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A Match Made on Muldoon

Jul 30, 2020 | Monitor, Small Business

How ACLT’s Set Up Shop program helped get Poshy Paws get on its feet

A furry friend shows off the interior of Poshy Paws, a new pet grooming business started by Suzanna Smiles in East Anchorage.

Tasha Anderson

Poshy Paws, a new full-service grooming salon, daycare, and boarding facility for dogs and cats, opened on Anchorage’s Muldoon Road in May, but owner Suzanna Smiles has been chasing the idea of opening her own business for much longer. She’s been in the grooming industry for thirteen years and found her way from Dallas to Anchorage through Petco, which brought her to Alaska to train its groomers.  

While in Anchorage, she came across Set Up Shop, Anchorage Community Land Trust’s (ACLT) flagship program to help neighborhood entrepreneurs. Smiles had noticed a lack of groomers in Anchorage and wanted for years to set up her own shop. “So I signed up with their program and paid my fee, and I didn’t think anything was going to come of it; I just thought of it more as a learning experience.” 

What she actually got was a comprehensive education and training program that helped her realize the ways in which she had gone wrong before—and how she could do it right now. “It really did cover everything you need to know as a first-time entrepreneur,” Smiles says. 

After the course, she continued to use ACLT as a resource and found exactly the partner she needed to make her ambition a reality.

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ACLT invests in entrepreneurs and small businesses in a variety of ways in its target Anchorage neighborhoods: Mountain View, Fairview, Muldoon, and Spenard. While training is a huge component, ACLT also helps connect entrepreneurs with financing options, real estate information and expertise, and networking with other businesses and community organizations to meet whatever need arises. 

The Set Up Shop trainings are a jumping off point for many entrepreneurs and small business owners, and since the four- to twelve-week trainings are organized into cohorts of participants, they can be crafted to suit specific needs. 

ACLT Director of Communications and Development Emily Cohn says, “We’ve had a variety of specialized cohorts: a cohort targeted specifically to Alaska Native entrepreneurs that was in partnership with Alaska Growth Capital, a cohort full of English language learners in partnership with the Alaska Literacy Program, and cohorts tailored specifically just to food-based businesses,” among many others. 

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“We really try and make sure that each training is tailored to the specific audience that’s participating and that specific types of entrepreneurs are enrolled,” she says. 

“I can’t say enough good things about them [ACLT],” Smiles says. “Everybody in that office is so helpful and they pointed me on the path and helped me pretty much all along the way.”

One challenge Smiles had in getting Poshy Paw up and running was finding a physical location for her business that met her needs, was within her budget, and was in a suitable area. ACLT owns properties within its target neighborhoods and has a wealth of experience and connections that it can leverage to support the individuals trying to build up those neighborhoods.

In the case of Poshy Paws, once she found a location, ACLT connected Smiles with SALT, a locally-owned design firm, which helped her pro bono with the designs she needed to submit to the city. ACLT also helped Smiles with finding a loan to help her start the build-out on her Muldoon location. Smiles says, “Pretty much everything that [ACLT] could help me with, they did.”

According to Cohn, “We really see entrepreneurs through their entire journey, so we see people who just maybe have an idea all the way through to launch. Suzanna is a wonderful example of that because she was actually a member of our very first training [in January 2018]… And it’s been so wonderful to watch her really plan that out, and grow, and be able to give herself a really successful launch because she took the time to work through that carefully with us and with the help of a lot of community support and professional service providers.”

Poshy Paws launched during COVID-19, and the struggle of trying to grow a client base in the midst of a pandemic took a lot of creativity and problem solving. Smiles says what really made it work was the support of the people around her. “I was able to get my regulars in, and then word started getting out, and it’s slowly been picking up ever since. The Alaskan people are so supportive of local businesses; I’m from Dallas and I’ve never been somewhere where there’s a community like this. They come in because they want to support local.”

Cohn agrees. “It’s important to emphasize how supported this program is by the community,” she says, referencing the many businesses in industries ranging from communication to architecture that donate time or contract with ACLT for discounted rates.  “That has been so impactful for so many of our entrepreneurs and the program certainly wouldn’t be possible without that component.”

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One factor that contributes to successful business operations is the ability to adapt to new situations; rare is the organization that flourishes without changing at all. This year, as we are all acutely aware by now, will go down in history for many, many things including the wide range of methods implemented by businesses as they adapted to the new landscape presented to them by COVID-19.

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