Western Pa. small-business owners win big

Joe Napsha
| Saturday, May 26, 2007

Carol Boerio-Croft has been in the business of pampering pets for 20 years, but she still faces the challenge of getting people to "accept a crazy off-the-wall idea" of a woman offering an alternative to a kennel.

"With the right training and the right people, we have outlasted, outgrew and outshone anyone else who is trying to be who we are," said Boerio-Croft, owner of two Cozy Inn Pet Resort & Spa facilities in Stahlstown in Westmoreland County and Plum.

"Cozy Inn is about putting pets first," said Boerio-Croft, who was named Friday as the 2007 Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration in Pittsburgh.

She was among 13 small-business owners and those associated with small businesses, who were honored by the agency at an awards luncheon at the Westin Convention Center hotel, Downtown. The luncheon was sponsored by the Western Pennsylvania Small Business Network and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Boerio-Croft's business tapped into "pet parents" who did not want their pets "jailed or warehoused in a facility." The business has grown from a handful of customers to taking care of 135,000 pets a year with about 100 employees, mostly women.

The business has generated $2 million in annual revenues, and Boerio-Croft told about 450 people at the luncheon that she envisions expanding. She wants to open another Cozy Inn Pet Resort & Spa near the Pittsburgh International Airport to serve western Allegheny County. She is considering expanding to Philadelphia through licensing agreements.

"I don't want to franchise it. It's not a hamburger," Boerio-Croft said.

Climbing the ladder to business success is no easy task, especially when having to overcome language and culture barriers, said Oditza Carrasco, chief executive of 1st Vanguard Mortgage Co., Downtown, and honored as the Woman-Owned Business of the Year.

"The biggest challenge was doing business in English and understanding the customs and culture," said Carrasco, a Chilean native who has been in the United States for 23 years. She had saved enough money from her job as a mortgage broker to open her business in 1999. It has grown to the point where 1st Vanguard lends in 36 states and has a volume of almost $120 million.

For military veterans, the challenge to opening their own business is getting the right assistance to overcoming obstacles that face prospective entrepreneurs, said Donald A. Nemchick, a Munhall consultant who was awarded the Western Pennsylvania Veterans Small Business Champion of the Year award.

Veterans re-entering civilian life have the discipline, motivation and experience to be small-business owners, Nemchick said.

"We can take those skills and apply them to business," Nemchick said.

The winners

The U.S. Small Business Administration in Pittsburgh recognized the region's 2007 Small Business Award winners on Friday.

Western Pennsylvania winners:

  • Service Corps of Retired Executives Volunteer of the Year: J. Lee O'Nan of Pittsburgh, counselor.

  • Woman-Owned Business of the Year: Oditza Carrasco, chief executive of 1st Vanguard Mortgage Co., Pittsburgh

  • Family-Owned Business of the Year: Wright-Knox Motor Lines Inc. of Armagh, Cambria County. Gladys Wright Knox, president; Jerry L. Knox, executive vice president; and Harold Wright, vice president of customer service.

  • Minority Small Business Champion of the Year: Grace Robinson, owner of Grace Robinson Insurance Agency Inc. of Pittsburgh.

  • Small Business Journalist Champion of the Year: Jon Delano, money and politics editor, KDKA-TV.

  • Veterans Small Business Champion of the Year: Donald A. Nemchick, consultant, Munhall.

  • Young Entrepreneur of the Year: Benjamin J. Falvo, owner of Dream Store Media LLC of Pittsburgh.

Regional winners:

  • Financial Services Champion of the Year: Debra L. Steiner, director of Gannon University Small Business Development Center, Erie.

  • Home-based Business Champion of the Year: Laura M. Magone, organizational development consultant and filmmaker, Pittsburgh.

  • Women in Business Champion of the Year: Barbara A. McNees, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.

  • Small Business Exporter of the Year: James Burger, vice president of Helsel Lumber Mill Inc., Duncansville, Blair County.

  • Small Business Person of the Year: Carol Boerio-Croft, owner of Cozy Inn Pet Resort & Spa, Stahlstown and Plum.

  • Leo R. McDonough Distinguished Public Official Small Business Advocate Award: State Sen. Jane C. Orie, R-McCandless.

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