According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), out of 100 new businesses, approximately 80% remain open after the first year; 50% after five years and after 10 years, only about one-third are still in operation. Beating the odds, Elizabeth Smith, owner of LaPet in Champlain, NY, who specializes in dog breeding, training, boarding, grooming, and offers supplies for a range of small pets, is about to enter her third decade.
“When I was 50, I lost my husband to cancer five weeks after the diagnosis,” she explained. “In addition to deep grief, for the first time in my life I found myself in debt, with scant funds and no job. The house needed major repairs and the mortgage was in arrears. That was in 1991.”
Through a force of will, determination and resourcefulness, by May 1992, Smith had galvanized her efforts, sold her late husband’s trucking equipment, restructured her finances, and opened a pet store in a garage on her property. LaPet was launched.
“I stayed open 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., six days a week. I was closed only on Tuesdays when I had to go pick up supplies (shipping was too expensive in those days),” said Smith. “I loaded as much as I could in my car and then went back to the store to restock the shelves and help customers.”
Later, when she was able to hire someone to supervise the business, Smith, a native of New Brunswick, traveled to Canada each week to take an intensive dog grooming course. Staying with her brother outside of Montreal, she studied all week, then returned to the business on the weekends. After she earned her diploma, she began offering dog grooming and training, teeth scaling, and boarding. This dedication, hard work and adaptability has been instrumental in keeping Smith in business.
A PASSION FOR DOGS
Smith’s passion for dogs and interest in dog breeding began in 1978, years before she opened LaPet. “I increased my knowledge through seminars, videos, books, and anywhere else available. My interest in dogs earned me the nickname ‘Dr. Dolittle’,” laughed Smith. “Basic training and working with behavior problems are my favorite challenges. My motto is ‘Think like a dog’.”
Beginning with Bouvier des Flandres, over the years Smith has offered Yorkshire Terriers, Brussels Griffons, Shih Tzu, and mixed toy breeds like Maltipoos, Pekapoos as well as Chihuahua mixes. All her pups are litter box trained, have all their vaccinations and come with a veterinarian health certificate.
Another important facet of LaPet is the store itself. Manned since 1995 by Smith’s son, Rick LaBattaglia, the store offers a carefully selected, complete line of super premium food specifically formulated for canines, felines, birds, and small animals as well as treats and snacks, nutrient supplements, and chews. In addition to edibles, the store offers all the accessories pet owners need: leashes and harnesses, collars, terrariums, beds, litter, brushes and other grooming tools, cages, and much more. LaBattaglia and Smith offer the best products they can find. And if they don’t have what a customer needs, they’ll find it.
Acknowledging increasing competition from online sources and box stores, LaBattaglia said, “The advantage of shopping with us is that we have complete and accurate information on what we offer, and we can discuss it with each customer one-on-one. You can’t do that online. Even if you went in person to a box store, you’d be lucky to get a salesperson who knows the details about what they sell.”
“He does his homework,” Smith emphasized. “Even the veterinarians are impressed with Rick’s knowledge of food. He has helped many customers, whose pets have had health problems, adjust their pet’s diet and see their beloved dog or cat regain its health.”
LaPet’s customers rely on LaBattaglia’s knowledge of animal nutrition, and he gives up-to-date, research-based advice to their inquiries. In addition, Smith and LaBattaglia maintain close relationships with their vendors, and will follow up on any inquiries from customers.
AN ESSENTIAL PART OF THE COMMUNITY
With its location at the intersection of Route 11 and the Hayford Road in Champlain, LaPet has been a visible and integral part of the rural Northern Tier business community for years. Folks looking for a canine companion can find a healthy and well-adjusted one there. Those who already have furry family members come to LaPet for healthy food, good advice, and all the accessories required for the comfort and care of their family dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and ferrets. (From a personal standpoint, I never knew that quality food can reduce a pet’s shedding and immeasurably improve the appearance of its coat. It does.) And LaPet’s competitive prices and friendly service make the extra trip worth it.
As for her puppies, Smith keeps the sign out front updated with the breeds she currently has. During days of fine weather, those driving by can see the pooches in their kennels ready to go to their forever homes. Since all dogs are raised in her home, when customers visits, they can see the environment in which the puppy has developed. Due to her knowledge of dog training, and the care she lavishes on every animal, Smith’s puppies do not bite and are friendly and well behaved.
A HARD-WON SUCCESS
Understandably proud of her operation, Smith, like many successful small business owners, has created a livelihood that gives her independence and allows her a lifestyle in which she is in charge. She has channeled her passion for animals into a business that has afforded her, and her son, the opportunity to learn, grow and make a good living.
Dedicated to providing great products, services and companion animals, Smith epitomizes what is required of a small business owner: adaptability, resilience and the ability to “wear all the hats” in a business — from accountant to marketer, product expert, customer service representative — but most especially, animal advocate.
753 Hayford Road
Champlain, NY 12919