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Business Spotlight: Ruffin' it: From cars to kennels

Side Kick Dog Training finds new home in Ozark for $120,000

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It wasn’t too long ago that Misti Fry was running her dog-training business from her car and making house calls. Today, she’s got a 2,500-square-foot space for Springfield Side Kick Dog Training LLC in Ozark and generates half a million dollars in annual revenue.

Fry says her passion for problem solving, teaching and animals led her to where she is today.

“I didn’t get a degree in business, I mean my degree was in biology,” Fry says. “Probably the best thing to ever happen to me is being able to pick the brains of all the other entrepreneurs, bankers, accountants and that kind of thing.”

Her experience with animals started at a young age. In 1989, Fry says her parents had a puppy that needed training, which led her to Springfield Dog Training Club. At the club, she met Carolyn Krause, who ran her own dog training business, FireDog Enterprises Inc.

“She kind of took me under her wing,” Fry says.

That connection led to a business deal 20 years later. In 2009, Krause wanted to retire and Fry bought the company. She was running her newly acquired training business out of her car and renting spaces in veterinarian offices after hours. Fry renamed it Side Kick Dog Training – because a dog can be one’s best friend, aka a sidekick.

During her first year, the business grossed $64,000 while working with about eight clients a week.

“I didn’t have an office really to work out of, so I would go to the client’s house,” Fry says. “I still do that. I think it gives me real good information because you see the dog in their home environment.”

But after five years, Fry says she was ready to move into brick and mortar. She began leasing a 10,000-square-foot building at 1938 E. Phelps St. for $4,200 a month. She added day care, boarding and brought in a groomer, and in the first year there, Side Kick Dog Training made $250,000 in revenue.

“We barely made it because rent in that place was astronomical,” Fry says. “We broke even and those first few months were really scary – I was like, am I going to be able to pay rent? But we did it.”

Since then, Fry says revenue has increased by at least 20% each year.

One of her clients at the Phelps Street location was Michelle Maserang, owner of Innovations Full-Service Salon and Spa Inc. Maserang says Fry came to her house to train her rescue dog who was having difficulty using the doggy door.

“I don’t have time to go to dog-training classes,” Maserang says. “The fact that Misti will actually go to your house, I have recommended her to several of my clients.”

Pandemic shuffle
Three years ago, Fry says she made it her mission to find a space she could call her own. She put down a deposit to work with a real estate agent on March 26 – the day the city of Springfield enacted shutdown orders to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Fortunately, she says her business was considered essential because it offered boarding. But her company did take a financial hit. She went from boarding more than 20 dogs a day to two.

Fry also had to furlough her 11 employees, which she says led her to block out portions of that uncertain time in her memory.

“I think I was so traumatized – am I going to lose everything? Because I couldn’t pay rent, I could barely pay the electric bill and then, of course, I wasn’t paying myself,” Fry says.

As a result, Side Kick Dog Training was approved for roughly $38,000 in Paycheck Protection Program loans, which Fry says she used for payroll when staff began coming back to work in May. One of the first to return was trainer Amanda O’Neil.

O’Neil says she shifted in-person training courses to an online platform for clients. The dog owners also could communicate with trainers through a message board.

“We didn’t want to lose that connection with them,” O’Neil says.

Fry says safety adjustments also were made along the way.

“We did curbside, so when clients showed up with their dogs to drop off, we come out and pick the dog up,” Fry says. “The classes that we have, we had two large classrooms, so that wasn’t hard to space everyone out. And we left the garage doors open, so we had airflow.”

New dog house
Meanwhile, Fry decided to keep looking for a property to purchase. In August, she bought the 2150 N. State Highway NN building in Ozark for $120,000 from Lin Stratford, who previously operated Club Wagmore. Fry says it had all the necessary components needed to run her company, but improvements were needed. She invested $70,000 in new concrete flooring, fencing and updated lighting.

“Dogs are just hard on stuff,” Fry says. “They tear stuff up. They figure out ways to dig holes and chew on things.”

In October, Fry moved operations to the new location. And while the property is a quarter of the size of the Phelps Street location, it sits on 7 acres which is used for doggy playtime and training sessions. Fry says she sees eight private clients on an easy week.

“I have been doing this long enough,” she says, “clients that are like – yeah our dog passed away and we got a new puppy and we want to take classes with you – and I am like, oh my God, I can’t believe it’s been this long.”

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