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11/30/2003

Going to the dogs and loving every minute

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Many economists would say that entrepreneurs are the tail that wags the dog of this country’s economy. But for canine-oriented start-up businesses, it can be ruff out there.

That didn’t stop a couple of locals from attempting to scratch a living out of their love for man’s best friend. After all, with an estimated four in 10 U.S. households having at least one dog, there are plenty of potential customers to unleash.

“This originally started as a business called Pressed for Time,” said Linda Heil, referring to the personal services business she had started earlier this year. “I had gotten so many calls just on pet-sitting, so I thought maybe I should re-think this and go that way full-time.”

And so she did. Heil recently launched Paw Au Pair, an in-home pet-sitting business that allows dogs and other animals to stay and be cared for in their own homes while their owners are away.

“I just have always had a love for animals, and you have to to do this,” said Heil, a Longmont native and former stay-at-home mom. “We were on the farm for 18 years and were just surrounded by animals.”

In the Longmont phone directory there are several pages of pet service companies out there, so you might think entering such a crowded field would make one tight in the collar. But not Heil. She said last week she already was booked up for the Thanksgiving holiday and was expecting to fill up for the end of the year.

“I think there’s plenty of pets around,” she said. “You consider that (almost) every household has a pet, and how many households are there in Longmont?”

Brian Harris hired Heil to watch his two cocker spaniels while he went away for a week over Thanksgiving.

“It makes me feel a lot better for them to just stay in their own environment,” said Harris, noting that one of his dogs is on medication. “Their daily schedules are just like human beings.”

Scott Salzman’s jump into the canine business was different from Heil’s. The 31-year-old Naropa University student — he’s working on his master’s in Trans-Personal Psychotherapy — did what all good entrepreneurs do: He found a niche in the market and filled it.

A hound back home in St. Louis inspired the idea.

“She’d come in, she’d be wet, I’d go look for a towel, and by the time I’d found a towel she’d run through the house and made a mess all over the carpet,” Salzman said.

After sitting on his idea for two years, the Spotless Paw was born — a six-fingered glove made with microfiber that dog owners can use to clean their pets’ paws.

His mother is left-handed, so Salzman made the glove with six fingers so it was reversible.

“It’s been on the market for a little over two months now, and I’m in retail stores in 26 states,” said Salzman, who runs his company, BrightSpot Solutions LLC, out of his Boulder apartment.

He sold his initial shipment of 3,000 in less than two months, and has hundreds on back-order.

By selling wholesale to stores and retail off of his Web site, Salzman has gotten the glove into five countries and hopes to add a sixth to his list when he travels with his girlfriend soon to visit her relatives in Denmark.

Salzman borrowed $20,000 from a friend to get his idea rolling, and hooked up with a Korean manufacturer that uses the microfiber, a substance often used in lens-cleaning cloths. He said that he has since put in about $30,000 of his own money.

Currently the product is sold in smaller retail stores, but Salzman said he is negotiating to get them into big-box pet stores.

“I have abilities to deliver 30,000 a month,” he said.

Salzman currently has patents pending on the Spotless Paw, and said his company is in development on other pet-related products.

While the two businesses share little in common — other than their target demographic, dogs and their bipedal companions — they both have managed to dig into a pretty healthy business bone.

With 68 million dogs kept as pets in the United States, there’s a lot of doggy business to go around.

“What my goal is — and this might sound a little weird — is to make enough money with this so that when I become a therapist I don’t have to worry about charging people,” Salzman said. “I can work with low income people and help them.”

Heil’s reason behind Paw Au Pair isn’t as complicated, but it’s just as sincere: “It’s just fun,” she said. “I love it.”