The Island Pawplex
Starting a small business on the eve of a global pandemic wasn’t part of the plan. Needing to sell it less than three years later wasn’t, either. But that’s exactly what happened when Mark and Melody McLean opened The Island Pawplex in Charleston, South Carolina.
The McLeans had come from West Virginia, where he was vice president at a construction firm, and she worked for an investment company. They volunteered for their local humane society and took their own pets to a dog daycare, which sparked their interest in running one of their own someday. “We loved the idea of it,” Mark said. “Everybody seemed to be happy. And of course, you’re around dogs all day, so how could you not be?”
Someday turned out to be August of 2019, when they took a leap of faith, quit their jobs, moved to Charleston, got a loan and started renovations on a lease. Their target opening date would honor the memory of Mark’s father, who had died 25 years earlier to the day. It was going to be a season of new beginnings.
On March 17 of 2020, Island PawPlex opened its doors. Business was great for all of eight days, until the city shut down for COVID-19. They had expected getting off the ground to be tough, but the McLeans hadn’t planned on a global pandemic.
Since it was so new, the business didn’t qualify for federal support programs. Still, they kept paying their employees in hopes of keeping the team together. As an essential business, they were allowed to reopen after two weeks, but traffic was slow for months. “With the dog daycare industry, we rely on people traveling and going to work, and nobody was doing either one anymore,” Mark said.
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By the end of 2020, the business was growing stronger. The McLeans enjoyed their clients, their staff and all the dogs, but the challenges were adding up. There were long hours, seven-day work weeks, missed holidays, constant worry about the animals in their care and the occasional difficult customer. On top of that stress came another surprise. After 11 years of marriage, Mark and Melody were expecting their first child.
With a new baby at home, the owners cut back their hours, allowing their staff to take on more responsibility. But it became clear that the demands were too great when they couldn’t celebrate on their daughter’s first birthday because of staffing issues.
The McLeans admitted they needed to sell the business, but the first couple of brokers they consulted said it was too soon. Most buyers want to see at least three years of operation, preferably at a profit. But the conversation was different with Teija Heikkilä of PET|VET. She reviewed the books, asked the right questions and immediately saw the potential. They were sold when she offered a higher valuation than the others, along with confidence that she could close a deal.
They soon had several buyers in discussions, including a consolidation group who indicated the only reason they showed interest was because of Teija’s endorsement. “There was a lot of trust between [them], which I think helped the process,” Mark said.
The business was smaller than the group’s typical target, but they saw the opportunity for growth and made a cash offer, well over the asking price. They also agreed to keep the branding and any staff who wanted to stay. The deal meant their hard work and reputation for integrity would live on, which was important to the McLeans.
In the end, the owners’ commitment to doing things the right way from the beginning plus PET|VET’s industry relationships and ability to communicate value to buyers equaled an exceptional deal that has served them well. The sale has given Mark and Melody the freedom to spend quality time with their young daughter. They both plan to return to the workforce when she starts preschool in the fall, with the wisdom from creating a successful business to carry them forward into new ventures.