Author: Kent Hannon

Published

An animal lover who once considered becoming a veterinarian, Viera was a regional financial manager for a large publishing company before leaving the rat race to open a do-it-yourself doggie detailing business.

For years, Tom Viera sat in traffic, staring out the window at thousands of other harried commuters making their way into Atlanta during the morning rush hour. Viera's constant thought during those 100-mile round-trips was, These are hours of my life I'll never get back. His job as regional financial manager for Houton Mifflin Publishing was going well. But his heart wasn't in it. Finally, in October 2003, he'd had enough.

"I had been in finance my whole life," says Viera (MBA '01), a former analyst at Fidelity Investments in Boston, who decided — after a heart-to-heart with his wife on a beach in the Caribbean — that he needed to start his own business.

First step: Terry MBA.

Next step: Follow your instincts.

An animal lover who once considered becoming a veterinarian, Viera ultimately decided to open a do-it-yourself doggie detailing business.

Baths and Bones Boutique, located in Cumming, Ga., offers customers a pleasant alternative to hunching over the bathtub washing Fido. The store also sells a wide range of organic and health-conscious foods and treats.

Getting the business up and running was made easier by the lessons Viera learned as a member of a Terry Moot Corp team that developed a business plan for a therapeutic video game aimed at helping kids with Attention Deficit Disorder.

"The competition was a huge eye-opener, and our team won first place in the Internet Technology Group at Moot Corp," says Viera, who took what he learned about market analysis, product development, and sales and applied it to his Baths and Bones venture.

Viera's father-in-law, a PhD chemist, provided an interesting test case in that he was initially skeptical of the idea.

"He looked at me like I had lost my mind," says Viera. "He couldn't understand it."

But when Viera's father-in-law visited the Bath and Bones shop and spent a few minutes looking at all the pictures on the wall — faces of happy customers with their happy and clean dogs — he turned to Viera and said, "I get it!"

The concept is simple, says Viera, whose customers appreciate having an easily accessible washtub at waist level. They also appreciate the ramp that allows the family Lab to walk in and out of the tub instead of having to be hoisted over the edge. "And it avoids messing up your bathroom!" says Viera.

Which is not to say there weren't some bumps in the road. The store missed three opening dates before all was ready. Viera recalls waiting at the front door and having to tell people he couldn't let them in. But the customers' reactions surprised and encouraged him.

"They weren't frustrated and angry that we missed the opening date, rather they seemed to throw even more support and goodwill our way because of it!"

Time and again, Viera heard customers say they had thought about opening the same kind of business.

"That was something we learned at Terry," says Viera. "Ten people will say they want to do it, 5 people will put pen to paper and think about doing it, but 0 people will actually do it."

Viera wanted to be the exception to that rule, and he's passionate about pet nutrition and the positive effects of animal hygiene.

"The bacteria on a pet's skin needs to be washed away, and we can educate people on how to do this," he says. "To take that point further, one of my fondest memories as a child was that my dog slept with me in my bed. Looking back at that, I realize that the comfort I received from bonding with my dog was important to who I am today. A clean, healthy dog will be more apt to spend time with the family and become a closer member of that family. That's the goal of my business."

The Bath and Bones concept is going over so well that Viera says he's thinking of opening a second store and possibly franchising his idea.

"I will need to write a business plan to present to the bank for a loan to start the second location — which will be no problem, given the stellar preparation Terry gave me!"