How important are good employees – Good employees make or break you. You’ll spend your life looking for the right people. It takes time for each employee to show their ‘real colors’ as to their loyalties and personality. Get rid of the wrong ones and keep looking for the right ones.

How long do you stick with an idea before giving up – I’ve looked at it as always looking how to make it better. It’s a process, but when you start getting push back, with legitimate reasons from the public, it’s time to change. We also ask for input from employees who are in the trenches every day. But before they can implement any changes, they come to me—it may be something we’ve already tried. We tried a second location across town in response to customer comments, and found it to a non-issue to the distance of our main location, and closed it after 2 years.

What motivates you – Goals. To do more, better, faster. Money. Most money goes back into the business to do more, better, faster.

What are your ideals – To have integrity, reliability, consistency. Trustworthiness. Say what you do and do what you say—accountability.

How do you generate new ideas – Keep your eye on the industry. Through journals, associations, gatherings. Keep your ear open to your customers. Our retail store came into being because a customer asked if he could rent space to sell his brand of dog food. Our thoughts were, if we’re going to have a retail space, we want control of it, and did it ourselves. (We sell his brand also that we wholesale through him.)

Define success – Happy, repeat customer base. Accountable, reliable employees that treat the business as their own. Accountant happy with the financial numbers.

How do you build a successful customer base – Treat them as you would want to be treated—honestly, with an up-to-date knowledge of your industry, so they can rely on your strengths. Be accountable. Own it if you have an issue.

Favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur – The freedom—to use your own ideas, to fill a need, to offer services that add a quality of life to others.

Most satisfying moment in business – It came at a time when I was beginning to question whether it was worth the effort to keep on. With what seems to be the present ‘social attitude’ of demands, rudeness and unforgiveness, a customer said to me as they were leaving, “Thank you for what you do. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” I needed that. I’ll keep going.

Major difference between 1099s and W-4s – The major difference is ownership. We all tend to think ‘it’s all about us’, but being an entrepreneur changes that. It’s about the other person, or you don’t succeed. Employees fall into that ‘other person’ category. They’re trading their time for your dollars, so it has to be worth their time. They have to be the personality type for your type of work, but then it has to be rewarding for them, too.

Type of culture in the organization and why – I had employee tell a customer touring the facility that we were like a family here. I think that best describes us. I’ve set that tone. Everyone has their job and are held accountable to that. It works well when everyone does their job, but they need to know that each job is an important part of the whole. I’ve recently added a grooming school and it has taken a lot of my time. But I remind the boarding staff that it’s because the boarding part of the business is running smoothly that I can take my focus to expanding the grooming. Without the cash cow of boarding, expanding other areas would not be possible. I want them to know I am always accessible and that I am to be informed of any ‘event’ that happens out of the ordinary. It is ultimately my responsibility but they know the procedures to take and have the authority to do so. We hold bi-weekly staff meetings for communication and education. I have had an occasional employee who has taken that authority permission to usurp mine. They don’t work here any more.

Characterize your life as an entrepreneur in one word – Meaningful.

Mandatory Questions

Introduction to my business – Happy Tails Lodge is a modern, upscale pet boarding, grooming, daycare, training, nutrition store and grooming school located on 3 acres in Great Falls, Montana. It is a 6500 sq. ft. building, with a separate 3600 sq. ft. building that is an indoor play area. Two acres are devoted to outdoor play. Dogs are pack play animals, and when they get to come ‘play with their friends’, they are content and happy to be here. Daycare is cage-free play throughout the day. When you pick them up at the end of the day, they’re as tired as you are. All playtime is sorted by size and temperament with supervision at all times.

With our international airport, shopping, close proximity to national parks and nationally renowned fishing on the Missouri river, we provide services to a large part of central Montana.

Brief Description of Myself – My late husband and I built a veterinary hospital in 1985 which then became Happy Tails Lodge in 2002. I’d worked with him during the veterinary years as technician and bookkeeper, my degree being in Business Administration. After his death in 1998, I continued on with boarding and grooming. I knew there wasn’t a job ‘out there’ that could support the building so continuing in entrepreneurship seemed the only option. I toured a boarding facility in Montana where the woman knew my situation and was such an encourager to me. She told me she’d not done it all in a day, that I could start where I was and expand as I grew. ‘You can do it’, she told me. I came back with ideas and goals and rolled up my sleeves. I added Doggie Day Care as I began to hear more about it. I attended a seminar on the east coast on day care, and had a woman call and ask if we did day care the day we finished the fencing to our first yard. We now have 4 yards, with a 5th in process plus the indoor play area. Day care is as big to our business now as our grooming. In 2014, I started a grooming school because I’d tried to find another groomer for 5 years but could find none qualified. It has been so rewarding to see these people become independent and successful! Students have come from around Montana and the surrounding states. I was recognized in 2016 by the Great Falls Development Authority with the Inspire Award, recognizing women in business for over 5 years, who embody the entrepreneurial spirit and inspire other women.

Inspiration and idea for the business – see above

Three pieces of advice to budding entrepreneurs – Go into something you have knowledge and experience/passion about; Don’t go in blind—talk to business counselors (i.e., Great Falls Development Authority); Pay taxes and employees first.

Three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur – 1. Money handling—never give the financial reins over to anyone. Someone may keep your books for you, but always watch the money. 2. Knowledge of your trade—people come to you because you’re the ‘expert’ in your field. They don’t have the time or desire to know what you know; they rely on you. 3. Dependabiliy. You’ll be there if no one else shows up. No one will work harder or care more than you.

Average work day hours – For a lot of years 10-12 hours/ day, 6-6 ½ days a week. With a strong staff, I’m down to 5 days/week, 6-8 hours/day. But never out of reach with today’s technology, nor without eyes on (security cameras).

To what do you attribute to your success – I attribute my success to my new husband, Keith, and business coaches who had impartial perspectives on the business, which added ‘working smart’ to my normal ‘working hard’. For many years I just doggedly put in the work and the hours, watching only the income side of the ledger. With a business coach, I became aware of the profit margin.

How do you market your business, and most successful form – Our best marketing has always been word-of-mouth. When you’re going to trust someone with your 4-legged ‘kid’, you want someone’s good word on it. But we also found that going to local trade shows, i.e., Home and Garden Show, What Women Want, spread the word faster. There people could meet us, get glimpses of our grounds, and ask questions pertinent to them. Today, you have to have a social media presence. We ended up hiring a professional to keep up—a perfect example of using someone who’s an expert in their field.

Funding – The veterinary practice had paid for the original building and grounds, so the funding we needed was for remodeling. We did it in steps—the retail space (about 800 sf), more boarding rooms versus the existing horse surgery suites, horse arenas into grassed play yards, horse barn into play area with heated floor and plumbing, and sprinkler systems everywhere. We used conventional bank loans for these steps.

Best way to achieve long-term success – Be ever watchful of your market. People age into, or out of the need for your services. People are transient. Don’t think ‘you’re arrived’. You’re always needing new customers.

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years – I’m in my 60’s now, so my need is to find a succession plan. How do I exit? It’s an emotional as well as physical process. Business counselors!

What company do you admire the most – I admire the Electric City Coffee. The food industry is a hard one and they have grown theirs and connected to the community. There are so many more small businesses that I admire.

Contact Details :
Company Name: Happy Tails Lodge
Address: 1401 NW Bypass
City: Great Falls
State: MT
Zip Code: 59404
Tel No.: 406-727-8387
Business Email Id: