Canine Chic - Black Enterprise

Canine Chic

After working for firms like coca-cola Enterprises and WellPoint Health Networks Inc., Robin Crawford says her layoff in August 2007 incited a revelation. “I was a businesswoman, but my passion was dogs,” recalls the former diversity executive, who says the interest dates back to childhood when her best friend was a cocker spaniel named Ginger. But not until Crawford’s dying father told her he just wanted her to be happy did she make the decision to run with the dogs.

Cashing out her 401(k) retirement savings and using an inheritance to amass the $500,000 she needed for building renovations, licenses, and staffing, the entrepreneur opened an oasis, Dogma Dog Care, for four-legged clients.

Sitting on two acres just outside of Atlanta, the 10,000-square-foot facility features pet “condos” with iron gates and soft music playing overhead. “They’ve got high-end beds with lambskin covers and rugs on the floor,” says the 50-year-old. A full-time groomer and trainers care for the animals. And canine and feline customers feast on organic foods. “I wasn’t going for another mom-and-pop business.”

But conveying Dogma’s luxury to potential customers proved challenging. The newspaper ads she would purchase just didn’t cut it for the word-of-mouth business. Crawford also faced a hostile business environment in which competitors called attention to the new company’s lack of industry experience. She retaliated by forming strategic relationships with local veterinarians and pet stores. As a result, Crawford agreed to recommend their businesses to her customers as long as they did the same.

She also offered the company’s boarding services free to nonprofit organizations that rescue animals. “Every time I foster or rescue one dog, the word gets out to five or 10 people who come in and pay,” she says. And she discounts services on its historically slow day (Wednesdays) to lure people in. “Once they see my place, I’ve got them,” she says with confidence.

This year, Crawford is expanding to incorporate a doggy water park with fountains and a 37-foot shower pool where dogs can swim–a perk for veterinarians with patients needing hydrotherapy. “Though this was my passion, I was not only going for what I loved, but what the market was asking for.”