Those who know Amanda Rodriguez Crook, owner and founder of Pawtropolis, are not surprised that her web bio contains more information about her five rescue dogs – the wonderful Tyler (since deceased), Kenzie, Bailey, Heidi and Jersey – than of her many awards and accomplishments. Crook’s passion for pets, and the proper care, training and boarding of pets, has driven her to create a thriving Athens-area business.
It also led her to UGA SBDC in Athens Area Director, Carol McDonell (who retired from the SBDC in 2015).
Crook was bitten by the romance of animal care at age 15. By 16 she was training her Dalmatian, Lacey, to win obedience competitions. To put herself through the University of Georgia, Crook waited tables and provided pet care. By graduation, she says, “I decided to tie my work into my love of dogs and make a career of it.”
So she drafted a business plan to open a new kind of boarding kennel and took it to the SBDC. “I thought I was doing great, having written a four-page business plan. But it was a joke,” says Crook, smiling. “After Carol finished advising me, I ended up with a 45-page plan.”
“Amanda walked into my office at lunchtime, 11 years ago, with an idea for her business,” says McDonell. “She was very young and her idea – pet daycare – was pretty new. I knew that getting it funded was going to be a challenge. This kind of business didn’t exist in our area. The lenders didn’t understanding it. Her plan would have to be very thorough.
“So Amanda did something I recommend to any start-up trying to assess the need for their product or service. She developed a survey and took it to where dog owners hang out – dog parks, pet stores – and talked to them to get real data on who would use the service, what their interest would be, and what price they would pay. This primary research data made the plan strong.”
Crook credits McDonell with helping her pull together the right numbers.
“Carol said we had to pretend like we’re opening our doors tomorrow,” says Crook. “These ‘real life’ projections were really helpful. I knew what I wanted, but she helped me get to the concrete numbers that would make my dreams a reality. We put the plan down on paper and showed the bank that this was going to be a reliable business.”
Crook acquired the loan and opened her business. About five years later, she approached McDonell for help obtaining a $1 million SBA 504 loan, which she used to purchase land and build the first Pawtropolis.
“I thought I was doing great, having written a four-page business plan. But it was a joke. After (SBDC consultant) Carol (McDonell) finished advising me, I ended up with a 45-page plan.” -Amanda Rodriguez Crook
Five years after that, with 25 employees and trainers, an award-winning business and a facility filled to capacity, Crook again turned to the SBDC. After attending the SBDC GrowSmart™ program, she asked McDonell to help her create projections for a $2.2 million loan she received and will use to build a second, larger facility on land she had purchased.
“Any time I need to get a loan from a bank, I will get Carol’s help projecting,” says Crook. “The SBDC also has really good contacts at the banks. And we will keep our eyes open for more classes that will help us with our success.”
“Many people think we only help businesses at start-up,” says McDonell,” but most of the businesses we work with are existing. We help when they are in the process of expanding and growing.” She adds, “I have been impressed from the beginning with Amanda; she is really smart and just gets it.”
ATHENS, GA (February 2015) — Of the 100 fastest-growing businesses recognized by the University of Georgia Alumni Association this year, 21 have received assistance from the UGA Small Business Development Center, a unit of the office of Public Service and Outreach.
The 2015 Bulldog 100 ranks the annual growth of businesses owned or operated by UGA alumni. This is the sixth year that the alumni association has sponsored the recognition program.
“Business owners like those in the Bulldog 100 think strategically and plan for growth,” said SBDC Director Allan Adams. “The SBDC provides ongoing educational resources to help business owners like these enhance their chances for success.”
More than 450 nominations were submitted this year. Companies were evaluated and ranked based on a compounded annual growth rate during a three-year period. The final list includes businesses of all sizes representing a wide range of industries from technology services to sustainable farming and everything in between.
SBDC client Liberty Technology, owned by Ben Johnson and located in Griffin, has been recognized as part of the Bulldog 100 since 2013. The company was also ranked in 2013 and 2014 on the INC 5000, a program that recognizes the fastest-growing private companies in America. Johnson initially came to the SBDC in 2010 to attend a FastTrac-now GrowSmart-class, and has worked with consultant Alisa Kirk since.
“Ben is never content for his operations to stay the way they are. He’s always looking for ways to improve and expand. Of course he’s managed to not only survive, but to flourish,” she said.
Since receiving SBDC assistance, Liberty Technology has grown from 9 employees to 24 and provides a full spectrum of IT outsourcing services to more than 70 clients around the world.
(Source: UGA SBDC in Athens, 2013)