Ever since I can remember I’ve had a strong love and connection with animals. As a little kid, I brought home every stray under the sun. From tadpoles and snakes to crows and random kittens – luckily my parents welcomed them all. From that point on, animals have been a big part of my life. So, while it wasn’t my original career aspiration, starting a business centered around pets ended up being a natural fit for me.
My interest in pet nutrition started to develop after I lost two of my cats to cancer. They were mother and daughter so I figured there were some genetics involved, but I began to question just what role nutrition played in all of this. In 2006, when my husband and I adopted our dog, Bentley, I knew we were going to do a few things differently.
I realized diet alone wouldn’t solve every health problem, but I believed if pets were being fed the right, healthy ingredients, this would give them the best opportunity to thrive.
So, I set out to find a pet store that carried healthy food. And even though the stores I visited carried some pretty good stuff, for the most part, the quality I was looking for just wasn’t there. I was looking high and low for a healthy pet store but I couldn’t find one… and an idea began to form.
It was 2008, my husband and I were both working in the mortgage industry at the time. Well, we all know what happened there. Amidst the market crash, we both found ourselves unemployed and unsure of our next move. I’m a firm believer that magic happens when you mix your passion with opportunity. And that’s how Bentley’s Pet Stuff was formed. While most places were closing, I decided to open because I truly believed there was a hole in the market that Bentley’s could fill – a place where pet owners didn’t have to think about what they were picking up from the shelf and could feel confident they were giving their animals the best products available.
Advice For Up and Coming Female Entrepreneurs
That brings me to my first bit of advice for female entrepreneurs: know your passions and follow your gut. If you’re thinking about diving into the world of entrepreneurship and starting your own business, you’ve got to focus on things that move you, things that you feel a strong passion for because the life of an entrepreneur—especially a female entrepreneur—is hard. There will be lots of ups and downs, and that passion, when it’s really strong, is what’s going to fuel you while you’re navigating the downturns and allow you to enjoy the upswings.
My second piece of advice for women looking to become an entrepreneur: plan for both the best or the worst to happen, because there’s just no way to know. If you prepare yourself for your very worst-case scenario, then you can sit with it for a moment, analyze it, plan for it and move on without dwelling on it. That way if it ever comes your way, you’ll know where you can go from there. Have contingency plans such as a line of credit or a backup location if the one you’re negotiating on falls through. And the best-case scenario? Well, that may seem like an easy one, but it’s always good to have a plan for that, too. For example, look at ways to scale your business, techniques to quickly and efficiently hire the right people, up and coming neighborhoods and locations you may want to expand into.
Another piece of advice I would give from very early on to anyone looking to start their own business is to focus on your positive and stick with it. DO NOT get hung up on the negative. Everyone has an opinion on what you could be doing better, what they think matters most, basically anything really. The thing you have to learn is to trust your gut and follow it. You were the one who came up with the idea, you know what your vision is, the rest is noise.
Challenges That Female Entrepreneurs Can Encounter
Challenges are an inevitable part of your journey as a female entrepreneur, or for any entrepreneur really. The trick is to take it all with grace. Remember that challenges are also an opportunity to grow. My biggest advice when dealing with challenges is to arm yourself with information. Educate yourself because what they say is true: “Knowledge is power.”
When I first began thinking about Bentley’s as a business I dove in deep. I had already been researching and following several female holistic veterinarians as a way to learn about healthy eating for my own pets, so I had a starting point when it came to the business. I made it my mission to hear EVERYTHING these trusted sources had to say. If they held seminars, I attended them. If they published books, I read them. I studied their blogs, followed them on social media and researched anything they shared from other vets or specialists in the field. I wanted to know everything, and this knowledge has been a great tool for me when meeting business challenges.
Another big challenge for any business owner is getting too comfortable with their business. When things are going well, it can be really easy to become complacent. Here’s the thing: this world is moving very fast in every industry, and you have to find a way to move with it. For Bentley’s, this was illustrated in our move to online sales. I knew having an online presence was important, and I realized it would be a good source of revenue, but my passion has always been building personal experiences through in-store events and personalized customer service. I knew I would be spread too thin if I tried to do both things well on my own. So, I designated a team to handle everything that had to do with our website, allowing me to continue to focus on what I love most: human and pet interactions and building connections across the country that can only be done in person.
Finding a Work-Life Balance
There’s no bigger challenge to me as a woman business owner than the work-life balance, even more so being a mom. Here’s what I can say about that: there’s a time and place for business and a time and place for family. I do my best to try not to let them intersect too much. When I’m working, I’m completely focused on the task at hand, whether it’s assisting customers, ordering new inventory, or researching the nutritional values of a new food line. But when it comes to my family time, I make sure it’s quality time. No checking emails, no taking calls…I want to give my full attention to my kids and my home, period. My goal is to really soak up all the moments with them as a mom, not as a momtrepreneur. It might not be the easiest but it’s probably the most important of all the challenges to overcome.
What Happens When Things Don’t Go As Planned?
When plans go array, that’s when you have to dig deep and remember what motivates you. In the end, it’s all about the customers for me. Hearing their success stories and getting positive feedback is my fuel. When customers turn to us as a trusted source for advice on food and nutrition, I know we’re on the right track. And that’s what keeps me going and helps drive the business forward.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
We try to be superheroes all the time and we always want to prove a point, which is great, but sometimes we need a resource, or we just need to go ask for help. If you know as much as you can about your field and about your business, yet you still find yourself in a position where you don’t know the answer…it’s OK to ask. This was a lesson that took me a while to learn. Once we started Bentley’s, I was surprised at how fast we grew. Growing pains are a real thing! We needed help and advice from someone who understood how to scale a business. That’s why it was so wonderful to meet Marcus. He came at the perfect time to really help guide us into growth. That’s what I mean about not being afraid to ask for help. You never know who you’ll meet or what kind of help they’ll be able to offer your business. With your hard work, know-how and a great team behind you, the sky’s the limit!
- What challenges have you faced in starting your business?
- What tips from above can you see being the most helpful to you and your business?