Pet Walkers Keep Business Moving During COVID-19 Pandemic

SoHo Hound of Hillsborough County

SoHo Hound of Hillsborough CountyLalka Morales, a Florida State alumnus, worked in New York City in the corporate agency world for 10 years before realizing it was time for a change. She took a trip to Florida to visit her friends when an idea came to her. The idea of starting her own dog walking business.

“The company I would say came to us because we were in Hyde Park village, a very popular shopping area here in South Tampa, and we were helping a couple of our friends walk dogs while we were taking a break from our corporate agency life,” she said. “A lot of people were asking us if we had business cards and if we were dog walkers. That was when I knew there was clearly a demand.”

Outside of her corporate agency career, Morales loved to spend her time volunteering at the animal shelters where she found the interest to, “dive deeper into the pet industry and see what that was about,” she said. Morales had a dog walker of her own in New York, due to her long workdays.

“I wanted to bring that same experience that I got with my pet to here in South Tampa,” she added. With everything coming together, Morales took that leap of faith to follow her passion and started SoHo Hound in Tampa.

Along the way, Morales enlisted the Florida SBDC at University of South Florida to assist her in growing her business. “We set up an appointment, met up with Bill and he was phenomenal,” she said. “He was really great because he obviously supported our dream. He’s very encouraging, especially in the pet industry.” Morales happens to be friends with another pet business owner who Burnham works with in downtown Tampa.

SoHo Hound of Hillsborough County

Lalka Morales

Burnham guided Morales and her business partner, Amanda George, specifically in the area of financials. “He gave us this great advice in terms of how to be really good financial planners,” Morales said. “He helped us with a lot of templates so that we have a guide to making sure we stay on track and budget as needed, then gave us some creative ideas in terms of marketing and what to do out there in the South Tampa community.”

The journey of Soho Hound has had its ups and downs, but they have so far, always found their way through. The COVID-19 pandemic created hardships and SoHo Hound was hit hard. According to Morales, when the state shutdown in mid-March 2020, “we ended up losing 90 percent of our business.” Due to that loss, Morales was left with no choice but to let go of their employees.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic Morales and her business partner found safe ways to continue with their remaining clients, instituting various COVID-19 safety practices to ensure everyone’s safety.

SoHo Hound also utilized Burnham and the Florida SBDC at USF to secure additional funding to keep them afloat until clients could return. Burnham helped the duo with various loan options such as the State of Florida Emergency Bridge Loan and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.

“It was really nice to have someone that can talk us through the items that we weren’t really sure about,” Morales said. “Bill was able to guide us through some of that process while we were still waiting on the government and the banks. He was a wonderful sounding board. Without his patience and trying to explain everything and review it with us, it would have been much harder. I’m very thankful because with his help SoHo Hound was able to get a bridge loan.”

SoHo Hound today has rehired back some of its staff from 2020 as well as rebuilt its client database. They are up to 14 employees, almost pre-pandemic status, and are happy with the progress made there.

SoHo Hound continues to grow by getting back to pre-pandemic levels, and have their eyes set up expanding outside of South Tampa, with Burnham’s guidance. “We’re excited to see what the future holds but South Tampa is such an amazing community that does come together in a time of need,” Morales said. “And SBDC at USF is definitely a welcome center. Without the assistance of Bill, we wouldn’t know what that next step would be.”