PULLMAN, Wash.—Danielle and Melanie Voorhees were thrilled when their employer said she wanted to sell Zelda’s Pet Grooming service. “Are you interested?” the owner asked.
They responded immediately: “Yes, definitely. We are.”
On paper it wasn’t promising. Dani had been a full-time dog groomer at Zelda’s for just two years and Melanie worked in the office part-time while finishing her bachelor’s degree in psychology and women’s studies at Washington State University. They were living paycheck to paycheck and Dani’s last paycheck before Zelda’s was from Jack In the Box.
Still, the two had talked a lot about changes they would make if they were in charge, and it seemed like an offer they couldn’t refuse. Except they weren’t sure what the offer was and they had no idea how they would pay for it.
That’s when they contacted Aziz Makhani, a business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) whose Pullman office is on the WSU campus.
The Washington SBDC is a network of more than two dozen business advisors working in communities across the state to help entrepreneurs and small business owners start, grow or buy/sell a business. Washington State University is the statewide host of the Washington SBDC and provides administrative and financial support. Funding is also provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and other institutions of higher education and economic development, including business and civic groups.
Makhani, who has been an SBDC advisor since 2015, said Dani and Melanie had a steep learning curve, but they were enthusiastic and committed, and if they didn’t buy the business, it would likely close. “I immediately sensed it was a case of enabling the buyers to transition a thriving business in the community and save jobs,” Makhani said. “That’s a key mission of SBDC.”
Still, there were challenges. It’s great that you want to buy and the owner wants to sell, Makhani said, but what is she selling and what are you buying? He encouraged them to request financial records from the past three years and then get a detailed description of what was included in the sale. Equipment? Supplies? Client records? What about the building? Was that part of the sale, or would they be renting back the space and if so, at what cost?
Once the Voorhees had the requested documents, Makhani asked Alan Stanford, an SBDC advisor based in Spokane, to read through them as well. Makhani and Stanford both asked plenty of questions to help Dani and Melanie avoid any last-minute surprises.
In the end, the owner agreed to self-finance the sale and with the help of friends and family, the Voorhees were able to make the down payment to take over ownership. They’ve been busy since then.
The four existing employees all stayed with the business and Dani and Melanie have added 15 additional employees, several of them students in animal science at WSU. Over the past year, their average monthly client visits have grown from 840 to 1,320, or about 50 percent.That first hurdle—buying the business—was a big one, but Zelda’s is already becoming the business they knew it could be.
“The SBDC is an important resource for people who want to own a business but don’t know what steps to take,” Melanie said.
While SBDC assistance was immense, Dani says they are fortunate to have a great team all around, from their accountant to their lawyer to their amazing staff. And they give a shout-out to the community as well.
Their Facebook page is filled with adorable puppy photos and glowing reviews from clients.
Melanie, who graduated from WSU in May 2018, said she’s excited that she can focus on the business full-time now. She has revamped the website and is spending more time on Facebook and other social media platforms, where Zelda’s clients are enthusiastic in their support.
Their progress so far has been amazing, Dani said, and now they have even bigger dreams. Some of their clients are traveling from as far away as Lewiston, Idaho, to have their pets groomed at Zelda’s. One client, they were amazed to discover, came from as far away as Boise. It’s on a back burner, but they’ve already started talking about opening a second office.
- Hope Tinney, Washington SBDC, 509-432-8254, firstname.lastname@example.org