally transparent with menu style pricing which is posted on our wall and on our website. We hand out beautiful welcome folders with all information about our salon to all new clients. We offer dental cleanings through a company called Healthy Smile Pet Dental, which are certified and licensed vet techs. We have a TheraClean machine which is a very high-end skincare machine. There are only four of these machines in Florida at this time and the closest is in Tampa. We assess each pet individually and offer a full menu of spa options to handle almost any skin issue and accommodate any budget.

What have been the high and low points of being a business owner?

The hardest thing is finding groomers. It is an extremely physical job that requires hours of standing and reaching and brushing. It is hard on your body physically and eventually turns most groomers off. I offset that by offering my employees a full setup of all tools (most salons require you to purchase your own) I offer a good wage with vacation benefits, uniforms, and several other perks. The high point is that I have morphed this "shop" that started in an unairconditioned garage, into a very high-end "salon" with the best equipment and products on the market. I love seeing the quality of the work go up with my employees because they are given the tools they need to succeed. I like watching them blossom and learn new things and become more confident. Plus? I enjoy being able to take a bit more time off and not worrying about money coming in to pay my bills.

What is your relationship with SCORE? SCORE client How SCORE helped.

Through Ben, I have learned to do data analysis much more efficiently. I know where my finances are at any given moment and have learned how to do very accurate projections of the coming months and years. I have learned to work smarter and not so hard. I have learned how to manage people better and apply "golden handcuffs" when needed. I have also learned that no employee is irreplaceable and that value often doesn't come from the quality of work, but rather their quality as an employee overall. With Bens's help, I have turned my business toward me not being a working owner but more of a managing one. I have plans and goals to completely wean myself away by the end of 2021. At that time I will act more of a hostess and specialist upfront with clients in assessing their pets and setting up a good program for them, then assigning them a groomer and/or bather to achieve desired results.

What's great about my mentor?

He is patient, gives me achievable homework, and actually leads me to find my own way. He basically points me in a direction and I run with it. Sometimes I am not sure which direction to go and I get overwhelmed. He helps me see the big picture and keeps me focused.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting a small business?

Do your homework, network, ask questions, and expect to do a TON of work at startup so you don't have to repeat the same work again when you start to expand. Begin with the idea you WILL expand and grow and start from a place that allows you to do so.

What have you learned from your experiences as a business owner?

It's not as easy as people think. People managing is the most important skill you can have. The more organized you are, the better and easier things run. Do not be afraid of change or a challenge and if you don't meet a goal, do not beat yourself up. Learn who your key people are and make it very uncomfortable for them to consider leaving their job. Finally, success is the happiness you have and the satisfaction that comes from doing things honestly and looking out for others. If you help others succeed and set them up for success, your business will thrive.

Additional media
Jose Vega
Worker grooming dog
My mentors
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Benjamin L Simmons

I can help improve business performance in operations and finance, including understanding financial...

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2201 Second Street, Suite 500
Fort Myers, FL 33901
(239) 533-3102

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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.

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