How A Resource You Should Use Turned an Entrepreneur’s Love for Animals into a Dog-Grooming SalonBecky Brown
Melodi Wisswell’s career path seems obvious in retrospect. She’s always loved animals. She has a business degree. And she wanted to live near her family. Now, she’s opened Platinum Paws, a high-end dog-grooming spa in Columbia, Missouri. Here’s how all the pieces came together with the help of the Missouri Small Business Development Center.
The road to entrepreneurship
Prior to graduating from Columbia College in 2010, Melodi started working at PetSmart. She worked her way to management, but after a move to the West Coast, she ended up at a store that didn’t have her management position. She was back on the sales floor.
“I knew I couldn’t support myself on $10 an hour in Southern California,” Melodi says. “But as a previous manager, I knew how much groomers could make.”
PetSmart sent her to school to learn grooming, and Melodi spent several years grooming at the store and later in her home. When she decided to move back to Missouri to be near family, Melodi was back grooming at PetSmart. And that’s where she found her pack.
“I met incredible friends through the salon,” she says. “They encouraged me to open my own salon.”
Preparing for small business ownership
Melodi had a degree in business management and administration. But she was still at a loss when it came to starting her own company.
“Things change, and I didn’t know where to start,” Melodi says. “My mom actually mentioned the Small Business Development Center, so I reached out to them, and that’s how I met Paul.”
Paul Zacharias is a small business counselor at the Missouri Small Business Development Center at MU. He’s one of a team of experts who provide free guidance to entrepreneurs.
“We’re business therapists,” Paul says. “We invite entrepreneurs to come in and sit on our couch. We ask them what they want to do, and we try to assist them in developing a road map to get there.”
Starting a business can be a lonely endeavor, even for people like Melodi who have incredible support from family and friends. And then, there’s the financial aspect.
“Clients may need access to capital,” Paul says. “We work with many SBA-preferred lenders in the area. A lot of times, banks want to see a business plan before they loan money, and the SBDC can assist clients in putting those together as well.”
Building a business plan and securing financing
Melodi and Paul got to work on the business plan for Platinum Paws. She took advantage of the free research tools at the SBDC, and he helped her crunch the numbers. Paul also recognized that Melodi had what it takes to start a successful business.
“She had a vision for Platinum Paws,” he says. “That type of focus is very helpful. Also, she was very persistent. She just kept coming back and continued working on her business plan, so we developed it more and more at each meeting. She also did a lot of the groundwork herself. She found a great location and made the contacts that need to be made.”
Securing financing had Melodi nervous. But Paul helped her prepare to meet with bankers and attended the meetings with her as well.
“The first bank I went to, which is the bank I ultimately decided to go with, I cried in the meeting,” Melodi says. “I was so embarrassed.”
But Paul has a different view.
“Sometimes, especially with first-time entrepreneurs, meeting with bankers can be intimidating,” he says. “I was able to answer questions with her since we’d worked on the business plan together.”
In the end, Melodi received multiple financing offers. This monetary support paved the way to open Platinum Paws in May 2023. She hosted her official grand opening in August 2023 and was delighted to welcome a good crowd.
Support from the Columbia entrepreneurial community
Melodi joined the Columbia Chamber of Commerce to meet more people in the local business community. And she’s made powerful connections with the owners of other small grooming businesses.
“A lot of corporations are cutthroat, but small businesses are incredible,” she says. “You need to make what you need to make, but there are enough dogs for everybody. If we’re full, we’ll refer you to somebody else. It’s really nice to have that added support. We’re competition, but at the same time, we’re family.”
Her non-business family is in on the action as well. She’s hired her nieces and nephews to make the bows and bandanas that each pup receives as part of their spa day. And she’s hired a friend to help design and change out the eye-catching vinyl designs in Platinum Paws’ front window.
Melodi can use all the help she can get because she has been busy with clients.
“When we did the business plan, we estimated that I could hire another groomer at the beginning of next year,” she says. “That was with an estimate of 18 dogs a week. My first two weeks in business, I was up to 24 dogs a week. These numbers blow my mind. It’s exciting, even if it’s slightly overwhelming.”
Melodi hopes to bring on another groomer in October, three months ahead of schedule. And she’s still working with the SBDC, going over financials and making sure her books are set up.
“Whether we meet one time or 10 times, SBDC services are no cost,” Paul says. “And we can work with any company with fewer than 500 employees.”
Resources and advice for other entrepreneurs
Many people find themselves in that “Should I take the leap into entrepreneurship?” precipice. Having been there, done that, Melodi has advice.
“First, I’d take a breath,” she says. “Then, make a pro/con list. Make sure that this is what you really, really want to do, and that you’re not doing it for anyone else but yourself. Make sure you’re 110% loving that market. Do it for the love of yourself and the love of what you’re doing. Don’t do it for the money or because someone tells you to. Then? Go out and utilize the tools that you have around you, like the SBDC. They have been amazing.”
As a small business counselor, Paul has seen it all. And he also advises aspiring small business owners to do their research and take their time.
“Be prepared to put in as much work before the doors are open as you’ll have to do once you have the business up and running,” he says. “Opening a business is a process. The more time you’re willing to spend developing your business concept, the greater the chance you’ll be open five, 10 or 15 years after you open.”
Of course, Paul also encourages people to take advantage of the SBDC offices all around Missouri.
“The SBDC is a great resource that flies a little bit under the radar,” he says. “That’s a great place to start if you’re thinking about starting a business.”
Build your Missouri business
When you’re looking for community, guidance or funding, make the MOSourceLink Resource Navigator your first stop. This go-to database lists more than 600 Missouri Resource Partners that are ready to guide your entrepreneurial journey.
If you aren’t sure where to start, MOSourceLink has you covered. Our Network Navigators can create a free Personal Action Plan just for you. Answer a few questions, and they’ll tailor an individualized checklist of what to do and whom to meet to start making your business goals a reality.