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Successful Melbourne Woman-Owned Business Proves Four Legs are Better Than Two

Sherry Acanfora-Ruohomaki got an idea for a business in her head one day in 2002.  For the next nine years, she poked, prodded and turned over every aspect of the idea in her spare time.  Ironically, her full time job involved using her degree in computer and electrical engineering in helping entrepreneurs develop their own high tech-centered businesses.  Finally, the day came where she decided to act on her idea and there was nothing high tech about it. 

“I guess you can say I got tired of working with the two-legged variety of animal and decided to work with the four-legged variety,” recalled Sherry.

With a U.S. Small Business Administration 7(a) Express loan of $235,000 from SunTrust bank in August 2009, Sherry opened “K9 Kampus,” a unique one-of-a-kind animal care facility that features day care, grooming and boarding facilities. 

“It wasn’t easy getting a loan during that time.  I was rejected by many banks.  SunTrust Bank met with me and submitted my business plan to the SBA.  I was told that it was approved because my plan was very detailed,” said Sherry. 

There was one other hurdle Sherry had to overcome.

“To make this business idea work, I needed it to be located in a commercially zoned area close to local businesses.  But at the time, I could only open it in an industrial business zone.  That location was inconvenient for customers who needed to pick up and drop off pets on their way to work,” explained Sherry.

The 2008 economic recession altered the playing field.  Melbourne city officials eventually agreed to a conditional use permit in a commercial business zone, largely because K9 Kampus was strictly an indoor facility.  But while city officials showed flexibility on permitting, bank financing had all but disappeared during the crisis. 

“I was referred to SunTrust from a friend.  They read my business plan and listened to my presentation.  A few days later, they submitted my proposal for an SBA loan,” said Sherry.  “The loan was approved and I was able to start my business.” 

K9 Kampus opened its doors to pets (and their owners) in early 2010.  It provided 15,000-square feet of play area and another  6000-square feet for training and grooming.  Sherry said there were other considerations for business development.

“We considered bringing a veterinarian into our facility but decided against it. We rely on veterinarians’ referrals and we didn’t want to be viewed as competition if we had one resident here,” said Sherry.

As the business grew, so did job creation.  K9 Kampus went from approximately 21 part time employees to a more stable full time staff of 11 in the first year.  Five additional staff members were added in each subsequent year.  But Sherry wasn’t done growing her business one step further.

“While we offered an indoor environment like no other facility in the area, our client surveys showed many were splitting time with our competitors because we did not offer outside amenities for their pets.  We made the decision to expand K9 Kampus with an outdoor facility,” said Sherry. 

In 2012, Sherry approached the city of Melbourne with a plan to expand in an adjoining vacant lot.  She raised the capital for her $90,000 project by offering her closest and most loyal customers a lifetime membership to K9 Kampus. 

“I was concerned that they would not approve the plan because the original indoor business was approved with a conditional permit.  But I learned one of the board members originally believed the business wouldn’t survive but was happy not only to see it still open but seeing the hustle and bustle of activity.  K9 Kampus improved an area that was previously a vacant and overgrown stretch on busy US-1,” said Sherry. 

K9 Kampus completed its 35,000-square feet outdoor spaced in October 2013 which not only resulted in an increase of clients but also a traffic slow-down along US-1 where drivers pause to watch the animals playing outside.

For her achievements, Sherry Acanfora-Ruohomaki was selected as the 2014 SBA South Florida District Woman-Owned Small Business Person of the Year. 

“I came into the business world in the tech sector where there weren’t many women.  I never let it bother me.  I didn’t mind if there was a ‘good ol’ boys’ club as long as I was a member, too.  Being in a male dominated industry I was always considered just of one the guys anyways,”  said Sherry.  “I encourage women who are interested in starting their own business to get that woman business certification and take advantage of the assistance SBA and Women Business Center’s offer. “

Sherry isn’t done growing her business.  She takes advantage of the educational and counseling services at Florida Institute of Technology’s Women Business Center.  There she graduated from the WBC’s IGNITE 360 mentoring program and she is now enrolled in the Ambassador Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program. 

“It’s great to see women business owners like Sherry take advantage of the WBC’s programs and succeed,” said FIT WBC Director Beth Gitlin.  “Women business owners like Sherry are making a big difference in the community.  I’m not surprised to see her selected as the 2014 SBA South Florida District Women-Owned Small Business Person of the Year.  

Sherry Acanfora-Ruohomaki got an idea for a business in her head one day in 2002.  For the next nine years, she poked, prodded and turned over every aspect of the idea in her spare time.  Ironically, her full time job involved using her degree in computer and electrical engineering in helping entrepreneurs develop their own high tech-centered businesses.  Finally, the day came where she decided to act on her idea and there was nothing high tech about it. 

“I guess you can say I got tired of working with the two-legged variety of animal and decided to work with the four-legged variety,” recalled Sherry.

With a U.S. Small Business Administration 7(a) Express loan of $235,000 from SunTrust bank in August 2009, Sherry opened “K9 Kampus,” a unique one-of-a-kind animal care facility that features day care, grooming and boarding facilities. 

“It wasn’t easy getting a loan during that time.  I was rejected by many banks.  SunTrust Bank met with me and submitted my business plan to the SBA.  I was told that it was approved because my plan was very detailed,” said Sherry. 

There was one other hurdle Sherry had to overcome.

“To make this business idea work, I needed it to be located in a commercially zoned area close to local businesses.  But at the time, I could only open it in an industrial business zone.  That location was inconvenient for customers who needed to pick up and drop off pets on their way to work,” explained Sherry.

The 2008 economic recession altered the playing field.  Melbourne city officials eventually agreed to a conditional use permit in a commercial business zone, largely because K9 Kampus was strictly an indoor facility.  But while city officials showed flexibility on permitting, bank financing had all but disappeared during the crisis. 

“I was referred to SunTrust from a friend.  They read my business plan and listened to my presentation.  A few days later, they submitted my proposal for an SBA loan,” said Sherry.  “The loan was approved and I was able to start my business.” 

K9 Kampus opened its doors to pets (and their owners) in early 2010.  It provided 15,000-square feet of play area and another  6000-square feet for training and grooming.  Sherry said there were other considerations for business development.

“We considered bringing a veterinarian into our facility but decided against it. We rely on veterinarians’ referrals and we didn’t want to be viewed as competition if we had one resident here,” said Sherry.

As the business grew, so did job creation.  K9 Kampus went from approximately 21 part time employees to a more stable full time staff of 11 in the first year.  Five additional staff members were added in each subsequent year.  But Sherry wasn’t done growing her business one step further.

“While we offered an indoor environment like no other facility in the area, our client surveys showed many were splitting time with our competitors because we did not offer outside amenities for their pets.  We made the decision to expand K9 Kampus with an outdoor facility,” said Sherry. 

In 2012, Sherry approached the city of Melbourne with a plan to expand in an adjoining vacant lot.  She raised the capital for her $90,000 project by offering her closest and most loyal customers a lifetime membership to K9 Kampus. 

“I was concerned that they would not approve the plan because the original indoor business was approved with a conditional permit.  But I learned one of the board members originally believed the business wouldn’t survive but was happy not only to see it still open but seeing the hustle and bustle of activity.  K9 Kampus improved an area that was previously a vacant and overgrown stretch on busy US-1,” said Sherry. 

K9 Kampus completed its 35,000-square feet outdoor spaced in October 2013 which not only resulted in an increase of clients but also a traffic slow-down along US-1 where drivers pause to watch the animals playing outside.

For her achievements, Sherry Acanfora-Ruohomaki was selected as the 2014 SBA South Florida District Woman-Owned Small Business Person of the Year. 

“I came into the business world in the tech sector where there weren’t many women.  I never let it bother me.  I didn’t mind if there was a ‘good ol’ boys’ club as long as I was a member, too.  Being in a male dominated industry I was always considered just of one the guys anyways,”  said Sherry.  “I encourage women who are interested in starting their own business to get that woman business certification and take advantage of the assistance SBA and Women Business Center’s offer. “

Sherry isn’t done growing her business.  She takes advantage of the educational and counseling services at Florida Institute of Technology’s Women Business Center.  There she graduated from the WBC’s IGNITE 360 mentoring program and she is now enrolled in the Ambassador Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program. 

“It’s great to see women business owners like Sherry take advantage of the WBC’s programs and succeed,” said FIT WBC Director Beth Gitlin.  “Women business owners like Sherry are making a big difference in the community.  I’m not surprised to see her selected as the 2014 SBA South Florida District Women-Owned Small Business Person of the Year.