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Air Force vet turns to dogs for cash

  • Story Highlights
  • After being laid off, Lori Lawrence is starting a dog-grooming business
  • She is funding her startup through donations, investors and microloans
  • Experts: Cut costs on new business by using free services online
By Ben Tinker
CNN
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PEACHTREE CITY, Georgia (CNN) -- Lori Lawrence has been laid off twice since ending her 20-year career with the U.S. Air Force in 2001. But after losing her most recent job in February, she felt liberated.

Lori Lawrence started a dog grooming business in the hopes that customers will want to pamper their pets.

Lori Lawrence started a dog grooming business in the hopes that customers will want to pamper their pets.

"I started thinking, I'm tired of going through this," she said. So Lawrence, who last worked at a staffing firm, contemplated what she would enjoy doing most.

"It was obvious," she said. "Something with pets."

Inspired by Cody, her 14-year-old Siberian husky, Lawrence set her sights on opening a dog-grooming business in the upscale Atlanta suburb of Peachtree City, Georgia.

But money was tight.

Putting her pride aside, she decided to open up a fruit stand to generate cash.

"It's not doing anything like what I hoped it would do," Lawrence said. "But it's more money than I had last week."

Selling fruit only yields a few hundred dollars per week, so Lawrence hopes to get her real business up and running quickly.

"My Pampered Pooch offers the opportunity for dog owners to show their four-legged friends just how much they enjoy their unconditional love and friendship, by pampering them," Lawrence said, reading her mission statement.

"People spent $42 billion last year on their pets alone," Lawrence said. "You know [the money is] there. How do I get in? I want in!" Video Watch Lawrence explain her decision to go to the dogs »

She attended Small Business Administration seminars and researched business plans of other startups before she drafted her own.

Small business experts Dani Babb and John Rutledge call Lawrence's plan the most detailed they've ever seen.

"One of the things that we love about her plan is that she has a specific idea in her head about what this business is going to look like and what the consumer is going to walk away with," Babb said.

"I'm a pretty finicky shopper," Lawrence explained. "I just started thinking about what I would want to take Cody to."

Funding a startup

Babb and Rutledge helped Lawrence reduce her startup costs from $147,000 to $35,000.

She has not yet secured all that money, but is counting on $4,000 from savings; $6,000 from donations, which she will solicit from dog washes and social networking; and $10,000 from investors, including peer-to-peer loans and microloans from services such as Kiva.org.

Babb and Rutledge say the SBA is another helpful resource for those looking to fund their small businesses. They also advise entrepreneurs to look inside their homes for the capital, as they may be able to sell their own items on eBay to raise money.

Some small business owners use credit cards to start their ventures. This could be a viable option, Babb and Rutledge say, if the borrower knows he or she can pay it back quickly, or if they can lock in a low interest rate for at least a year.

Because of the recession, Babb and Rutledge were able to reduce labor costs and the cost of equipment. They told her she didn't need an attorney or a certified public accountant because she can use comparable resources online for free.

They are also helping her negotiate a better lease in the down-and-out commercial real estate market.

Only 31 percent of startups survive after seven years, according to the SBA. But Lawrence is hoping to avoid collapse by determining exactly what people in her community want.

"I drafted a survey and I went out and I just stood on a corner and I approached people," said Lawrence. "I said, 'If there was a facility available for you to utilize that had this, this and this to offer ... how much would you be willing to pay?' "

Rutledge points out that Lawrence's plan also outlines other services such as pet sitting, a dog taxi, retail options and a doggie bakery.

"All these things are ways of adding more revenue than just the basic dog wash," he said.

To spread the word, Lawrence is organizing free dog washes to help to build up her customer base, before she even opens the doors to her shop.

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With her friends and neighbors by her side, Lawrence hopes to be serving all the pampered pooches in her area by the end of next month.

"If you're going to take the time to do something ... you need to give 150 percent of yourself to it," Lawrence said. "Or don't do it at all."

CNN's Debra Alban contributed to this report.

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