Behind the Statistics...tale of a survivor
As stories of financial woes flood the news, the effects of the economy on individuals can get lost in the stats. Melissa Watters’ story is one tale behind those statistics.
About 10 years ago Watters worked as a certified fraud investigator and publisher of a trade newspaper covering the local fraud beat. A success as a publication and a boost to local law enforcement, Watters says her paper “helped catch over 500 fugitives in the Portland area.” Still, she had other dreams.
Watters found her inspiration when she and her husband Matt welcomed Sydney into their lives in 2000. As Sydney’s petmom, Watters discovered fantastic groomers selling a few accessories, and great boutiques with no grooming facilities. No single establishment had it all, and the concept behind Doggy Delight was born.
Despite many “nos” from potential financial backers, Watters hung on to her dream. “I didn’t know the business very well,” she says. Researching the marketplace and studying product lines led her to conclude: “What I needed was a person to help me focus my store.” She met a product representative, who Watters identifies only as SR, in June 2004.
Planning to open her shop in December of that year, during a meeting at a pet trade show in Chicago that October, Watters gave SR money to purchase her store’s substantial initial inventory.
The product rep disappeared.
Now, almost five years later, Watters still shakes her head at the irony of a former fraud investigator getting fleeced by a scammer — who still hasn’t been found.
“I went on with my business,” she says. “I could have closed right then.” Instead Watters moved forward with conviction. As opening day approached, Watters hit the “do-over” button and obtained additional financing to pay for the startup inventory.
The boutique’s pre-Christmas opening was not quite what Watters had envisioned — eight washtubs were still being installed in back. “People walked into a boutique with a giant sheet running through the middle of it,” she says. But by January the tubs were finished and the shop was in fine form. Then came a new twist: Watters was pregnant. “You could say it was a bit of a surprise,” she says. “Needless to say, it was a really rough year.”
Constantly on her feet and plagued by morning sickness, Watters struggled to learn the ropes of pet retail while getting to know her customers and the market. Few people take on a career change, a startup business and pregnancy simultaneously. But Watters says, “I wouldn’t change it for my daughter.” Samantha was born August 29, 2005 and Watters took about a month off.
That September is when things at the shop began to pick up. Watters says it was then she began “figuring out the right recipe for the store.”
Emerging from that grueling first year, the second was much easier. By the third year, Watters saw her business grow 4-10% each month. In addition to the charming storefront in Hillsboro, the Doggy Delight booth became a familiar sight at popular Portland-area events like Doggie Palooza and the Pride Festival.
2008 was sparkling for the boutique that had become a household name to many local pet people. Doggy Delight won first place in five categories in Spot Magazine’s 2008 Top Dog Awards (Boutique, Cat Grooming, Dog Grooming, Dog Spa, Dog Wash), plus third place in two additional categories. (See story spotmagazine.net: Aug 08 pg 12.)
As election season neared that year, Watters heard and heeded the warnings. “People get really weird when it comes to election time,” she says, adding that she was prepared when sales dropped that fall. “People were really conscious of what they were getting,” she says. Sales improved in November, and then another twist came December 14th, when the snow began to fall.
In case shoppers decided to brave the treacherous conditions, Matt Watters drove Melissa and one groomer to the store and home again in his chained-up truck. “December was really, really bad,” says Melissa.
Watters decided to renegotiate her lease to help offset the huge losses. That’s when she discovered the only options available to her were: to pay the lease in full (if she could do that she wouldn’t need to renegotiate), declare she wouldn’t renew, or default on the current lease.
Other businesses were leaving the shopping center at that time, but because for her a new site required customization, Watters tried to work things out. Her search for a new location was proving fruitless, and with the landlord’s unwillingness to budge on the lease, she defaulted, triggering eviction proceedings.
The long, constant struggle took its toll. Watters remembers thinking, “I’m going to stop. I’m not going to do it . . . I’m done with landlords.” Doggy Delight closed April 11 of this year.
“I walked away with a huge appreciation for dogs,” says Watters. “This is a great city for dogs. There are so many, and you don’t realize it until you serve the community. I’m proud of everything I did and having a newborn on top of everything.”
Emerging from her extraordinary personal journey through these trying economic times, Watters wears the stripes of dazzling highs and devastating lows. Still reeling from the ride, Watters is taking a break from the entrepreneurial life. But with her business acumen and drive, it seems likely that before long this talented businesswoman will be back in the storm’s eye.
For now, she says, she’s simply “enjoying the farm.”
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