GUILFORD — A pet grooming business won the Windham County Business Plan Competition, securing $20,000 for expanding the enterprise.
“I entered last year, didn’t win and thought I should win,” said Katie Stalder.
Stalder turned the garage at her home in Guilford into a work area when she started Wicked Clean Grooming in May 2021. Mostly, she grooms cats and dogs but sometimes bunnies and birds’ toenails.
This time around, for the contest, she spent a lot more time on developing the business plan.
“It’s a very time consuming processing, writing a business plan,” she said.
She had information saved from last year and updated some numbers. She also put into practice advice from judges from last year.
Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation’s competition started in May, with 14 registered businesses giving an initial pitch. Eight went on to write a business plan with the intent to start or scale their business.
Five semi-finalists were reviewed by judges. The other two finalists were Super Snowflake, an apparel printing operation in Wilmington, and Vermont Vines on the River, a vineyard and winery in Rockingham.
All three were given 10 minutes for a final pitch at Next Stage Arts in Putney on Sept. 14 followed by five minutes of questions from judges.
“Participants put in an enormous amount of work and the bar is set very high,” said Nathaniel Hussey, capital development and investment manager at BDCC. “Participants pitch cold, then write a comprehensive business plan that effectively articulates the impact the business will have on the region, with a focus on job creation and higher salaries. That plan is then scrutinized by the panel of judges, and if selected, participants pitch again at the final event.”
Hussey said the BDCC supports participants by providing free access to software for writing business plans and regular check-ins during the competition.
“Even still, the bar is set high, with participants being required to motivate themselves,” he said.
Twice in the past two years, a participant has bowed out of the competition, saying they need to spend the time running their business.
“That is a tough decision to make, but we applaud those who recognize that they can’t spread themselves thin without risking their livelihood,” Hussey said.
He noted the contest is funded through the Windham County Economic Development Program, which is meant to work toward filling the job market with employment opportunities that command a higher salary. The program is built by funds from a settlement with the state and Entergy, owner of the nuclear plant Vermont Yankee being decommissioned in Vernon.
“The underlying objective is for entrepreneurs to carry forth that same purpose so that at a micro level they can take ownership of building a resilient regional economy.” Hussey said.
Pet grooming is in high demand. Stalder said she receives calls day and night, although half of them are solicitors.
“It’s insane,” she said.
A waiting list she keeps included more than 90 people on it at the time of the interview last week.
Stalder decided to get into the work after being a licensed veterinary nurse for about a decade. She said she needed a break, especially after COVID-19, and wanted to be closer to her family.
With the $20,000, Stalder plans to open a doggy day care that her husband will run. She warned it will take several months to start up.
“It’s just an overwhelming need and we can do it with another groomer in town,” she said, in hopes that another local business will go into grooming as planned.
Grooming can become a medical issue for many animals, Stalder said. Pet owners don’t have time to do it or the animal is unwilling to let them groom them.
“It’s a very underserved sector,” Stalder said.
Currently, she has two full-time employees and two-part time employees. Another employee is described as “very, very minimal part time.”
Joining the competition forced Stalder “to take recommendations and take the business aspect of it so seriously,” she said. “It’s so helpful.”