Disappointed that they had to leave their Dalmatian, Geni, at home to work at their 9-to-5's, Dan Remus and Jef Strauss launched the Wag N' Wash pet retailer so they could bring Geni along for the workday. The business began as a dog wash and bakery for canines, but has evolved into a full-service chain of franchises. Despite initially being denied loans by banks that didn't believe a small pet retailer could compete with the larger companies that dominate the market, Remus and Strauss continue to expand, maintaining a presence across a number of states. Remus told Business News Daily about the struggles of getting established and the joy of watching the company grow and succeed.
Business News Daily: In a nutshell, what service does your business provide?
Dan Remus: Wag N' Wash is a multiunit specialty pet retailer that sells natural food for cats and dogs, [maintains] self-wash and full-service grooming facilities, [operates an] in-house bakery for pet treats, and [sells] gear and supplies for cats and dogs.
BND: How long have you been in business?
Remus: Since 1999.
BND: Did you start with a formal business plan? If not, how did you lay the groundwork for your business?
Remus: We started with a general business plan as a dog wash and bakery. Prior to Wag N' Wash, [co-founder] Jef [Strauss] and I worked corporate jobs that forced us to leave our then-aging Dalmatian, Geni, at home or with a sitter for long periods of time. Our goal was to simply start a business that would allow us to bring Geni to work and to spend more time with her. Over the years, our business model has evolved to our current multiunit, full-line retail format.
BND: How did you finance your endeavors, both initially and as your business grew?
Remus: Our first store was financed personally, with a home-equity loan. We could not get a bank interested in lending to us; they thought there was no way we could compete with pet-retail giants like PetSmart and Petco. So we took a $100,000 home-equity line of credit to lease and outfit space. Jef kept his corporate job, and I quit mine to strictly focus on getting our first store off the ground. To open our second store, in 2004, Jef sold property and we went back to the banks, finally getting a loan after visiting about 20 of them. After our second location [opened], banks saw our success and became interested in pursuing our business. Locations since then have been financed through traditional bank loans, as well as SBA loans.
BND: How much did you invest personally?
Remus: Initially, $100,000 for the first location
BND: Is your business today what you originally envisioned at the outset, or has it changed significantly over time?
Remus: Our business has evolved and changed significantly from our original vision. We began as a dog wash and biscuit bakery. But from the beginning, we listened to our customers' needs and wants and adjusted the business to meet them. We really wanted to be a one-stop shop for pet owners. What began as a single dog wash has evolved into a multiunit national franchise system of full-line pet retail stores.
BND: What are some lessons you've learned? Is there anything you would've done differently?
Remus: The biggest lesson learned is to trust in letting go of total control and not to micromanage your business. Share your vision clearly and trust in your team to find the path that is best for them to achieve that vision. The end result is more important than the steps taken to get there.
BND: What were the most important factors that contributed to your success?
Remus: Being passionate about what you do — in our case, companion pets — is a huge factor to success. Also, being capable and willing to thoroughly examine your business and determine what needs to change in order to fully satisfy and exceed your customers' needs is extremely important. You can't let entrepreneurial pride get in the way.
BND: What are the next steps you want to take as a business owner? How do you see yourself achieving those goals?
Remus: Our next step is to grow our national presence. Currently, we have nine stores in Colorado, Arizona and Minnesota, and more in various stages of development in Nevada, Kentucky, New Jersey, Washington state, Colorado and Maryland. We will expand our footprint through awarding more franchises and enhancing our support system.
BND: What is your best advice to someone with a great business idea who is ready to give it a shot?
Remus: Do it! Have passion about your business and make it fun. If you do that, your business will not be "work," and success will follow naturally.