Business Success and Resilience from “The Pet Lady” by Coleen Ellis

Please welcome our newest Collaborative Network Partner, Coleen Ellis, who brings 20 years of knowledge and experience in building a successful Pet Funeral Service business in our profession. Her enthusiasm and passion for pets and helping others be successful are unmatched in the funeral, cemetery, and cremation space.

In August 2022, I joined in on Lisa Baue’s podcast, Your Funeral Coach Talks. Lisa and I are old friends, not in age, but as in “we go back a long time!” It was truly magical as we laughed and shared stories. It was a casual conversation between two old friends who are so passionate about the professional space we reside in: death care. I hope readers, that you will listen in to the fun we had and find some benefit in the teaching I shared about serving pet families when they face the death of their beloved pet family member.

Lisa and I talked first about the beginning of my journey with the start of my business almost 20 years ago, then the first of its kind in the United States, a pet funeral home without a crematory. She made a comment to me which gave me “cause to pause.” Lisa stated, “Oh, Coleen, I remember some of our colleagues literally making fun of you for starting THAT business.”  We laughed like old friends do when they hear something so ridiculous. We laughed and guffawed with an “oh who’s laughing now” kinda tone. It was so much fun doing this podcast and reminiscing about our early business challenges!

As I reflected on her statement. I wanted to share my story with you readers… it never bothered me that people laughed at me. There. I said it!!! I think that’s the attitude you must have when you believe so hard in something and when you have such a passion for a business or a cause. You must believe in it so strongly that when people scoff, you let it roll right off like Teflon, and like a BOSS. Then you move on.

I remember starting that pet funeral home all those years ago. I knew other people like me loved their precious pets like family. With the death of Mico and not having the kind of services available like I knew we did for people, I wanted to provide THAT for other pet lovers. A place to mourn, to remember, to honor. A place to do the same things we do for our skin loved ones when they die… visitations, respectful and dignified care of bodies, loving care for broken hearts, a place where permission would be given to have a ritual, to share stories without any fear of being shamed or cut off because “it’s just a dog.” I knew that business, then, was way ahead of its time. But I also knew what the statistics were saying about pet ownership, pet expenditures, and how people were more and more seeing their precious pets as members of the family. I didn’t just launch off half-cocked in starting that business. My husband Chris and I did our due diligence. We knew it wouldn’t be easy. However, we knew it was exactly where the trends were pointing to fill a need for the shattered hearts grieving over the death of a beloved animal.

Building a small business start-up wasn’t easy. However, my “why” for this business, Mico, was the flame that fueled my passion every day. Everyone needs a “why fire,” something that DRIVES them every day to get up and go change the world! Yes, I got up, suited up, and went into the world sharing the story. Not only was I made fun of, but I encountered many veterinarians who, too, didn’t get it and scoffed, asking me to leave their clinics. I embraced the concept of “if it were easy, everyone would do it.” I have story after story of people who have come up to me and said how they have loved watching this journey of mine because they, too, knew it was a needed business.  I have story after story of people who were a part of that initial group of naysayers who too share how much they’ve loved watching the journey and admitted they were wrong! (Seriously!)

As I look back on this entire journey that has ROCKED for me, I now see that many of the lessons I learned along the way can wholeheartedly be attributed to animals:

Unconditional love: there were the haters, and I knew they just thought differently so I loved them harder.

Build up your Resilience: every day I suited up and made sales calls. I expected the worse, and when a good one happened, I celebrated! If it was a bad, bad day, I knew tomorrow would be another day to make it a good one. Maybe you’ve heard “there ain’t no cryin’ in sales?” Well, I can’t tell you that didn’t happen after some particularly hard days, but they weren’t showstopper tears! I carried on! Like a BOSS!

I did what I was bred to do: I recognized my strengths, and I did that. I equate this to “Chihuahuas aren’t bred to hunt so don’t try to train them to do that” so I, too, stayed in my lane and hired for those things which weren’t. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean “doing it all!”

Trust yourself: I was trustworthy to those who needed me. I trusted my team, and my team trusted me.

Forgive others: I had “competitors” who didn’t play fair. I forgave them, anyway. Didn’t mean I had to like them, let’s be clear.

Be Curious: I knew nothing about the veterinary industry when I opened the business. I loved learning and loved asking questions to hear more about THEIR world! Remember that you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Be Loyal: when I was called, I came. I was loyal to my mission and the delivery of the expectations. As an entrepreneur, I knew I had to stand on my promises to earn THEIR loyalty.

In closing, dear readers, I just felt like I needed to share this story of resilience and determination with you in this newsletter to teach you more about not giving up if you are in business, both human and pet.  Thanks for listening and practicing your part in not passing judgment. Oh… another beautiful lesson we learn from our animals, huh?