We are a member of the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (IAOPCC).
The idea to open a pet cremation service came to the Langleys on the grief-filled evening of January 22, 2013. Bill, Bobbie Ruth and daughter Tatiana stood near a cat tower in their living room where Tommy, their eldest cat, rested. Tommy was 18 and quickly deteriorating from kidney failure. While the Langleys soothed Tommy and comforted each other, their veterinarian – Rachel Bangert DVM of Village Veterinary Hospital – prepared the syringes that would put Tommy into a deep sleep and then stop his heart.
On the mantel over the fireplace Bill had placed the small cherry wood urn that he had made for Tommy. When Dr. Bangert noticed the urn and complimented Bill, Bobbie Ruth turned to him and said with soft sad irony, “Well…there’s a business for you.”
After 7 successful years of owning and managing The Placid Pet, Inc. (dba Placid Pets) — a pet care organization that at its peak employed 13 pet care providers and actively cared for more than 350 pets across 200 households, Bobbie Ruth was ready for a new challenge. She hoped to build upon Placid Pet’s good reputation while meeting a need within the community. For more than a year Bobbie Ruth and Bill had considered a variety of pet-related ventures. Whenever an idea — serious or silly — came to their attention, the couple had a habit of saying to each other, “Well, there’s a business for you.”
Bobbie Ruth’s remark on the evening of January 22nd was really just a slight attempt at levity, yet something in it stirred Dr. Bangert. She turned to Bobbie Ruth and with all sincerity replied, “If you really want to start a new business, then start a pet cremation service.”
Across the country, pet parents were beginning to demand the same quality of after-care for their pets that they expected for their human family members. The time was right for a new type of cremation service, and a new option for pet parents. (See related blog posting: “Questions To Ask Your Veterinary Service Provider (VSP) About Your Pet’s Cremation.”)
The next morning, Bobbie Ruth contacted Steve Rohleder — a sales representative for Therm-Tec and a manager of Pet Cremation Services (PCS) in Kansas City, MO. Although she was out of his sales area, Steve spent nearly an hour talking with Bobbie Ruth and explaining the ins-and-outs of operating a pet cremation business. He encouraged her to give it serious consideration.
Bobbie Ruth and Bill continued to research the pet cremation business — both in the Northwest and nationally, and quickly came to the conclusion that it was the opportunity they had been looking for.
In the State of Washington, the installation and use of a crematorium requires a permit from NW Clean Air. The City of Bellingham Planning Department also requires multiple permits, including a Conditional Use Permit which involves a hearing with the Hearing Examiner. These permits cost thousands of dollars and take months to obtain, so it was important to start the process as soon as possible. Dan Mahar and Mark Buford of NW Clean Air were especially helpful, going so far as to enlist the Washington State Department of Ecology for a second-tier analysis on the Langleys’ behalf. Jackie Lynch of the Bellingham Planning Department also provided assistance throughout the local permitting process.
Bill and Bobbie Ruth needed to get hands-on experience running a pet cremation service. On May 25, 2013 the couple flew to Kansas City, MO where they spent the weekend working with Steve Rohleder at PCS. Then on June 2, 2013, Bobbie Ruth flew to Rochester, NY where she worked for several days with brothers Mike and Rick Harris and the staff of Pets at Peace by Harris Funeral Home. The opportunity to work with these two very different but both highly successful organizations gave Bobbie Ruth and Bill what they needed to develop an operations plan for Life Cycle Pet Cremation.
The location of Life Cycle Pet Cremation had to be in an industrial zoned area in Bellingham. After being turned down by other landlords (who didn’t want a cremation service in their industrial park), commercial real estate broker Lesley Newman of Pacific Continental Realty found the perfect location in the Squalicum Business Park (later renamed Orchard Business Park). Landlords Greg and Rob Eiford were incredibly kind and supportive, patiently waiting for the Langleys to secure the needed building permits.
Heather McKendry of the NW Innovation Resource Center (NWIRC) arranged for Bobbie Ruth to meet with local experts for feedback on marketing and pricing, and personally introduced Bobbie Ruth to Ben Mann — the first local artist to agree to offer personalized and professional art to pet parents looking for something unique in an urn or memorial.
With cost estimates for location, equipment, installation and other start-up and operating expenses, Bill and Bobbie Ruth knew that they would need at least $85,000 to start Life Cycle Pet Cremation. They called on the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for some financing advice and learned that in order to get a bank loan they would need 20% of the start-up funds in cash. The Langleys did not have all of the needed cash, but they remained optimistic and began looking for alternative funding.
Then, in an unexpected twist of fate, Bobbie Ruth’s mother, Nancy McGormley of Dothan, AL, passed away on February 21, 2013. Bobbie Ruth had never expected a monetary inheritance, so it was a shock to learn from her brother Don Wahonick that their mother had bequeathed $15,000 to each of them. The inheritance combined with a personal savings was more than enough to cover the needed 20%. Bill and Bobbie Ruth then began the process of securing a loan from Bank of the Pacific where Keegan Kenfield championed their cause.
During the first few months of the process, Bobbie Ruth also attended the SBDC’s “Launch and Build Your Business” multi-week seminar where she was introduced to experts in business insurance, legal matters and web-based marketing. Feedback and support from her fellow classmates — all entrepreneurs — was especially helpful.
However, the most important feedback that the Langleys received during the start-up process was from other pet owners, particularly folks who had recently lost a beloved pet. With no exceptions, everyone they spoke with verified that there was indeed a strong desire among the pet-loving community for an after-care service that provided more than just a basic cremation. Pet owners wanted, and needed, an exceptional service that would help them through their grief and validate the love they had for their pets.