A Women’s Business Center Success Story Excerpt
By Kaitlyn Williams
As you drive up to 631 Azalea Road in Mobile, AL your eyes are immediately drawn to the pink and black sign, “Walks and Wags” is proudly displayed in bold-faced letters. Cindie Carter herself walks out with a warm smile, her eyes crinkling amiably. As she leads you out back you see several dogs bounding gleefully through a play tunnel, others splash in pools of water, and still more chase after tennis balls flying across the yard. It’s not a sight one sees very often, so many dogs playing together at the doggie equivalent of Disney Land, but for Cindy this is her everyday life. What once began as a hobby in college has morphed throughout the years into a successful enterprise. Walks and Wags provides services geared towards dog lovers. Among these are doggie play care, boarding, walking, sitting services, pet taxis, and even doggie parties for their clients!
The most unique service offered is doggie play care, aimed at pet owners who work long hours or travel frequently. Doggie play care is available four days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Much like two-legged day care, doggie play care follows a specific schedule of outside play, treats and a mid-day nap. Participating dogs must have all vaccinations and tests. A staff of seven cares for about 100 dogs each week. According to Cindie, it is important for people to understand that most bad canine behavior issues stem from lack of exercise and social interaction. “We get the dogs socialized in a group setting, teach them good manners and take care of any issues with stimulation, interaction and exercise.”
Though business is booming these days there was a time when Walks and Wags was just a fragmented dream. Six years ago Cindie was living in New Orleans, working on expanding her home-grown business when Hurricane Katrina hit. It left her city, home, and business in ruins. Cindie and her husband Larry had no choice but to pack all the belongings they could fit into two cars and evacuate to Mobile. At the time they didn’t know that they would never again return.
Shortly after settling in Mobile Cindie began thinking about her dog business once more. Hoping to expand on her ideas she attended a workshop offered by the Women’s Business Center of Southern Alabama called “Disaster Loan Seminar.” Cindie knew immediately that she needed to take advantage of the services and resources that the WBC had to offer. She scheduled an appointment with one of the center’s counselors and left feeling invigorated. Cindie shares that “the counselor treated me and my business dream with respect and enthusiasm. I was not treated like a refugee like other business establishments were at the time.”
Through her contact with the Women’s Business Center Cindie was able to find out about the SBA disaster program. The program provided Cindie with a business disaster loan in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The loan was critical in assisting Cindie in purchasing equipment for her business as well as allowing her to market and spread the word about “Walks and Wags.” Cindie credits the Women’s Business Center for their assistance in turning her business dream into a reality. “I can’t put a measurement on what a difference they made. They helped me to the next step, applying for the loan. They set me up with a personal business counselor who helped me focus on networking and getting the word out about my business. I was encouraged to join the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, where I immediately received my first clients!”
Among her successes Cindie has struggled with various obstacles, chief among them in getting the zoning changed on her property from residential to commercial to legally operate. The process took over a year. Although frustrated with the slow progression Cindie marched through making the appropriate landscape and parking lot changes in order to obtain the crucial permit. When asked what she felt were her business’s strengths she confided that it was her persistence, her endless pursuit to learn and improve the business, and ultimately her ability to communicate with her clients and their canine companions. Additionally, “Walks and Wags” had its perfect niche, filling an often overlooked need within the community.
In addition to her regular business Cindie fosters dogs from local shelters that have socialization problems and helps find them homes; assists senior citizens in walking and exercising their dogs; and helps re-home shelter dogs and dogs that belong to the elderly who are no longer capable of taking care of them. Cindie’s generosity stems from a strong belief in giving back to the community that provides the life blood for her business. Beyond her work Cindie also volunteers at ARF and SPCA, among others.
So what’s next for “Walks and Wags?” Cindie has plans to obtain an enclosed building for the dogs to play in regardless of Mobile’s temperamental weather conditions. The building could also be used for additional space for boarding dogs, allowing them to double their capacity and revenue while generating more jobs within the business. On top of that when Cindie completes the expansion her business will have the city’s first enclosed facility for dogs. With the extra space Cindie could even expand “Walks and Wags” services to training clubs and educational classes. Cindie will continue to research ways to offer more services to her canine clients and in doing so will continue to strive to “Enrich the lives of dogs and their companions, one dog at a time.”