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Behind the Brand: Dreams, Drive, and Dogs

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Imagine waking up each and every day and loving what you do. These Chicago businesswomen have blurred the lines between work and play, turning their love for pets and their people into thriving, successful careers. The best part of turning their dreams a reality? Making a difference in a field they are passionate about.

Tracey Gold

Profiles.TraceyGold

Chicago Canine Concierge: A service that connects people to pet care resources and hosts pet- friendly social and business networking events.
Established: 2011
First Job: Retails sales
Job you had before your current position: Owned a dog walking and pet sitting business

What does a typical day look like for you?
Checking email and social media throughout the day, following up with clients, service providers, and any vendors/participants for upcoming events, trying to keep up with all the new products and services that come across my desk, and keeping the blog and event calendar up to date. Luckily I get to work from home, but some days I get out and make rounds to local pet stores, vets, kennels, daycares, etc. to replenish stock of our cards and check in. I also try to make time to visit new pet businesses to add to our growing network of high-quality service providers.

What is the one piece of advice you always give to new pet parents?
That they are not alone and that we can always help them find the services they need to make this transitional time as easy as possible.

How does your previous work experience help you with your work today?
It is all about customer service and your relationship with both the clients and the service providers. I previously managed relationships between clients and service providers in my previous jobs and acted as a liaison between the two. I essentially do the same thing now with pet service referrals and B2B networking.

How do you judge if your day has been successful?
By how much I accomplish, and also by the little things—a successful event where both the attendees and vendors were happy with the turnout, an email from a thankful client thanking us for “saving” them with an exceptional referral, or a note from a rescue thanking us for promoting their event.

Of all the things that you have accomplished, what is the one outstanding and incredible accomplishment that is your greatest source of excitement and pride?
My company has an excellent reputation for providing excellent client service and service provider referrals that I can stand behind and feel proud of. Also, I have helped cultivate relationships between service providers and people in the pet industry who were previously disconnected.

Why does this accomplishment mean the most to you?
I absolutely love connecting clients with the best possible services to meet their needs, and I love connecting businesses that can benefit from working together.

On the days when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, what keeps you going?
I always want to get out of bed because I truly love what I do.

What is the most unexpected thing you have learned about people over the years?
How truly appreciative most of them are for even small things we provide that save them time and effort.

What do you wish you knew before you started in your current role?
To use social media wisely and not waste more time on it then you need to. That being said, I feel social media is key to starting/running a business. Just need to use it wisely.

How important is technology to you, and how does it impact your business?
Every aspect of my business is about social networking. Social media is key to everything I do. And of course, being able to work from my phone when I am out of the office is crucial.

What books have inspired you the most?
I loved Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk and Tribes by Seth Godin.

Who is your greatest mentor?
Jamie Damato Migdal of CanineLink. She is brilliant when it comes to the pet industry as a whole and how to truly make your business successful. She is also one of the most genuine people I have met and has taught me so much.

Is there a favorite quote you use to keep you focused/motivated?
Have reasonable expectations.

What do you do in your personal life that makes you a better business person?
I volunteer with Safe Humane Chicago and other local organizations that keep me connected with pets and people. I am constantly learning.

What is your least favorite part of the work you do?
Not being able to find someone last minute pet care the day before a holiday. It is rare, with such a large network I have about a 99% close rate on being able to help out last minute, but sometimes it just cannot be done.

What is the best compliment you’ve received?
People often tell me that Chicago Canine Concierge is a brilliant concept. And I am always thrilled when clients tell me that it is a wonderful service that really helped them out.

What is your superpower?
Connecting people.

If you could ensure people with pets knew one thing for sure, what would you want them to know?
There are many wonderful resources available to you should you need them. There are always options to help before you give up.

What is one thing no one knows about you?
I check my email and web traffic on my phone every time I get up in the middle of the night, even at 3 a.m.

What do you still dream of doing?
Finding the time to help people in other cities start their own pet service referral businesses. It is always in the works but on the back shelf with all we have going on.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Who was it from?
Jamie Damato Migdal told me, “Always stay neutral. You need to be Switzerland.”

What’s your favorite part of the pet community in Chicago?
How grateful and supportive the active pet people are.

If you were not in your current role, what would you be doing?
Working with pets in some capacity; Maybe volunteering with Chicago’s Animal Care & Control and Safe Humane Chicago full time.

Jamie Damato Migdal

Jamie

CanineLink: Programs and services to support individuals and businesses reach their full potential in the pet industry
FetchFind: Website to help people find the perfect career opportunity in the pet industry
Established: 2008
First Job: Babysitting.
Job you had before your current position: Founder/CEO of AnimalSense Canine Training and Behavior

What does a typical day look like for you?
I have two offices and spend a fair amount of time at each. Most days are a collection of meetings with customers and the teams from both CanineLink and FetchFind, talking to people in the tech start-up world, consulting with my business advisors, building and creating a strategic map for my companies, and talking to prospective investors. Some nights I teach at CanineLink, which I just love. My normal week has me “working” around 60 hours. I’m ridiculously busy, but happy!

What is the one piece of advice you always give to new pet parents?
Take it slow. Everyone needs to get to know each other. Patience is paramount.

How does your previous work experience help you with your work today?
I’m a serial pet industry entrepreneur with four startups so my optic and collective experience really helps me relate to business owner’s experiences and perspectives. I know what it means to be a pet industry business owner and the challenges associated with that. Employee turnover and under educated staff is a huge problem. I’m doing my best to remedy that.

How do you judge if your day has been successful?
If I’ve connected with the people around me, crossed off at least one quarter of the items on my “to do” list, and drank no more than four shots of espresso.

Of all the things that you have accomplished, what is the one outstanding and incredible accomplishment that is your greatest source of excitement and pride?
The close-knit community built from and around CanineLink.

Why does this accomplishment mean the most to you?
When I first came to this industry I felt isolated and pitted against other service providers. CanineLink has helped to create a new culture of trust and respect amongst industry pros and is a place where pet professionals can share opinions and ideas free of judgment. We didn’t have that when I was studying to be a dog trainer. I’m so happy that I can make that a reality for future professionals.

On the days when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, what keeps you going?
My daughter, Sadie. My dogs. My husband. My work. (But thankfully, I never have those days!)

What is the most unexpected thing you have learned about people over the years?
I wouldn’t say it’s unexpected, but most people are inherently good.

What do you wish you knew before you started in your current role?
My current role as a female founder of FetchFind has been an incredible learning experience. The list of things I wish I knew is long, but my top three include: Women tech founders are in the minority with only about 5% of us, fundraising is challenging, and domain expertise is only 20% of the equation.

What are you happy you didn’t know before you started?
All of the above.

How important is technology to you, and how does it impact your business?
Very important. It impacts my businesses in every way.

 

Who is your greatest mentor?
Dr. Yael Cidon. She has owned her own veterinary practice for about 20 years and knows everything there is to know about pets. She taught me about behavior in a very clinical way and it serves me every single day. Plus, she’s supportive and just overall amazing.

Is there a favorite quote you use to keep you focused/motivated?
Do your best not to step in poop. If you do, change your shoes. And if your friend steps in poop, offer her a new pair of shoes! (OK—I just made that up—but you get the picture).

What do you do in your personal life that makes you a better business person?
Time with friends and family, an occasional nap, and I recently started exercising again.

What is your least favorite part of the work you do?
Anything tactical. I’m an idea person. I prefer to let my very capable team do all the detail-orientated things. And they’d prefer it that way, too… trust me.

What is the best compliment you’ve received?
My best compliments come organically when someone meets me and says, “I’ve heard so much about you!” I just assume they mean that in a good way!

What is your superpower?
Charm and friendliness. I make friends with everyone. Even with the woman whose car I accidently hit last week. Seriously.

If you could ensure people with pets knew one thing for sure, what would you want them to know?
Dogs are not furry little people. They are their own species and have their own culture, language, etc. They can and will bite, but most bites are preventable. I want us all to get on the same page about this. The lack of understanding around animal behavior is astonishing and can be deadly.

What is one thing no one knows about you?
I could have been a drummer or a choreographer. Or both. I have rhythm.

What do you still dream of doing?
I’ve always been interested in founding a non-profit serving elderly dogs and humans.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
My wise husband, Drew Migdal, who reminds me to “stop being so worried about what people will think.”

What’s your favorite part of the pet community in Chicago?
Just that—the community. When I first started in the pet industry people didn’t want to talk to each other and there was a lot of drama. My experience today is that most people are open to sharing ideas and information. It’s a great space to work.

If you were not in your current role, what would you be doing?
I love my life and I’ve worked very hard to have the opportunities in front of me today. I’m living my “what would you be doing?” question. Even if I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d stay focused on my professional objectives and vision. I’d just be doing it from my oceanside office on the coast of Northern California.

Stacey Hawk

stacey hawk again

Hawk City K9: Canine classes and private session trainings, including agility, NoseWork, obedience, and manners.
Established: 1999
First Job: Helped take care of our neighbors’ horses
Job you had before your current position: National Sales & Marketing Director, ETV Network: Public Performance licensing and distribution for the record labels.

What does a typical day look like for you?
Hectic, but fun! After taking care of my furry ones each morning, I scramble to catch up on voicemail and email. By 9 a.m. I am on my way to one of the training facilities where I teach. Throughout the day I work, train, and play with my dogs, teach agility or NoseWork private lessons, and then teach classes at night. Most days I’m not home before 11 p.m.

What is the one piece of advice you always give to new pet parents?
Enjoy each and every day with your pets. They’re with us for such a short time—tomorrow is not a given. And, full-time training is so important; Socialize puppies well and early. Have fun.

How does your previous work experience help you with your work today?
I generally really like people and enjoy working with them. To be effective as a dog trainer, I need to be able to communicate well with my human clients.

How do you judge if your day has been successful?
If I’m able to laugh and feel joy helping others connect to their pets. I play with people and their dogs each and every day and get to experience them having fun and learning together. I have the best job on the planet!

Of all the things that you have accomplished, what is the one outstanding and incredible accomplishment that is your greatest source of excitement and pride?
I am the founder and Chair of Wiggly Field Dog Park in Chicago—established in 1997 as the first dog park in Cook County. We spent years working with the community and government to change laws, policies, and ordinances to allow the establishment of these parks all over the county.

Why does this accomplishment mean the most to you?
It represents years of hard work and effort, and allowed us to help others establish places where they could socialize and exercise their dogs. I’m also very proud to be a Founding Director of Safe Humane Chicago. I am honored to be part of such an amazing group of people working on unique programs to make our communities safer and more humane.

On the days when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, what keeps you going?
Seeing the look of love, happiness, and anticipation in my dog’s eyes—always happy, always ready for whatever the day has in store for us!

What is the most unexpected thing you have learned about people over the years?
That most people really are kind, caring, fun, and good hearted. I do admit that I live in sort of a bubble. I’m grateful and lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful, inspiring, different types of people from all types of backgrounds. What brings us together is our love for our dogs. I learn so much from all of them. I like my bubble!

What do you wish you knew before you started in your current role?
I just wish I had figured out that this was what I was meant to do much earlier in my life.

What are you happy you didn’t know before you started?
How extremely attached I can get to my clients’ dogs, and the huge sadness and grief I experience when they’re no longer with us. I am truly fortunate that many of my clients choose to continue to train with me for the life of their dog. These dogs become my family. It hurts like hell every time one passes over to The Bridge.

How important is technology to you, and how does it impact your business?
Pretty important from an administrative side—I don’t think I could live without my iPhone! It’s such a quick and easy way to communicate and get info that I don’t know how I was able to function without one for so long. Social Media (mostly Facebook) is great for sharing ideas, videos, and promotions.

What books have inspired you the most?
Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor and Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson

Who is your greatest mentor?
Oh my! Way, way too many… I could go on for days. There are so many people in this industry who inspire me.

Is there a favorite quote you use to keep you focused/motivated?
Life is short. Play with your dog!

What do you do in your personal life that makes you a better business person?
I’m addicted to learning and training. My dogs love training. We do agility, NoseWork, obedience. I continue to be a student and I am constantly amazed at how much I don’t know. I love going to seminars and workshops as often as I can.

What is your least favorite part of the work you do?
Saying goodbye and sending condolences to colleagues and students on the loss of a pet.

What is the best compliment you’ve received?
That I helped change a relationship into a positive one, or that I’ve inspired someone to be a better trainer or handler.

What is your superpower?
I can toss string cheese better than anyone on this planet!

If you could ensure people with pets knew one thing for sure, what would you want them to know?
That most dogs want to be right. They are constantly trying to understand and interpret what we are communicating to them. Animals don’t come into this world speaking our language. Most behaviors that are instinctual to them are not appropriate in our world at all times (barking, sniffing, digging, etc). Don’t just expect/tell them what you don’t want them to do: show/teach them what behavior you’d like instead. Set them up to be successful. Be kind. Be patient. Reward lavishly!

What is something no one knows about you?
I can turn my feet out, almost facing backwards. I play guitar, piano, and sing (not as often as I like), and I have an uncanny memory, which served me well in school! (I still know my 2nd Grade class list in alphabetical order.)

What do you still dream of doing?
Traveling and competing around the country with my friends and our dogs in luxury RVs—taking time to enjoy and appreciate life.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Follow your heart… When I decided to go “all dog, all day” I repeatedly heard this from numerous friends and family members. I have not regretted it for one minute!

What’s your favorite part of the pet community in Chicago?
We are so fortunate to have such a huge, supportive, proactive pet community here in Chicago. There are so many people working together to change the planet on so many levels. So inspiring, and such a great network for information and connections.

If you were not in your current role, what would you be doing?
I can’t imagine myself doing anything else than what I am currently doing!

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One Comment

  1. SharmilaJune 5, 2014 at 10:23 amReply

    Check out Sit Stay Read in Chicago:

    http://sitstayread.org/

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