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Starting an unconventional business presents unique challenges

Filed by KOSU News in Feature, Public Insight Network.
November 13, 2012

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The second in a series. Our first story set up the variety of perspectives we’ll hear, and how they view government regulation as a whole.


Putting together a business from scratch is a daunting task. There’s the dreaded business plan – one concept that contains so much – financing, physical plans, goals, and on and on. And then there’s government regulation. The start of our series on what businesses must work through looks at what they confront when turning their ideas into something real…

Ashley Nordhaus graduated from OU, and knew what was next – open up a kennel. She got training at a local business development center, and then formed her idea into something that could work.

“I was hoping we would get a little help. I’m a young woman and getting into building a business. You want to see kinda, not necessarily funding for it, but actual help.”

She pictured a conversation about regulations like this:

“Hey you start here, and end up here and open the business. I wasn’t really sure where to find that, Michael kinda helped mostly get the business part going, I was kinda operations part.”

Michael’s her husband. We met in the backroom of their kennel, called Fur Night and Day, tucked in an industrial park in Norman. Their business has only been around since August of 2010, which means it was trying to get going when the loan market was frozen. Here’s Michael:

“The SBA does a 40 percent guarantee, the bank does a 50 percent or a 40 percent, and they make us put 10 or 20 percent down. All sounds and looks very structured and very fair. But if the bank is not interested in lending money…the banking institutions still control the lending process.”

That’s the Small Business Administration by the way, a government agency devoted to helping entrepreneurs. Ashley and Michael eventually did get funding, thanks to financial help from her father. But it wasn’t the federal government that was the problem. For them, it was the city of Norman.

“Play yard 3 is usually the pretty crazy guys. They have a whole lot of fun running in and out. Those are the ones you kinda got to watch a little more. But they’re really excited and always happy to be here.”

They say most Norman officials didn’t understand how some regulations can complicate things, without any benefit. Michael told me it would have been easier to just deal with Animal Control, instead of the Kennel Board. That board included the city lawyer, members of the City Council, as well as Animal Control.

“I know we were both saying the same things in our heads. ‘Really, did he just say that?’”

What’s that? Improvements to drains in the building, costing as much as seven thousand dollars.

“And then the plumbing inspector came in and said ‘If I was in that meeting, I would’ve never made you do that’. So there’s clearly some unreasonable processes going on.”

But let’s be fair. Susan Connor is the Director of Planning and Community Development for the city. She says the zoning code doesn’t speak to kennels, and they’re not regulated through a planning chapter either. That complicates things for all involved. Here’s how Michael sees it:

“The way things seem to be geared, you can put a 7-11 in there with a gas station, and that’s it. But if you’re a brick and mortar mom and pop shop, whose starting a boutique industry…”

So what’s the solution? Everyone wants to criticize government, how do you fix its relationship with business?

“If they had kind of a guideline and say ‘Here, start here, we have someone that can walk you through, and you go through this department first.’ Anybody should be able to, if they have that dream, and they want to go through with something. Make it easier for them.”

Ashley wants a point person for business, experienced in working with government to arrive at sensible regulations. Not really a business incubator, just someplace and someone to sort through everything.  For her city’s part, Susan Connor, says they try to make sure things run as smoothly as possible when businesses go for permitting.

Through all the bumps and sharp turns in putting it all together, they eventually got in their building, and the business has flourished…

“Once you’re going, it’s kinda you can run your business. Once you’re going, it’s pretty good.”

Ashley just wonders how many never made it to that point.

One Response to “Starting an unconventional business presents unique challenges”

  1. Rob Abiera says:

    The problem with government planning is that it doesn't account for "unintended consequences". And innovation ALWAYS leads to unintended consequences.

    Why do business owners put up with this? Why don't they get together and do something about it?

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