A Midlife Career Shift Against All Odds

After a corporate layoff, a Kansas City woman turned her love for her ailing St. Bernard into a million-dollar business

By Elizabeth Isele
Originally Posted On May 11, 2013

Courtesy of Delena Stout
The career shift story of Delena Stout and her successful dog bath and all-natural pet food stores, as told to Elizabeth Isele:

Two simultaneous, seemingly catastrophic incidents in 2002 catapulted me into the world of entrepreneurship.

I was laid off from my job as the top new business development leader at the DLR Group, a national design firm in Overland, Kan., because I married a fellow employee. DLR had a rule against that.

Just as I was reeling from my "displaced worker" status, our beautiful St. Bernard, Aspen, collapsed on the front porch. She was just 4 years old, but had a lot of health problems.

My architect husband, Larry, and I rushed Aspen to our vet, who said she'd never live to be 6.

Against all odds, she had lived an additional six good years.
The Business Today

Things have been very busy lately. We recently sold one of the three stores and are about to start offering a delivery service online, through a partnership with Holistic Veterinarians.

This nationwide, virtual store will let customers — and their vets — monitor the health programs and dietary needs of their pets as well as order nutritional products.

Tips For Entrepreneurs

My advice for anyone thinking about starting your own business?
  • Be diligent in your research. Look at the competition, make sure the demographics can sustain your type of business and determine what you’ll do to stand out.
  • Dedicate yourself to guerrilla marketing — that means working every event possible to get your name out. 
  • Find a mentor with experience in your field, who is willing to guide you.
  • Take advantage of great resources that are right under your nose. That's how I found my financing and my business partner.

It’s also how I corrected one of my early missteps. I had hired an outside marketing company to design our logo, but no matter how many drafts they submitted, they never seemed to get what we were about. Seeing my frustration, one of my staff members said, "Let me take a crack at it." Knowing me and my vision for the business, he nailed it.

Finally, be sure you have the fire in your belly. You need to believe your business is absolutely the right thing to do. And you need to keep going, as Aspen and I did, "against all odds."