A fresh new small-business series, Trading Places will take a look at entrepreneurs who have successfully transitioned from working in the corporate world to founding their own business. If you have such a story you'd like to share, please email me.
At 30, Amber McCrocklin was an accomplished medical sales representative working for a cancer-diagnostics company in Indianapolis. She was young, successful and seemingly living the American Dream, but underneath it all, McCrocklin was bored.
For a few years she considered different possibilities for starting her own business, but was uncertain as to what field she should venture into. "Eventually, I knew it would come to me," McCrocklin says. And she was right.
One year later, McCrocklin got Bo, a yellow Labrador dog. When he was a puppy, Bo loved coming out on her speed boat, where he would scamper in and out of the water with McCrocklin's help. As he grew, however, the process of lifting him onto the boat became increasingly difficult.
"When he was full-grown and 100 pounds, I couldn't get him back into my boat," she recalls. "Lifting him became a real hassle and it was exhausting and dangerous for me. I came home bleeding every time I went boating because the dog was scratching me so badly."
McCrocklin searched everywhere for a dog ladder for her boat, but quickly found such a product did not exist -- a great opportunity a new business.
McCrocklin then hired an engineer and together, they worked on a prototype. Within five months McCrocklin had patented her dog ladder and opened up her new company. She had found her niche.
: Cytotechnologist and medical sales representative
: Founder and owner of
: "It was really hard to leave the financial security of the corporate world, but on the other hand, it was very refreshing to be able to do my own thing, be my own boss," McCrocklin says. It was easier "because I came from the sales side," she adds. "I was able to get out there, make people aware of my product and raise money." When McCrocklin first started Paws Aboard, she continued to work at her medical-company job for a year before quitting to devote all her time to Paws Aboard.
: "I started my company with $50,000 and I thought that would
last forever," she laughs. "I was wrong, it lasted maybe three months." In the next couple of years, McCrocklin raised money and took out a home-equity line and a loan against her stocks. Also, "I was getting pretty good bonuses at that point, and every month my bonus would go straight into the business," she says.
What she wishes she knew before
: "How much it cost. I didn't understand that when you're in a manufacturing company like I am, how much cash outlay you have to have because the start-up costs are really high. You have molds and inventory you have to buy, you have to market your product and you have to hire employees," McCrocklin says.
: Paws Aboard sells to big-box retailers like
, in addition to various small shops across the country.
Some product favorites
: In addition to the Doggy Boat Ladder by Paws Aboard, McCrocklin has expanded her company's line of products to include canine life jackets, leashes and strollers. The life-jackets line has been the biggest seller by far, she says -- the most popular one is a pink one with white polka dots.
Her company's edge
: "What I focus on most is high-quality product with a moderate price tag. In the pet market there is a lot of ... low-quality, cheap products," McCrocklin says. "I've included a little bit of designer flare with my life jackets, which definitely gives me a huge edge over the other products that are out there. With the dog ladder, there really is nothing else out there that is comparable."
: "Find a mentor, find someone who's done it before and ask if they'll guide you through it," McCrocklin recommends. "I tell everyone I'm enrolled in the accelerated program of the school of hard knocks. Every week you learn something new, you have to understand what works best for what your needs are and make educated decisions,
so having a good mentor is great. There're all kinds of business organizations in different cities people can be a part of. Networking organizations are always a great start for someone who's just getting into starting their own business."