Month: June 2021

Not Just a Pet Project

“I can’t come up with the words — but without the SBDC, I simply would not be. They’ve taught me and encouraged me and guided me to everything that has made me be.”

That’s Brenda Davis, owner of Clip-N-Dales, a pet grooming business that’s seen more than its share of challenges in its first year and a half of operation. But to her credit, Davis is no stranger to adversity. She overcame addiction and the setback of years of incarceration to emerge and build her business quite literally with her own two hands.

She learned about the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center from her parole officer, after another venture she’d attempted to launch with her sister didn’t work out. “She said: ‘Go take this business class,’ and that’s the biggest gift she could have given me.”

Davis’ instructor for the class was SBDC Senior Business Consultant Cory Arcarese, also the Southern Colorado Lending Officer for Colorado Enterprise Fund. Arcarese focuses on helping those on the disadvantaged Southeast side of Colorado Springs via her SBDC mentoring. Davis is a Springs native from the Southeast side, who attended Harrison High School and parks her mobile trailer at the Mission Trace Shopping Center. Davis says Arcarese “really took me under her wing, and explained to me what I should be doing, almost daily.”

The two became so close, that Arcarese actually provided the name from Davis’ business as the two were just joking around one day: “What about Clip-N-Dales?” she’d said, prompting Davis to joke about logo imagery that might consist of a pets’ play on the famous Chippendales Las Vegas male revue shows. After the laugh, the two thought better of actually executing on that; so today there’s a happy dog’s face that welcomes clients to the grooming trailer alongside colorful lettering that’s cute and inviting. Davis purchased the trailer for $4,000 and then completely gutted the inside after discovering black mold in the walls — just the first of the many hurdles to overcome. She then personally constructed two grooming stations split by a central bathing stall, meticulously waterproofing it all and outfitting the interior with all the necessary equipment.

In her 25 years professional grooming experience working inside other studios, she’d grown tired of what she calls a competitive environment between groomers inside overly busy atmospheres she felt weren’t optimal for the true client, the animal’s, wellbeing. “You’re dealing with someone’s family member, like a child,” she says. “I believe in grooming that doesn’t traumatize… I want the animal to run up to me the second time I see them, not run from me.”

With that in mind, everything she designed in her space is meant to be calming and more relaxing for pups and cats. There’s no kennels or cages, no overlapping appointments, and dividers can be shut so there’s privacy between the two grooming stalls. The second has actually remained vacant as of yet, as Davis continues to search for another groomer interested in joining her team. That’s part of her longer-term business plan, which is one more thing she has in-hand thanks to Arcarese and the SBDC. She said she experienced a more difficult learning curve because of how much technology had advanced while she was in prison, so things like a free website provided by an SBDC program were crucial to her.

“I learned how to do business plan, make a weekly budget, create a program to manage my money — I even met my bookkeeper through Cory — and do advertising and set aside savings for emergencies.”

And the emergencies have unfortunately come. After attending several SBDC webinars and graduating from the SBDC’s flagship Leading Edge series, an 11-week course commitment — as well as qualifying for the Transforming Safety grant specific to Southeast Colorado Springs to support community development — Davis finally opened for business in early 2020. Then, of course, the Covid pandemic hit, shuttering her newly opened business and forcing her on to unemployment until early May, when salons and similar businesses were finally allowed to start seeing clients again.

From that point until just after the new year, she began proving her model and growing the business, “staying really busy” between mobile contracts such as a KOA campground and retirement communities. She’d also park at Mission Trace to serve folks directly in the Southeast. Things were going well — well enough that in October, for Halloween fun, she offered free mohawks for pups to anyone who wished to stop by for a few minutes.

Then, in February, a DoorDash driver, distracted by following GPS directions in an unfamiliar-to-them area, blew through a stop sign at 40 mph and hit Davis, who was doing 50 mph on a bustling main road, knocking her unconscious and herniating three discs in her spine, as she tells it. That began another period of being out of work for months, also struggling to now pay for chiropractic and physical therapy appointments. But Davis isn’t a quitter.

When she was finally able to begin physically working again, she utilized Payroll Protection Program money to purchase a new truck to pull her trailer, the former one having been totaled in the accident. It still needs some front-end work in order to pull the big trailer, so for now, she’s parked until she can save up for either a smaller trailer or mini bus to create a second, more easily mobile unit. Back to her business plan, she’d eventually like to build a fleet of mobile groomers, preferably with ex-offenders that she knows learned skills via the Cañon City correctional facility’s dog training program. She was housed on the same cell block, and often shared grooming tips and did what she could with a plastic comb and mustache trimmers on the dogs in training. “I’m a terrible dog trainer,” she jokes, commending her cohorts. “I’m too prone to say ‘come here puppy’” and love on them, “and I don’t want to change that about me.”

She says she wants to “accommodate my passion to help ex-offenders learn trades and help them succeed in their goals, and so many of them leave prison with that animal knowledge but don’t know where to go next. Maybe I can teach some to groom.”

Today, she remains on partial unemployment due to only being able to physically take two or three clients a day, down from seven or eight. “It takes me longer now,” she says. “I can’t bend in certain directions and I’m not allowed to lift much weight, but I manage. Luckily I built the bathtub low enough for dogs to jump into, and my table lifts and lowers.”

She says her goal is to further rehabilitate and return to mobile services, “because so many of my clients need it,” the in-home one-on-ones. She hopes maybe by summer’s end that will be possible, both physically and financially.

“I push forward,” she says. “I believe in this business.”

Small Subject Matters

By Matthew Schniper

Lauren Wallace had spent 14 years in the nonprofit sector, the last few of which had her coordinating with students and families and traveling internationally. Since leaving her home state of California, she’s lived in Germany, China and Italy, as well as a few states in the U.S. She moved to Colorado Springs in 2018, and her career path would have continued indefinitely were it not for the Covid pandemic. In 2020, she lost her job.

As she set out to find new work, she tuned into a longtime desire to get back into photography. She had shot for some magazines on campus at the University of California, Berkeley, from which she graduated. And she had done work for the Pleasanton Weekly newspaper as a news photographer, shooting events around town. In her spare time, she’d also shot senior portraits and family photos for folks on a volunteer basis, further honing her craft.

Now, she was inspired to get into photographing newborn babies for families. “I just thought it would be fun,” she says. So she enrolled in some online classes specific to that art. “I already knew how to operate a camera, but with newborns, it’s so different. They’re tiny humans. You have to be so careful.”

As she pursued that knowledge, she in-tandem realized she needed a crash course on operating her own business. She thought back to having taken some classes in New Mexico, while living and working there, at one of their area Small Business Development Centers. She was handling some account management tasks at the time and wanted to gain expertise with social media. She was aware that El Paso County also ran an SBDC division, so she decided to look into their offerings for first-timers looking to establish a business.

“I’d always thought it would be fun to own my own business,” she says, “but I wasn’t thinking about it realistically until I lost my job. Then I was like, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’”

So she took a free introductory class offered by the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, followed by another inexpensive, one-day intensive. “I had no idea how to get set up as a legal entity,” she says, “or anything about the necessary steps to set up a business. At first it felt overwhelming to me. But they broke it all down for me. They pointed me in the right direction to get set up with the State, handle my taxes and all that jazz. Now, I’m a small business owner!”

Wallace also picked up side work as an event manager for another small, local business, to supplement her lost income. But by September, 2020, Lauren Wallace Photography was up and running. And, “it’s going okay so far, and growing,” she says, noting that most of her bookings come via word of mouth — mainly friends of satisfied clients.

“I love working with new parents and their newborns,” she says. “They’re so fragile, and it takes a lot of patience and being gentle, knowing how to maneuver the babies safely.”

With so much going on for new parents, Wallace says she’s designed her business to be especially easy for them. While some portrait photographers prefer to work in studios, Wallace likes to shoot in clients’ homes, for convenience and an environment that’s comfortable to them. “The last thing they need to do during this time is have to lug equipment and drive somewhere,” she says. “I bring everything we need — outfits, props — I tell them not to clean the home, I’ve got it. It’s a service for me to show up and do it for them.”

At a recent shoot for a firefighter’s child, she planned with the parents to include a firefighter’s helmet that was thematically special to them. “I pride myself on being super chill,” she says. “It’s been a fun way to be creative and do something that I’m passionate about.”

She also still enjoys shooting families, utilizing area parks for Colorado’s stunning natural beauty that makes her portraits extra special and beautiful. And she runs the Colorado Springs Adventures Instagram page as a personal project to highlight everything from cool food and drink to tourist spots. In her short time here, she’s become quite an active local.

Relationships are of course foundational to community-minded work, personal and professional. So when it comes to our local SBDC, she says she’s very grateful for the work they do.

““Everyone there was super helpful, and they got me pointed in the right direction to get my business off the ground,” she says. “They legitimately helped me out, to get it going when I didn’t know what to do.”

Garden of the Gods Catering

“Homemade cooking without the mess” is how David Platzer, Executive Chef for Garden of the Gods Catering and the Westside Market describes the flavor of the food. Nestled off of Hwy 24 as the former Garden of the Gods Market and Café – Garden of the Gods Catering and the Westside Market is already making a name for themselves with locals and travelers alike.

“Sit with your kids, do the homework, you don’t have to slave the entire day and end up buying food with no nutritional value in the drive-thru. That’s why we are here.”

Don’t confuse Garden of the Gods Catering with other entities in town with “Garden of the Gods” in their name. Garden of the Gods Catering is not new the Colorado Springs scene and has been a staple for culinary excellence for decades.

Their website boasts –

“Our award winning dishes will provide you with a personalized culinary experience you won’t find anywhere else. From high end weddings to low key baby showers to executive business luncheons – we’ll help you create memories that are as unique and unforgettable as our food. For both executive and social events, we proudly feature some of the most creative and award-winning culinary talent in our region. Believing that delicious food must also be beautifully displayed, our attention to detail presentation is paramount.”

Their catering options are endless – from all inclusive custom menus, to one-off picnics and even bagged lunches for company retreats. Garden of the Gods Catering does an exceptional job curating the perfect meal for all groups and individuals.

Most recently they branded the “The Westside Market” which provides grab and go items that rotate frequently. Soups, breads, pickles, salads, an array of juices and beverages – there is a niche and item for anyone.

“Fresh food prepared for you, take it home and put it in the over – and there, you have a homemade meal in the oven,” says Christina Schell , the sales manager for Garden of the Gods Catering.

And that’s exactly what they do and will continue to do.

Social: @gardenofthegodscatering

Meet the Photographer

LaRel Herbert

Social: @larellh

Brandon Lee

Brandon is an experienced entrepreneur with multiple small businesses under his belt. For the past 5 years, he has been creating digital marketing solutions for small businesses across the US. Using technology and software automation, Brandon helps bridge the gap between the digital and the real world.

With a wide range of professional experience, Brandon is a true jack of all trades. He uses his business acumen and broad knowledge of tech skills to quickly present solutions to clients, earning himself the moniker “The Professional Problem Solver”. Brandon is skilled in website development, multiple e-commerce platforms (Shopify, Woocommerce, and Wix), App development for iOS and Android platforms, social media advertising, business process development and business planning from ideation to fulfillment.

“Brandon Lee is extremely helpful and really helped me with my website. I’m already starting to see results. Just a great experience overall.”

Lee Walters

“Brandon provided much appreciated advice. We are going to contract with him for additional guidance.”

Patrick Going

“I met online with Brandon Lee and he was amazing!”

Simone Severo

Cathy Kramer

Cathy Kramer is a Small Business Consultant and Program Manager for the Connect2DOT Program. Connect2DOT is an innovative partnership between the Colorado Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) designed to help small businesses in the transportation industry become more competitive and successful in bidding and contracting with CDOT and other local transportation agencies.

Ms. Kramer has more than 20 years of marketing and management consulting experience, working with a range of clients from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. She provides strategic direction to corporations and government agencies regarding market analysis, corporate positioning, integrated marketing planning, proposal development and supplier diversity. She has been a CDOT consultant for more than 12 years providing supportive services to small businesses and managing the development and outreach for CDOT’s DBE and ESB Programs.

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