Emerging Leaders Q&A: Bill Hillis, Social Pet Hotel & Daycare

The Emerging Leaders Q&A series spotlights business owners who have participated in the SBA’s Emerging Leaders Program. Each featured business owner completed this extensive training with over 100 hours of classroom time and one-on-one counseling. Since its inception in 2008, the SBA’s Emerging Leaders Initiative has trained over 5,000 small business owners, creating over 6,500 jobs, generating over $300 million in new financing, and securing over $3.16 billion in government contracts.

Here is an Emerging Leader’s story.

Emerging Leader: Bill Hillis
Title: Co-Founder & CEO
Website: www.SocialPetHotel.com
Social Media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn

What is the Social Pet Hotel: Social Pet specializes in grooming, lodging, and enrichment daycare for dogs. We exist to enrich the lives of each dog and the people who love them. We recognize that all dogs, their parents, and our people are each unique in their own way and should be communicated with, supported, and cared for individually.

About the Business: The idea for Social Pet actually began during my last semester at Queens. Our culminating project was to take a business idea through all the stages of planning to the point of presenting to Angel Investors. My team had the idea of a dog daycare on the first floor of a high-rise apartment complex toward uptown. For many reasons, including current zoning that would not allow this in Charlotte, we moved on to a new idea. What stood out to me was the demand and total lack of well run facilities in the Charlotte area. I grew up loving nature and animals. It seemed like an excellent opportunity to create a concept that had the dog’s best interest at heart while providing an opportunity for me to break out on my own. I worked on the plan for two years following graduation before we opened doors in Pineville on 6/9/14.


The Emerging Leaders Experience

Q: How did you get connected to the SBA’s Emerging Leaders program, and what was your biggest takeaway?

We have a great relationship with our lender, NewDominion Bank. Our rep, Rhett Postal, sent me a personal note about the program and suggested we apply. Creating and maintaining relationships with key people in our network has been invaluable and was certainly reinforced through the program. Without Rhett knowing us on a personal level, he may not have thought we could benefit from a program like Emerging Leaders.

Q: How have you been able to apply what you learned from the program at Social Pet Hotel & Daycare®?

We came away with a 3-year plan that is far-reaching yet attainable. The program helped provide additional clarity for where we wanted to take the business and how that could align with our personal goals.

Q: How has the program helped you grow your business?

By the end of the program, it became obvious that Social Pet is in a unique position with a proven platform to add real, tangible value to the lives of its canine and human clients. While most local competitors will plateau in their service delivery to core clients, Social Pet has just begun. While others are focused on driving revenue through higher occupancy and millions in real estate and trade fixture purchases, Social Pet will chart a different path in providing superior care for its people who care for your dogs.

With empowered staff, pup parents will receive a thorough education on their individual dog’s behavior and be guided toward programs that best meet the specific needs of their dog. If you believe your dog is a true extension of your family, we’ll provide an experience to match. By the time we’re done, there will be no discernable difference between a child and a dog daycare experience.

Q: When it comes to educational programs like this, what advice would you give to fellow entrepreneurs so they get the most out of the experience?

You’ll get out of it what you put in it… so be ready to commit the time your business deserves to chart a clear path that your people can buy into… your team deserves it and so do you.

My personal growth in the program began by being open to the idea of removing myself totally from Social Pet if that were the best decision for the company and its investors. The challenges identified were two-fold. First, I was not certain if supply may have already outpaced demand in the Charlotte market for what we do. Second, let’s assume it had already or would by 2021, are we on a path to truly set ourselves apart AND remain profitable? If we could add value to our clients in a unique way, would we be able to market this platform to “ideal” clients who may not even know that our services exist? While demand remains strong, supply is catching up quickly. Is it time to sell or seek a majority investor? How can we afford to grow at a sustainable rate?

During this process, I was able to answer those questions and create a plan that’s far-reaching yet realistic for our team without needing a significant outside financial contribution. While growth is necessary for Social Pet’s survival, healthy growth will not always mean more locations. More revenue does not guarantee more Net Income. More employees do not add real value without a significant structure that includes understanding and buying into our vision. The vision must also be backed by significant operational and customer service centric training that’s driven by a selfless, team-oriented culture.

As we neared the end of the program, I found a renewed passion for what we do.

The market is ready for what Social Pet has to offer, and I am the best person to lead us through the next three years. Being a part of this program provided me the opportunity to focus my efforts “on” the company, not “in” it. This would not have been possible when we first opened either of our locations. However, as we grow, I must grow, guide, and improve myself and the team. My role is to not only provide a clear and concise path for efficient growth but also foster a culture that hires, develops and retains excellent people. Having a clearly defined vision for the company is not something that can or should be delegated.

Life for me has meant constant learning, change, and transition, and I do not see that ending any time soon for me or this company. Starting with this program, I began the process of actively learning a new skill set that will enable me to become a more dynamic leader, better suited for Social Pet. My #1 goal is to provide a consistent vision with clarity that brings us together toward common goals. A bright and sustainable future is not only possible, but it will also happen as an end result of successfully executing our Growth Plan.


For more info on the Emerging Leaders program, visit the SBA’s website at https://www.sba.gov/emergingleaders. CBRBiz.com is your one-stop destination for all things entrepreneurship and business. Check out our partners to see all the incredible resources available to small business owners in the Charlotte region.

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