Second Career: From Manufacturing Plant Worker to Entrepreneur

After working for a major telecommunications company for 28 years, Toni Cory's position servicing chip-placement machines was outsourced to another country. Even though Cory could see it coming months before her position was eliminated, it didn't make the downsizing any easier to swallow. Cory had planned to retire from her company when she was ready and with some financial security -- but like many others in today's turbulent economy, that was no longer a possibility.

Retraining for a new career

Once Cory knew her days at her company were numbered, she began to do some soul-searching. As a dog owner, Cory had heard of dog day-care establishments and wondered if the idea would take off in her rural community in the Midwest. So she did some research and found out about a state-sponsored program being delivered at the local community college to teach people how to set up a small business. It was here that she also found out about and took advantage of a $15,000 NAFTA federal training grant for displaced workers and enrolled in a five-month school in another city to become a professional dog trainer.

Around the same time, Cory's son saw an advertisement for a dog day-care mentorship program at a local dog day-care establishment in conjunction with their relationship with VocationVacations, a company that partners business owners with people considering a career change. Cory spent one long day (from 6AM to 7PM) at the dog day-care center soaking up as much knowledge as she could about running a dog day-care business.

Personal and financial obstacles

Cory was not without her naysayers. "The economy is going down the tubes, and you plan to open your business in a very rural area -- will people actually pay for this service?" seemed to be the party line among several of Cory's colleagues. But the skepticism didn't stop there. The banks did not want to give her a loan to start her business. It took her a year to convince her banker to give her a loan; and in order to get the amount she needed, Cory was forced to put up everything she had in her 401(k) as collateral. Once the loan was secured, Cory and her husband found a piece of property, and her husband, a contractor, put his work on hold and built the dog day-care center himself.

Cory confesses that the first 18 months were not easy. The business had a slow start; people who said they would bring their dogs to the center didn't. Yet the staff and the bills still needed to be paid. Cory persevered -- and by the end of the second year, she was turning a profit and getting repeat business and new referrals.

Advice for others

"If you are starting a business, be realistic about your goals; don't think you can do it yourself and don't be afraid to ask for help. There are many organizations and people willing to share information, and your local chamber of commerce is another great resource for small businesses. Have faith in yourself. I have a high-school education and I never ran a business before. Every year I learn more, and I use those lessons to make my business better," Cory says.

Cory says she is very satisfied with her progress to date: "I started my business because I no longer wanted corporate America to be in charge of my life and I wanted to do something within my community."

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