Of course, putting those ingredients together can be a bit tricky. Sometimes you’ve got to be willing to climb a few walls or bounce a few ideas off the floor, as owners of a rock-climbing gym and trampoline-filled indoor park have learned. Other times, successful local business owners have put food on center stage – healthy, comforting, sweet, or for the dogs.
Here’s the low-down on the current crop of Business Growth Awards “Startup of the Year” finalists, and how they found growth in tough economic times.
What: Pet store boutique, with heavy focus on local and regional sourcing and natural, organic and raw foods.
Owners: Evan Smith and Jason Pickering
Opened: June 2011
Evan Smith could not find the high-quality pet food that his pooch prefers in central Vancouver. Realizing that “people will forgo a Starbucks coffee or a night on the town to make sure their dog or cat is taken care of,” Smith relinquished a six-figure salary to start Canine Utopia.
The original plan called for a second location within two years, but with 18 to 20 percent growth per month, Canine Utopia’s owners decided to speed things up. They just opened two small locations, and expect to eventually open a bigger store.
Fusion Fitness and Nutrition
What: A whole-body health center, with café serving healthy and vegetarian offerings, group fitness classes, spa services and nutrition classes.
Owners: Dr. Kristine Aadland, along with her parents, Ted and Judy Aadland.
Opened: Summer 2011
Dentist Kristine Aadland’s work is about more than teeth.
“We try to promote whole-body health in our practice,” Aadland said. She founded Fusion Fitness and Nutrition to build on that philosophy.
“People spend money on health in different ways,” she said. “I’m hoping they realize that preventive choices, like eating well and working out, are cheaper than treating problems after the fact.”
Getting started was more complex than opening her dental office, but has helped bring to Vancouver a mix of services hard to find without otherwise going to Portland, while creating 17 jobs.
Mill Creek Pub
What: Family-friendly dining with 16 beers on tap.
Owner: Russell Brent
Opened: November 2011
Russell Brent saw economic advantages to starting when
“During a recession, materials are less expensive, construction is less expensive,” Brent said. “I knew there were hopeful signs we were coming out of a recession. It was the perfect time to open.”
Though he has beat sales expectations by 40 percent, Brent’s not ready to relax just yet. New restaurants often do well because they draw in the curious, he said. But that “honeymoon period” is coming to an end, and it will take
top-notch food and service to keep diners coming back.
With summer’s approach, Brent hopes that sidewalk seating will help draw people in. He plans to start serving on Mill Creek Pub’s sidewalk and patio as soon as state liquor officials approve his request.
Bleu Door Bakery
What: Pastries, breads, desserts, lunchtime sandwich offerings.
Owner: Bonnie Gouger
Opened: October 2011
Bonnie and Gary Gouger have established themselves as among Clark County’s leading culinary entrepreneurs. Gary runs the award-winning Gouger Cellars & Winery, and together they own Brownies from Heaven. Bonnie said she saw starting Bleu Door Bakery as a natural next step – despite the economic risks.
“Economy, schonomy, there was an opportunity,” she said. “I just leapt.”
She now has six employees and, after reinvesting early revenue in new equipment for the business, she recently started paying herself. Continued growth seems inevitable, and she’s now mulling a second location.
What: Wall-to-wall trampolines for kids, teens and adults to play, learn and practice.
Owners: Wesley and Adriana Dameron
Opened: November 2011
“This business is reasonably priced, so we can be attainable for many households at different socio-economic levels,” said Wesley Demeron, who founded G6 Airpark with his wife when they decided to shift away from their work in elderly health care.
Rather than finance the $500,000 startup cost through a bank, the couple self-financed, in part with loans against personal property. Five months later, they are cash-flow positive and drawing modest salaries, while reinvesting some profits in the business, Demeron said.
Source Climbing Center
What: Indoor rock-climbing gym, offering classes and
Owners: Michael Lary and Hanz Kroesen
Opened: November 2011
“When people don’t want to spend their money driving to the mountain to ski or driving to Sun River, a climbing gym becomes a good option for adventure,” said Michael Lary, co-founder of the Source Climbing Center.
A $1.6 million investment in that belief is paying off. The founders, who estimated that they needed to get to 220 members for the business to be sustainable, surpassed that number sooner than expected and membership continues to climb.
“We’re servicing our debt, we’re seeing good growth, right now we’re really happy,” Lary said.