Two women who aren’t making a big deal out of a big deal.
By Rachel Andrews
Photo by Yvonne Feece
LGBT pairs are often successful innovators in the arts, politics, and business. Sometimes, one (or both) is weary of the traditional workplace and wants to find a different vocation. The conversation usually starts with “You want to do something about it?” Such is the case with Lisa Larsen and Paige Arenschield, friends and co-owners of the newly formed venture iLuckyDog Pet Campus, a full-service “pet spa” now under construction in west Houston.
“Lisa and I met courtesy of the WNBA,” Arenschield jokes. “In 2000, my brother gave me and my wife season tickets. Lisa and her spouse had seats next to ours. Over the course of that season, we saw each other at almost every game, and all four of us became great friends.”
In addition to their friendship, both of these women have had successful careers and possess complementary skill sets that should ensure the success of iLuckyDog. “I worked for 30 years in the international travel and tourism business,” Larsen says. “I was heavily involved in technology, establishing multiple offices, worldwide, for a firm based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Arenschield also has broad “startup” experience. “I worked in healthcare, opening up several sleep-apnea clinics throughout the South and managing projects from the ground up—overseeing construction, build-out, equipment procurement, as well as the hiring and training of staff. Currently I work as a hospital systems analyst—something I’ve done for the last 10 years.”
After working in numerous countries and traveling extensively, Larsen left her firm in 2014. “One evening, Paige and I were at the Hobby Center with our partners, waiting for a show to begin. The conversation turned to what my next job would be.” Arenschield’s partner (known for her insightful stream-of-consciousness thinking) said, “We should do something we all like.” Since this quartet of women possesses a common passion for pets (something evidenced by their collective cornucopia of rescued critters), three months later, iLuckyDog was born.
“We spent a lot of time scouting a location,” Larsen says. “We want this facility to resemble a college campus, where all services are available in one place, but where each can still function somewhat independently.”
Current plans call for 32 high-tech suites, each with private indoor and outdoor areas. The campus on Clay Road in Katy will also include a 5,000-square-foot indoor training and day-care facility, space for eight groomers, a small on-site vet clinic (providing minor care), and a separate “wellness center” for older pets and those needing specific rehab services. Additionally, iLuckyDog will have a secured outdoor green space that will be a “members only” dog park, complete with a pool, splash pads, and several “bathe your dog” stations.
When developing this concept, both women drew on their previous employment experience—especially as it related to the need for pet care among professionals who travel extensively on business. In creating iLuckyDog, they carefully considered what they needed from a pet provider in order to feel comfortable while away from home. “We spoke with hundreds of people, informally surveying them about every aspect of on-site pet care,” Larsen says. “From these conversations, our service profile and approach to caring for animals (and people) came to life.”
Once the concept was created, financing was sought. Various bankers were given a detailed operational/business plan. “In my previous job, I had written hundreds of proposals,” Larsen says, “each of which had to adhere to an established set of international standards. Consequently, this component was easy for me to accomplish.”
Some potential lenders were astonished by level of detail the pair provided. Even in an era when financial institutions typically leave no stone unturned, this duo was asked to provide less information. “We knew exactly what we wanted to accomplish. We accounted for everything—all revenue and every cost—even the light switches!” Arenschield says. “Banks weren’t used to dealing with someone [like Lisa, who is] so incredibly organized.”
“Even with all of our advance preparation, this process was extremely challenging,” Arenschield says. “During the last year, we have negotiated—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—with a variety of landowners, lenders, and construction firms. Additionally, this has also impacted our domestic lives, and our spouses have simultaneously experienced our struggles and successes. They’ve been incredibly supportive, each making numerous sacrifices in order for us to get to this point. Many people told us this project would never happen; our partners stood by us, and continue to do so.”
Eventually, Larsen and Arenschield applied for (and received) a Small Business Administration loan through Houston’s Integrity Bank, a firm that specializes in this type of funding. “We were very lucky,” Arenschield says. After a few setbacks, we found a wonderful lender, a perfect site, and a very detail-oriented construction company, Kuehn Construction.” (Kuehn is known in central Houston for the Raven Tower Ice House at the White Oak Music Hall.)
“One of the lessons we learned was to let the people with the appropriate expertise do their jobs. While we have a great set of complementary skills, there are a lot of things that don’t fall within our knowledge base. Also, we discovered that it takes time to find the right team of people to work with—to discern those who genuinely share your vision.”
Arenschield and Larsen have the talent to bring iLuckyDog to fruition—and more importantly, they possess an infectious positive attitude that draws people to this project. Arenshchield notes that “every person who has heard about this project wants to be involved. One of our bank’s vice presidents stopped us in the parking lot and said, ‘Hey, we are really excited about being a part of that project you gave us!’”
Since both of them are legally married, they were required to submit financial information from their respective spouses. “No one ever commented to us about [our same-sex marriages]—ever,” Arenschield says. “We never made a big deal about our marital status, so no one else did either.”
“We didn’t ask for any special treatment,” Larsen says. “We don’t feel like we were any different—just members of this community who’ve developed an idea and created a way to deliver a needed service. By getting to know us, seeing how we relate to people, and how we conduct ourselves in business, we hope that everyone realizes how passionate we both are about caring for animals and iLuckyDog.”
Construction on the iLuckyDog Dog Pet Campus began July 1, and Larsen and Arenschield expect to be caring for pets in west Houston this November.