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Small Business Spotlight, Small Business Week 2017

National Small Business Week Winner: HousePaws

Kabbage spoke with the Small Business Administration’s New Jersey Small Business Winner, Lisa Aumiller of HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service, on where they started, how far they’ve come and how they’ve achieved success.  

What is HousePaws?

We are kind of a fusion of traditional veterinary medicine and mobile veterinary medicine. We have 14 veterinarians. At least one day a week, each one is in the hospital, but the rest of the time they’re all on the road. So we’re probably 80 percent mobile. Every doctor takes a shift in the hospital just to basically have a day-to-day care. All of our vets really believe that pets are easy to work with, more comfortable in their own home, and also we can gauge the pet better in their own environment.

What made you realize this is what you wanted to invest yourself in?

I was kind of disenchanted with the practice I was working at, so part of it was just being disenchanted. You know, I was going in, and it was dark … when I was going in the morning, and it was dark when I was leaving at night. My boss was a jerk. I’m very patient-centric, so I like doing what’s the right thing for my client or my patient whereas he was more about the numbers. Honestly, we were at each other’s [throats] … and I ended up getting fired. I had 30-days-notice to basically figure out what I was going to do. So, I thought, “You know what? Do I try to fit in somewhere, or do I try to make my own thing happen?” And then I thought, “What are the things I’m unhappy about? Well, I’m not in control – that’s easy, I’ll just be my own boss. I’m not able to make the rules – that’s easy, I’ll be my own boss. And I’m stuck in a building all day – that’s easy, I have a truck, and I got a microscope and I got a stethoscope, so maybe I’ll just go do house calls.”

I’m one of those people who gets inspired more when people tell me I can’t do things. Anytime someone told me I couldn’t do something, it was a drive to make it happen. Now it’s super cool because we’ve never advertised for hiring for our vet. People just have the same feelings and want to follow those same passions. They follow us on Facebook and ended up joining the business because they have the same philosophy.

“Some obstacles are ones that lead to success. When you have limitations, it makes you think more creatively.”

What obstacles, if any, have you had to overcome in regards to your small business, and how have you maintained your determination during them?

Honestly, I started it kind of without any thought, and I didn’t have any money either. So the biggest obstacle was literally having no money and starting a company. And I wasn’t eligible for a loan until much later, so that was a hardship because my husband didn’t have a job, I left my job, but luckily, for instance, you can get medication. So I could get so many months if I open a new clinic order, so I don’t have to pay anything for like three months. So, I took a lot of things that I knew would be coming in three-to-six months because I knew the industry so well that I was in. My accountant called me a frog who just assumed the next lily pad was there, and if it wasn’t, I knew I could swim. The second biggest obstacle was … there was a big stigma when we started. Everybody was like, “Oh, I know someone who’s old and has a dog.” We’re not just for old pets or disabled pets. We wanted to be accessible to everyone. People don’t realize that you don’t need to be in a brick-and-mortar building to get good care. Not only can we do this out of the home, we can do way more and better.

Was there anyone in particular who created a huge impact in helping you and your small business get to where it is today?

This guy next door owned a law firm, and he walked over and said, “I know you need surgical space. Why don’t you buy my building?” So I asked, “Well how much is your building?” and he said $200,000, and I said, “I only have $30,000.” He knew my husband had a tractor and would snowplow the lots for the neighborhood, so he said, “I’ll write you a note for $70,000, and you can pay me back. It’s a way to thank your husband for the last few years, and you can pay me back.” We never even met the guy. Then I went to the bank, and no one would give me a loan because we hadn’t been in business for two years. So the lawyer called his banker, and his banker had the same rule, but the lawyer talked the banker into getting into my car and driving with me the whole day. So the banker was like, “I love your business” and got us a loan to get the property. For us, it was huge because we were paying about $7,000 a month to rent space in a hospital, which is obviously more than a mortgage would have been.

What marketing advice would you give to someone just starting their business?

Even though now that we have more resources, we still only community market. I don’t think there’s anything better that you can do than support the community. Not just with money, but being active in the community. It amazes me how many vet places don’t have a “Ask the Vet” booth at community day. Like if the local theater puts on “101 Dalmatians” for the kids, we’re going to be there because it supports the kids and because, you know, Dalmatians.

I think a lot of companies, and, you know, especially small business owners, are so overwhelmed with their business and their poor work-life balance that they forget that service is really huge, and if you don’t find a way to keep serving the community outside of doing a job for them, I think that’s a big missing link. I think that if the community knows that you’re an active member, [it] will support you. Community relations is something that everyone should consider in their market plans. Those are the things newspapers care about and TV channels care about. Outreach is something that a lot of small businesses don’t think about. Part of it, too, is who you attract when you do that. If you help with the community, you’ll find people who want to work with you. They want to be a part of something good.

What resources have been at the forefront in helping you run your business?

Our biggest resource is a human resource. By far, our biggest asset is our employees and our clients. If you can engage them, then they do all of the work for you. Our clients have felt like they’ve been with us, even if they just joined today – they see change happening and they feel like they’re part of the change. I feel like our clients see us as the horse that shouldn’t win, and we’re winning, and they’re excited about it. And they’re part of that success.

Without the word of mouth of our clients, we wouldn’t be where we are today. They’re super resourceful in what they tell us. Thirty percent of our really cool ideas come from our clients. For instance, someone was like, “I used to be able to text you when it was just you, and now there’s 14 of you, and I can’t text you anymore.” So, we found a company called TextMyBiz, and they made our phone number a text now, so now all of our clients can text us. I went to an all-women’s college, Sweet Briar College, which really prepared me for leadership mentality, especially as a woman. It really helped me with my success.

“Not everyone has time to save the world, but everybody wants to be around people that do.”

In what ways do you give back to your community? 

For every $100 you spend at a local business, $69 goes to the community. Putting money back into the community is the easiest way. So, instead of going to Panera for lunch, go to, like, Joe’s Deli. There are different levels of community involvement. The smallest level of giving back is using local people. Everyone we hire is local: the plumber, the electrician, the guy who does our cars, etc. We don’t use Subaru; we use Kevin from Kevin’s Auto Shop.

Beyond that, we started a non-profit, which donates money who can’t afford pet care in our service area. They don’t even have to be a client [of ours]. They can apply to us. We do health clinics in Camden … and treat the patients. We do pet related events for the community. We just did a giant Easter egg hunt, and we put thousands of eggs out with holes in them so the dogs could smell the treats inside, so the dogs went hunting. The local country club lets us do a doggy dip once a year where when their pool closes the next weekend, all the dogs come to the pool, and we serve “puptinis”, and they can lay in the lounge chairs.

We’re always looking for creative ways to involve in the community. We also help seniors get pets because a lot of rescues won’t let seniors get pets [because of their age]. We created a program with rescues where senior citizens will adopt senior pets, that are like eight or older, and will be guaranteed to go back into foster care should something happen [to the owner]. It’s called Seniors for Seniors.

If you were starting your business over today, what is one thing you would have done differently?

I would try to figure out how to have a better work-life balance, but then again, I feel like everything that happens, happens to let you grow. Everything has led to great things. One thing I feel really proud of myself is like…we play this game called, “Where did people talk about you?” One time a lady told me that she was at the bar, and it was a Saturday night, and she was having drinks, and I was so proud of myself for being bar talk. For me, it’s about those little moments. We got called out one time to a monk’s temple, and the cat ate spice … but those moments are the moments where I’m like, “Wow! I’m cool enough for a monk to want to see us.”

Do you have one particularly popular item among your customer base?

Probably acupuncture. We do acupuncture and chiropractic for pets. Believe it or not, we get a lot of pocket pet calls. There’s a lot of value on those pets, and there’s a lot of people who weren’t getting service for those animals when they need to. They don’t like taking them out because it gives the animal a lot of stress.

HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service was founded in 2010 in an effort to offer high quality, affordable veterinary service – in the comfort of your own home. HousePaws also has its own hospitals for clients who prefer traditional, in-hospital appointments or for patients who need surgery, dentistry, radiology or ultrasounds. 

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Kabbage Team

Kabbage is here not only to provide access to the small business funding you need, but to also help you grow your business through free marketing tips, webinars, tools and more. Is there something you'd like us to cover or want to get your small business featured on our blog? Send us a note at content@kabbage.com.