Located in Marianna, Great Oak Pet Resort is a luxury dog and cat boarding, grooming, obedience training, and doggie daycamp business. Owner Vicki Fuqua opened the business after realizing the community needed a caring facility where owners could bring their pets and not feel guilty leaving them.
“I have always loved dogs”, she said. “I couldn’t go out of town unless I could take my pups with me, I couldn’t bear knowing they would be kept in a crate all day. I knew I couldn’t be the only one who faced this problem.”
So, bound with determination and her vision for a high-quality, home away from home for animals, Fuqua opened shop in 2016. Great Oak Pet Resort, named for the majestic oak trees that once shaded her property prior to Hurricane Michael, is a sparkling clean facility that features play yards, a swimming pool, and more. The dogs are lulled for a nap every afternoon by jazz music that sweeps the airwaves of the state-of-the-art kennels.
Her hard work has paid off. The business averages 35-40 pups a week boarding or day camping and employs a staff of 13. Spring Break is their busiest time - last year they had 91 boarders.
However, Hurricane Michael caused the successful business to come to a halt. When the storm hit, Great Oak Pet Resort had 35 dogs and five cats at the facility. Fuqua and her manager rode out the storm with the animals to ensure they were okay.
Once the storm passed, Fuqua thought that she’d have to close. However, the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan served as an important lifeline to help her business recover. Seeking help securing the loan, Fuqua reached out to the Florida SBDC at the University of West Florida (UWF) for help. When asked about her experience and the assistance received, she recalled:
What type of damage occurred?
Most of our fences were destroyed and we had many fallen trees on our property. Damage also included shade cloth, foundational damage to our buildings, damage to the luxury, artificial turf in our play yards, ramps and toys. We were closed for two weeks because we were without power and suffered a 65 percent loss in business following the storm. Our internet and phones were also down for a long time.
How did the Emergency Bridge Loan help?
The Bridge Loan rescued Great Oak Pet Resort! I was able to make payroll even though income had been severely impacted. To help my employees and the company, I paid them to help clear the yards and the property. I didn’t want to lose any employees. I was able to financially help those that needed assistance.
How helpful was the Florida SBDC at UWF?
Extremely helpful! Didn’t know how I was going to finance the deficit in business and income due to the storm. [My Florida SBDC consultant] Dorian Zwierewicz was very professional and patient in explaining how the Bridge Loan worked and what I needed to complete the process.
Once business was back on track. Fuqua focused her attention on another facility in need: Partners for Pets, Marianna’s No-Kill animal shelter, which suffered severe damage due to the storm. Taking on the role of president of the board for the shelter, Fuqua recently addressed the Jackson County Board of County Commissioners to request land to lease to build a new home for the no-kill shelter. She plans to visit shelters in other communities to learn best plans for an efficient building and search for fundraising and grant opportunities.
Hurricane Michael: One Year Later
One year later, small business owners like Fuqua continue to pick up the pieces and make sense of their new normal. According to Fuqua, her business will never fully recover due to the loss of shade trees on her property and difficulty finding workers.
We still have a part of our roof that needs repairing, plus trees on neighboring properties that need to be removed. Many of the trees that didn’t [fall] seem to be severely damaged or dying. It is still difficult to find workers, and everyone is still overwhelmed.
When asked about her biggest learning lesson from the storm, Fuqua shared:
We all have to help each other - we are all in the same boat. We all share the same problem. Prepare as best you can for what could happen. [However], don’t panic when something does happen. Employees must see confidence and stability.
About the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program
Administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, in collaboration with the Florida SBDC Network, and supported by Florida First Capital Finance Corporation (FFCFC), the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan is a short-term, interest-free working capital loan intended to help small businesses “bridge the gap” between the time of a declared disaster and when the business has secured long-term recovery resources, such as insurance proceeds or federal disaster assistance.
As a principal responder in the state’s Emergency Support Function for Business, Industry, and Economic Stabilization, the Florida SBDC Network supports disaster preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation through its Business Continuation Services. As part of its service offering, Florida SBDC professionally certified consultants and disaster specialists are available to provide confidential, no-cost consulting to help affected businesses prepare disaster loan applications and with other post-disaster challenges.