Instinct Dog Behavior & Training LLC, is New York City's only positive reinforcement-based board & train camps for man’s best friend. On the verge of franchising, Brian shared his story about starting and running a small business and his plans for growth with the help of an SBA loan.
Switching Careers in a Weak Economy
Brian and Sarah’s early career had nothing to do with animals. “Before we started the business, we both had real jobs,” says Brian. “I was a software engineer and my wife Sara worked in Public Relations.” The couple discovered a passion and talent for dog behavior training and made the leap to own their own business.
They started in 2009 in a weak economy. “We couldn’t get a business loan so we were training out of peoples homes, living on Ramen noodles and wine for a while,” says Brian. “We went into business ownership with confidence - you don’t know what you don’t know,” he laughs.
After a successful two years, Brian and Sarah had saved enough to bootstrap the next step - a bricks and mortar location. The 1,500 square foot commercial storefront had a yard in back, perfect for their needs.
Instinct concentrates on 2 training categories – basic obedience and manners. “80% of our business is dealing with fear, aggression and anxiety. We teach coping skills,” he says.
There’s now a waiting list for their unique and specialized “Puppy Sleepaway Camp”. It’s a one-of-a-kind training experience in which pups 8-20 weeks live full-time with a vet-recommended Instinct Puppy Raiser. This gives the young ones a big head start on house training, crate training, puppy manners, city socialization and more. They also offer day training and private lessons.
Why have they been thriving? Brian says, “I think it’s because of our strategy at the heart of what we do: listen then lead.” Another key to their success is the highly trained Instinct staff. “They love what they do,” says Brian. “And they have great benefits.”
Asked the best thing about business ownership, Brian sums it up in one word: autonomy. “You’re in control of a lot of things.” However, he still faces a common misconception about business ownership. “People think that I work less because I own my own business without a boss. If you think you’ll work less, you’re out of your mind!” However, he says his love for the business pays off big. “Being able to use our time and effort to help animals and people makes it easy to get out of bed everyday.”
Looking at Loan Options
When it came time to look for funds, Brian tried the good old standard Google search, looking at a variety of loan options. “I started out working with the local Credit Union. They were nice but it was a nightmare. The application was all paper forms – none of it was electronic. I thought that someone has to have made this easier.”
He next tried working with a large traditional bank. “They invited me to come in and talk about a business loan. The banker put me in a room, dialed an 800 number and put me on speakerphone. I walked out.”
Brian came across SmartBiz Loans online and worked closely with his SmartBiz Relationship Manager.
“The process was streamlined - a million times simpler and faster,” he says. “It was so much easier to use the online upload feature and have an advocate. It made a painful process much less painful.”
In 2016, Brian and Sarah secured an SBA loan through a SmartBiz Loans bank partner with low rates, low payments and a 10-year term. They have big plans for the low-cost funds. “We’re moving from our old location to a 6,000 square foot facility with an outdoor dog run. This will quadruple our space,” he says. “We’ve hired more trainers to drive up revenue and profitability, expanding our team from 12 to 25 in less than a year. This loan is a great investment and is more than paying for itself.” Sarah, in charge of marketing and online development, launched a content rich new websitewith part of the proceeds.
Advice for Small Business Owners
Brian has advice for other small business owners preparing for the SBA loan process. “I knew my credit score was important and it was important to establish a DUNS number. Also, make sure you understand SBA loan insurance requirements – general liability doesn’t cover everything. You might need professional liability and employment or commercial insurance. Sit down and get all of those ducks in a row.”
Being prepared with required documents was also key. “I would recommend is the first thing you do is good accountant and bookkeeper. I had up-to-date Profit and Loss Statements ready to review at the first of every month. That made the loan process a lot easier.”
The next big thing for Instinct? “We’re going to franchise the business nationally. We’re really excited to expand.” The couple will concentrate on urban areas where dog ownership presents unique challenges. If interested in franchise opportunities, contact 212-828-3647 to be notified when the franchise program is fully developed.
To learn more, visit the Instinct Dog Behavior & Training website. If you don’t have access to their training center in New York, listen to Brian offering pet owners helpful training and behavior advice each month on Just Jenny, aSirius Radio show on channel 109. Be sure to like their Facebook page and join over 85,000 fans. In addition to great photos, they regularly post helpful advice for dog lovers.