Georgia Bottoms is a licensed physical therapist. She treated people in acute care and skilled nursing facilities in Savannah before becoming the wound care coordinator at Memorial Health. However, her focus changed from people to their dogs after her pup, Ripken, needed extensive rehabilitation to recover from knee surgery.
“The physical therapist in the clinic I took Ripken to approached me about coming to work, knowing she would be moving soon. She said I’d just have to have a love for dogs and the ability to learn,” says Bottoms. “I continued to work at the hospital, but I knew my calling was dogs.”
During the next couple of years, Bottoms discussed the rehab’s future with the surgeon who owned it and eventually approached him about selling it. With the support of her wife Lauren, she decided to follow her dream and establish her own canine rehab business.
They approached Kyle Hensel, then the Area Director of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center in Savannah, after speaking to their good friends Jusak Bernhard and Jeffrey Manley, owners of Tailspin, a retail pet supply business. Also clients of the UGA SBDC, in 2014, they were named Georgia’s Small Business Persons of the Year.
“Once we began working with Kyle, he was phenomenal in giving us the keys and tools we needed to start our own business. He helped us put together our financial projections and business plan step-by-step. There was no way we could fail,” says Bottoms.
Hensel helped Bottoms evaluate whether they should purchase the business or start from scratch. He suggested they attend UGA SBDC’s GrowSmart® program and provided the assistance they needed to obtain financing. He introduced them to consultant David Lewis, Area Director for the UGA SBDC in Brunswick office, to help them with QuickBooks issues.
After gaining the confidence to move forward and armed with their new business plan, the Bottoms purchased the existing business and opened Fetch Canine Rehab in June 2016. To help fine-tune their target market, Hensel helped them compile a list of veterinarians, for referrals, and review the services they should offer.
Fetch provides dogs, and some cats, physical therapy to reduce pain, facilitate healing and restore function. Its staff treats dogs with arthritis, stroke patients, and those needing wound care and other forms of rehabilitative services. They also work on agility with American Kennel Club-registered dogs who need extra conditioning. It is one of the few, if not only, physical therapist-owned canine rehab centers in the Southeast.
After Fetch opened, Hensel moved to a statewide position with the UGA SBDC, and Lewis adopted Fetch and its owners. Lauren, who manages the office and QuickBooks, calls him once a week.
“David still reviews our numbers regularly and uses this information to teach us how to make better management decision,” she says. “If I have any questions, I go to him first. I also talk to my accountant, but David knows it all.”
To date, Fetch’s four staff members and Bottoms sees up to 75 dogs a week. Monthly sales revenues have grown 50 percent since opening, and its outpatient business is growing.
“We’re seeing more dogs, more business, more clients,” says Bottoms. “David is helping me understand how to do that. I can treat a dog and make it better, but David has shown me where the market is to get the referrals and maintain growth. He helps us with great marketing ideas, tips on how to expand, and whether we need to hire people. He teaches us ‘less is more’ strategies. Essentially, the SBDC gives you the means and ways to establish and build a successful business.
“Kyle and David both gave me the confidence to be able to reach out and make my dream come true. Because of the faith they had in me, I knew we could be a success,” she says. “Fetch has found its niche in the canine pet market, thanks in large part to the key advice and sound technical assistance we received from the SBDC.”
“Without them, we wouldn’t have Fetch,” Lauren agrees. “I wish more people knew about the SBDC rather than pay thousands of dollars for someone to help them. They’re more than willing to help you.”