Westgate Mall shoppers might not have visited the mall's newest store, but they certainly have heard it.
Squawking birds in Creature Connection lead excited children and animal-loving adults to the new pet store housed near Dairy Queen on the south side of the mall. Kara Kristofferson, 24, of Baxter, and Mary Quaal, 24, of Verndale, own the animal-lovers haven.
Kristofferson and Quaal have known each other for less than a year and began planning their business in February. The store opened in May.
"Brainerd needed a pet store in the mall," Kristofferson said.
Creature Connection, a new pet store in the Westgate Mall, offers a wide array of pets.
They said the mall is a good location because it draws a lot of customers.
"(A pet store is) the No. 1 stop for kids," Quaal said.
They sell a variety of pets and pet supplies.
Their cages are filled with puppies, kittens, birds, fish, frogs, lizards, snakes, gerbils, hamsters and rats. And the shelves are stocked high with pet supplies to keep any animal happy. Prices range from 19 cents for a feeder fish to $900 for some puppies or parakeets.
Though neither woman has ever worked in a pet store or owned their own business, they used a packet of information provided by the Central Lakes College Small Business Association that outlined steps needed to get their business off the ground.
"We started with a paper that said steps to success," Kristofferson said.
They researched both how to start a business and how to run a pet store including talking to pet store owners in a St. Cloud mall to learn more about their prospective market.
They said getting financial support was difficult at first because of their lack of experience and equity.
"It's hard because we're young and people weren't willing to trust us," Quaal said.
Once they gained financial backing, their plans snowballed. The women were quizzing each other for their finals at Central Lakes College while setting up displays, Kristofferson said.
The women said business has been good at the store since they opened. Creature Connection receives between three and five puppies per week and usually they are purchased before the next Wednesday shipment. A list next to their cages tells the puppy breeds likely coming in the next few months for prospective customers.
"Everything is held a lot of the time so they are friendly," Kristofferson said. Everything that is but the tarantulas and scorpions.
Oftentimes animals roam the store. Birds perch on the outside of their cages and kittens play with children begging to bring them home.
"We've had escape artists, but the mall is very good," Kristofferson said. All the animals have been returned.
Creature Connection has one permanent pet. His name is Harry, a Moluccan cockatoo. The 7-year-old bird is too sweet to sell, Kristofferson said. He draws a crowd when he talks.
Kristofferson and Quaal hired one other employee, but will not hire more until they feel they have all the kinks worked out of the business, Kristofferson said.
At least one of the owners, usually both, are at the store at all times.
"There's not enough hours in the night to sleep sometimes," Quaal said.
Kristofferson and Quaal said they hope to expand their business in the future. They would like to sell exotic animals such as hedgehogs and sugar gliders (similar to an American flying squirrel) and move to a larger location. But for now they are focusing on establishing a solid foundation in the mall.
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