Take 5 is a weekly meetup with a local entrepreneur.Lori Blanchard has loved animals since she was a small child.
While she originally wanted to be a veterinarian, Blanchard decided to become a pet sitter instead. For 20 years, she and her husband, Jeff, have run Cozy Critters Pet Sitters & Animal Care for people who need someone to watch their cats, dogs or other animals — including horses and livestock — during the day or when they are away.
In addition to walking and feeding animals, her company also offers a pet taxi and “pooper scooper” service.
“Cozy Critters is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Blanchard, 49, said. “I tell people I have the best job in the world because I get to love animals all day.”
Blanchard’s husband became a full-time employee with the company last year. They live in Yakima and have three daughters, one who lives in Idaho and two who help with the family business.
What led you to start your business?
I have loved animals from the moment I could pick up a bug, my mom said. She said I was always dragging some critter home as a pet. My mom always hated when I said, “Guess what I’ve got behind my back?” As I grew, so did my love for animals. I thought I wanted to be a vet, but I get lightheaded at the sight of animals in grave pain. So I wanted to start a pet-sitting service instead. When I met my husband, he owned snakes and it was love at first sight — for him and the snakes. I told him about my pet-sitting dream. We married a year later, May 28, 1999, and started our business Oct. 2, 1999.
What challenges did you face when you started out, and how did you overcome them?
My challenge was trying to be a wife and a mom while working at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital’s day care, doing Safety-Saursus and the Yakima Reds Soccer Team’s Big Red mascot events, and running Cozy Critters Pet Sitting. I first gave up the mascot jobs, then three years later left the day care. Laws changed and I was no longer able to bring my animals for the kids to enjoy, so I left to work full time at Cozy Critters. My awesome customers helped me expand by asking me to do walks, pet taxi and pooper-scooper service. I was going to have to cut one part of the business out and just do pet sitting and walks. That’s when Jeff decided it was time to leave the working world as a full-time machinist and work full time with Cozy Critters. He took over the dirty job but makes so many people happy to come home to a clean yard. He laughs and says, “My only hazard is having to watch where I step!”
If you could give your younger self any advice on running the business, what would it be?
Schedule a vacation a year and spend more quality time with my family. I worked eight to 16 hours a day for 10 years with no days off and no vacation. I really didn’t notice because I love Cozy Critters so much, but all my customers encouraged me to go on vacation three years ago, and I went on a nine-day trip to the beach. It was weird to hire a pet sitter for my pets. I was ready to get back; I missed all my critters and pet sitting.
Does social media play a role in promoting your business?
Social media has helped us grow the past few years. I started a Facebook page where I post cute pictures of my customers’ pets, and they love it. Then, a few years back a medical student said I needed a website. I am not computer smart, so one of my customers designed a website for us as a gift. Our business doubled within a year, but the site crashed because I didn’t understand how to keep it updated and virus free. I found a local company, ComputerWorks, to rebuild my website using the same format. I am sure I drove the poor guy crazy, but he and his wife were most helpful, and they manage it so it won’t crash again.
What pets do you have?
We own so many wonderful pets: two small dogs, two cats, three lizards, a fish, two ducks, four horses, one goat that thinks he’s a pony and 25 chickens. My favorite hen is named Thumbelina, and she is 14 or 15 years old.