Firm focuses on pet projects

Teija Heikkila oversees National Kennel Sales & Appraisals from her office in a house in downtown Grand Junction. The company specializes in selling businesses and real estate in the pet care industry. The firm provides a range of services to clients nationwide that includes appraisals, documentation, due diligence and negotiations. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Teija Heikkila brings a lot of expertise to her efforts to help clients sell their pet care businesses. But what clients often appreciate the most, she says, is her familiarity not only with the business aspects of the transactions, but also the emotional ones.

After long operating a dog boarding and training facility in Washington state, Heikkila says she’s experienced herself the nurturing and sense of responsibility that goes into caring for pets as well as the hard work that’s required. That’s not to mention all that poop to scoop.

“They know that we know what they’re going through.”

Heikkila says she draws on her experiences every day as the founder and principal broker at National Kennel Sales & Appraisals, a Grand Junction-based business with a far-flung reach.

The effort has proven a growing one. Heikkila recently moved her offices into an historic house in downtown Grand Junction that offers more room. She also added a national business development manager to what’s now a staff of five to better serve clients.

While there could be some softening in the market in 2020 in part because of uncertainty in a presidential election year, Heikkila remains optimistic overall about the pet care industry. People love their pets and are willing to spend money to care for them, she says.

According to figures compiled by the American Pet Products Association, pet care spending in 2018 reached a record $72.56 billion. While pet food accounted for more than $30.32 billion, veterinary care totaled $18.11 million and such services as boarding, grooming and training came in at a total of more than $6.11 billion.

Moreover, millennials have demonstrated their preference for specialized medical treatments and resort-style boarding and grooming facilities to care for pets they consider members of their families, Heikkila says. “Customers are willing to spend a lot more for pet care.”

National Kennel Sales & Appraisals focuses on selling businesses and real estate in the pet care industry and helps clients nationwide. The company helps sell pet resorts to corporate buyers as well as private individuals. The company coordinates all aspects of transactions, including negotiating offers for sellers, helping buyers secure financing, conducting due diligence, preparing documents and assisting with post-sale transitions.

Heikkila brings to the operation 30 years of experience in the pet care industry. She operated a dog boarding and training facility in Washington that expanded three times and was among the first in the nation to offer day care services. But after more than 20 years, says she was exhausted.

“I was completely burned out. It was the tail wagging the dog.”

It was difficult, nonetheless, to let go and turn the operation over to someone else, Heikkila says.

Many owners of pet care facilities feel the same way, she says, because they’ve devoted so much of their lives to their businesses.  “It’s a reflection on them. It’s their identity.”

Plus, owners feel a responsibility to their customers to continue caring for their pets. “Who’s going to take care of Muffin?”

That requires some reassurance, Heikkila says. “Muffin will be taken care of.”

In her case, Heikkila says she was excited to discover she could continue working in the pet care industry — but in a different role in helping others sell their businesses. She earned certification as a mergers and acquisitions professional handling the transfer of private businesses. She’s a licensed real estate broker in 27 states, and the firm accepts business listings in an additional 15 states.

National Kennel Sales & Appraisals is unique, Heikkila says, as a business brokerage focusing on the pet care industry. The firm has achieved a 95 percent success rate in completing sales for clients, she says.

But the firm also is selective in the clients with which it chooses to work, she says, in declining more than 80 percent of potential listings. A lot of those clients face challenges that make it difficult for them to sell their businesses.

The process starts with an initial phone call and consultation.

For sellers, a listing and financial analysis will follow to determine a fair market value. An analysis also helps to identify and address issues that could affect the success and amount of a transaction, she says. For some operations, the rising cost of labor has restricted their ability to grow.

Then it’s a matter of identifying potential buyers, both private and corporate and marketing the property. The firm also assists with conducting due diligence and negotating contracts as well as collaborating with accountants, lawyers and other professionals.

After a sale, the firm assists with ownership transition and community and public relations.

National Kennel Sales & Appraisals also works with buyers in purchasing pet care facilities in identifying potential properties and negotiating contracts. The firm also can help buyers find financing.

“It’s our job to put all these things together,” Heikkila says.

In serving a niche market in the business brokerage industry, the firm has grown every year, she says.

She also attributed growth to a talented and caring staff and a nimble operation that quickly responds to changing market conditions.

Heikkila moved that operation into an historic house at 951 Main St. that offered more space. She also hired Lory Sansinena as a national business development manager. Out of a staff of five, four work in Grand Junction and one works in Idaho.

While Grand Junction offers a good location and connections for travel, Heikkila says the firm handles most of its work remotely.

That work involves not only the business aspects of transactions in the pet care industry, but also the emotional ones, she says. “We have to always consider our clients’ emotional issues in a transaction.”

Finding out Heikkila worked herself in the pet care industry helps, she says. “They feel like they’re in good hands.”

For additional information about National Kennel Sales & Appraisals, call  (877) 690-3647 or visit www.nationalkennelsales.com.