Alix Marcoux-DiLorenzo knew that she was providing a valuable service to pet owners in the Gilford area, but she really didn’t know what her company’s value was until she had a few meetings with an NH SBDC business advisor.
She explains that when her business, Homeward Bound Animal Care, was new, she “offered everything to everybody” - dog walking, cat sitting, and in-home pet-boarding - and she wasn’t really sure what she should charge.
Then Alix learned about Sally Holder, the NH SBDC advisor serving the Gilford area out of the Belknap Economic Development Council office.
“I called her and we set up a meeting,” Alix said. “Now we’ve had tons of hour-long meetings and they’ve all been so incredibly helpful. She helped me focus in on finding what my value was to the customer.”
Alix explains that Sally helped her look at where she was getting the most business already, and that was the dog-walking service. “Narrowing to that niche really made sense financially, and with my life personally,” Alix said. “We just got there by writing everything that I did down in a spreadsheet.”
The two worked a great deal on marketing options, with Alix freely admitting she didn’t feel that she was good at “sales.”
Soon Alix instituted a price increase. “Sally held my hand through that. I knew I needed to charge more, but it made me so nervous,” she said.
The marketing and the price increase worked out. Homeward Bound Animal Care celebrated its 5-year anniversary last November and now employs several dog walkers and serves clients in Laconia, Meredith, Belmont and Gilford.
Pet care is something Alix sort of stumbled into, even though she has a degree in wildlife management, focusing on animal behavior, from Michigan State. Prior to her grad school enrollment, she lived in Seattle and had a small pet-sitting business. She moved eastward from there to take a job as a youth program coordinator at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, which she describes as a great job.
However, when unemployment arose, pet-sitting again helped her cover expenses while job-searching. After dozens of interviews and no full-time work coming up, she decided to keep pet-sitting, which was growing by word-of-mouth.
“So, I put up a web page to see what would happen, and it just caught on from there,” she said. “It quickly became more than my friends and neighbors, and the word got passed along.”
With Sally’s help, Homeward Bound was on a good trajectory, but illness intervened. First, the man who would eventually become her husband was diagnosed with colon cancer. Just as his year-long recovery was winding down, Alix herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had to take 5 months off from her business for her own treatments and care.
Alix’s employees stepped up and really helped her out. All is fine now, she reports. She and her husband, Dan, were married last September, and are taking a much-deserved trip to Italy this spring.
Now, Alix plans to expand her services because of the increased demand, and will be hiring more employees. She’s enrolled in the Apex Accelerator at the Enterprise Center, part of Plymouth State University, and she hopes that experience will help her discover areas of growth and learn to market in a different way. She’ll also build a business plan in that program.
Alix says she recommends Sally’s services to everybody. “She helped me figure out my slogan—“With over 15,000 walks under our collar... we know dogs”—and she was just fantastic in everything.”