Concord business incubator helps pet lover pursue dreams
New pet store owner Don Owens displays one of his animals up for apoption.
October 16, 2012 ·
What do you get when you take a passion for pets, determination, hard work and the Concord University Business Incubator? Some might say a recipe for a successful Southern West Virginia pet store grand opening.
The Petland Store in the Mercer Mall in Bluefield looks different than it did a year ago. Puppies are still on display along the right side of the store and large stainless steel sinks behind the canines double as pet bathtubs.
Don Owens is now the owner of this Petland - which is quite a promotion considering in the 1990’s he managed the store. Owen says this time things are different.
“I’ve always been successful with everything that I’ve done,” he said. “I’ve always made a lot of money for someone else and I was like I can do this for myself the problem is getting started."
"I never realized how much of an issue it is to get started in a small business.”
Owens says he always dreamed of owning his own pet store. Opportunity knocked when the store closed last December.
Petland did not return our phone call when asked why the store closed and mall management is not allowed to comment. But Owens says he’s running things differently than the last owner.
“The other owner had some issues,” he said. “I don’t know all of them I don’t want to know all of them I’ve had to deal with some of them he’s left behind.”
Owens re-opened the store in July. The road to grand opening was not easy. Owens needed money, and lots of it, to cover start-up costs. He went to Dr. Stephen Rowe, Director of the Small Business Incubator in the Rahall Technology Center at Concord University.
“Primary role of the Rahall Center was to give him someone to talk to,” Rowe said.
“He would stop by about once a week and he and I would talk about who he had been to see and what his strategy would be in talking to them, and what kind of benefits he would offer a venture capitalist, what kind of incentive to loan money to him and Don would take those ideas and then he would say he rigorously and vigorously pursued those ideas."
Owens already had a detailed 160 page business plan so Rowe and the business incubator served as a consultant, with access and knowledge of state, federal, and local resources.
“With the federal and state programs for example there are what we call RFPs, request for proposal,” Rowe said, “and then there are deadlines and there are items that they do and do not fund and there are times that they will accept grant proposals or loan applications and times that they will not."
“Because I work with those on a daily basis I typically know a little bit more about them than the entrepreneurs who come to me.”
Most of those resources led to another slammed door but Owens refused to give up. Rowe says the willingness to work is crucial to small business success.
“He knew what he wanted to do,” Rowe said. “He knew how he wanted to do it. He knew that he could do it and he just kept rattling door knobs until he found the one that opened."
"Having that will and that drive is critical because otherwise one could become discouraged very quickly and just throw up the hands and quit. Mr. Owens never did that I can’t imagine he ever would in any circumstance that he was involved with.”
Owens negotiated with the vendors, suppliers and even the mall administration to make the start-up affordable. The bulk of financial help came through a $40,000 loan from the Region One Development Authority.
“It’s been a little bit of an uphill battle because with a small business nobody wants to help you,” he said. “But I’ve had several of the people that me and Dr. Rowe went and saw that come in and go, 'yelp blew that one didn’t we."
"Because they see the amount of traffic the amount of people the amount of product the way the store is going and just overall the way the store looks compared to the way it used to look.”
Owens has also made the business a family affair. His children put on the traditional khaki Petland uniforms and serve as managers and employees.
Just passed the yellow parakeets, his son Marcus Owens is pulling out two active green snakes from their glass home at the request of a young girl.
“Green snakes are normally found in the United States somewhere around Florida,” he explained to the girl. “They don’t come no further north than North Carolina. Most things that they eat is crickets insects stuff like that."
Taking lessons like these on the road is part of the business plan. Owens says his family offers free visits to local schools.
“It’s been very successful for us as far as a marketing tool as well as an education tool,” Owens explained, “because it’s amazing what people associate but are not exactly knowledgeable about the different animals in the store.”
“It’s been pretty amazing to hear the stuff that we hear on a daily basis," Owens said. "The people think they know more than what they really do or what somebody has told them that’s just totally inaccurate. I kind of enjoy changing that persona a little bit.”
Owens says he’s still struggling and juggling shelf stocks and payroll but has faith things will work out. He’s already planning to expand. His business is one of several The Concord University Business Incubator is working with that are at various stages of development.