When his family's warehouse south of downtown Colorado Springs was about to become vacant, David Flaks had a dream of duplicating the entrepreneurial success his father and grandfather had built at that same location.
That dream nearly became a nightmare several times as Flaks and his wife, Laurinda, opened nearly five months later than planned after a series of construction and permitting delays repeatedly postponed the Nov. 1 opening of BamPaws Stay & Play, a dog and cat boarding and day care provider.
"I want to make this a one-stop shop for the pet industry - not just boarding and day care, but also grooming, training and pet merchandise all under one roof. This will be the flagship; we want to franchise with multiple locations across the country. I want to reinvent what my grandfather did except with pets," David Flaks said. "On paper it looked really nice, but that is not the way it worked out. With my accounting background, I don't like surprises, and there were plenty of them."
The Flaks family has been building businesses in Colorado Springs since Stanley R. Flaks moved to the Springs in 1950 to expand his father's Denver-based wholesale candy and tobacco business to serve a small chain of grocery stores. The business eventually grew, employing sons Rick and Greg Flaks, to sell products ranging from "slush puppies" and other frozen drinks to diamond rings and toys to military base exchanges and commissaries as well as convenience, drug and discount stores. S.R. Flaks & Co. had been housed on the current site of the Pikes Peak Center until urban renewal forced a move to 815 S. Sierra Madre St. in 1972.
The building was the first built from prefabricated concrete panels made by Colorado Springs-based Stresscon Corp. and today is part of a neighborhood of mostly industrial buildings and warehouses that lie between homeless shelters operated by the Salvation Army and Springs Rescue Mission.
The wholesale business struggled in the early 1990s with the growth of warehouse clubs like Sam's, Pace and others, prompting Greg Flaks, son of Stanley and father of David, to experiment with a cigarette outlet store called "Cigarettes & More 4 Le$$" in Pueblo rather than the Springs to avoid competing with S.R. Flaks & Co.'s wholesale customers. Besides discounted cigarettes, the chain sold more than 100 varieties of upscale cigars and grew rapidly, eventually took on the Smoker Friendly name before tax hikes, smoking bans and dwindling tobacco use led the family to sell the stores in 2010-12.
"The tobacco business was on a vertical climb at the time" Cigarettes & More 4 Le$$ was started, David Flaks said. "The manufacturers were behind it and putting a lot of money into marketing and distribution. This was also when cigar smoking had become very popular, so the business just took off."
After Smoker Friendly shut down its operation in the downtown warehouse in 2010, a limited liability company controlled by the Flaks family leased the 25,000-square-foot building to Ross Auction, which operated out of the building until moving to a new location in July on South Academy Boulevard. Ross gave notice in December 2015 of its upcoming move, and a few weeks later, Laurinda Flaks took one of the family's three dogs to a dog day care business that she felt wasn't up to her standards. That experience quickly germinated into what would become BamPaws.
"I decided we could do a better job and David realized the building was still available, so he called his parents asked them how they felt about opening a dog day care and boarding facility there," Laurinda Flaks said. After doing some research in the Scottsdale, Ariz., area near their winter home, Greg Flaks and wife Lesley formed a partnership with David and Laurinda and the four began researching franchise operations (an idea they rejected), attending national conventions and determining whether the downtown building could house such an operation.
David Flaks found that the building had the right zoning and could be renovated to house a pet boarding and day care operation, hired an architect to draw up plans and applied for approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates pet boarding operations. Getting the permits needed to renovate the downtown warehouse proved to be a much bigger challenge. The couple was ready to start construction by early fall to meet their goal of opening in early November in time for customers who planned to board their pets during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
"We had submitted our plans to (the Pikes Peak) Regional Building (Department), but they were deemed incomplete because we had no general contractor and we didn't submit the required code compliance certificate from our architect. These were both expensive life lessons," David Flaks said. "It was an expensive education for us, not so much in what we had to spend but in the revenue we lost by not opening when we planned. We finally hired Hammers Construction, and we were underway by early January and able to open on March 22 right after we passed our last inspection" from the building department.
"We're both accountants, so we had to learn what gray areas are because in our profession we are not used to having any gray areas. It was all very black and white with everything balancing at the end of the day," David Flaks said. "We were used to deadlines having meaning. We learned that in the construction industry, deadlines have no meaning."
David Flaks said opening was a "big relief" for the couple, but the business has been slow to develop in the month it has been open - just five dogs that have been boarded and 10 that have used the day care services - far below what the four partners had anticipated in their business plan, likely the result of not being able to advertise or market the business until it opened. He has high hopes customers will soon begin using BamPaws once the business becomes better known, and he plans to add training and other services this year to attract more potential clients.
Laurinda Flaks said starting a new business has been anything but easy.
"If it was easy, everybody would be doing it," she said.
Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234