Women in Business: Q&A With Gretchen Hollifield, Founder of The Dog Wizard

After playing basketball on a full-ride scholarship at Wake Forest and earning a degree in communications, Gretchen settled into a job that had her in an office 40-50 hours a week. She quickly learned that it wasn't for her and sought to find a career that dealt with her first passion: dogs.

She went back to get certified at a costly dog training school and found she was left to her own devices after getting it and barely making enough money to pay the bills. She spent the next six years figuring out the ins and outs of what worked and what did not, which programs were most rewarding and what produced the happiest clients, and the happiest dogs. In 2005 Gretchen started The Dog Wizard in her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2011 she launched the Dog Wizard Academy, a mix of a school and franchise opportunity. Each graduate receives franchising rights to a Dog Wizard in their respective town.

How has your previous employment experience aided The Dog Wizard?
The previous employments I have had introduced me to the necessary "systems" to run any business. I learned from business to business and industry to industry that the core is the same, and the key is making that core rock solid, so the rest of your business can flow.

How can you turn your passion into a career?
I truly believe any passion can be turned into a career. Specifically with dogs as my passion, I found there were several possible avenues to take, such as owning a doggie daycare, pet sitting business, pet store or dog training. I think you have to do the necessary research to figure out which avenue suits your personality best. I personally like challenges, so dog training was a perfect fit since every dog is different and some pose huge challenges.

How you maintain a work/life balance?
I have a husband and two kids (aged three and one), so balance is absolutely necessary. I believe the key to being able to have any sense of balance in your work and home life is implementing a great staff, which I have done. Our staff is very smart, self motivated, creative which gives me the peace of mind to feel like I do not have to be there in order for things to be done right. They have just as high standards as I do.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as founder of The Dog Wizard?
I would say the biggest challenge was assembling the right team of staff. Finding great people (all with different personalities) that can fit into a team philosophy was much more challenging than I ever thought it would be. Another challenge was finding the capital to grow through a down economy. Banks and other lending establishments were not lending through some of our growth, so we were forced to get creative and pay for a lot of up-fits with cash.

What advice can you offer small business owners who are seeking to become a franchisor?
Be prepared for a lot of detailed work that requires a lot of time. I was trying to run my business as usual and was not prepared for the amount of time that it would take to prepare all the documents necessary, which took away from my daily tasks with running the business.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
For the women that choose to have a family, it is learning to turn off work mode when you get home. It is very tempting to say abreast everything that is happening, but if you assemble the right team around you then you can take your mind off it and focus on your family.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
Sadly, I have not read this book yet, but I just ordered it and plan to read it A.S.A.P.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has played a definite role in my life. Aside from my father, who is a retired small business owner, most of my mentoring experiences have come through books. I have read many books on business and positive thinking which have shaped the way I operate today, both professionally and personally.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I like any leader that goes with what they feel is the right thing to do regardless of whether it is the "popular" choice. I think Indra Nooyi at Pepsi has done this. I think Oprah Winfrey has done this -- critics have constantly predicted failure, and although slow to grow, she stuck to what she wanted her network to represent... and it is now paying off. I also love Robin Roberts who defied the odds and became a female sportscaster (one of the hardest eggs to crack), opening that field to thousands of women.

What are your hopes for the future of The Dog Wizard?
I hope it grows into a national brand that allows many dog passionate people to live a great life as a professional dog trainer, as well as help a lot of dogs live a better life.