Celebrating National Pet Month with CEPA Erin Fenstermaker
Pet lover and Marketing Coordinator, Colleen Kowalski, interviews Erin Fenstermaker, a CEPA who specializes in the pet industry and helps entrepreneurs de-risk their businesses.
May is National Pet Month, but speaking as a person who has an Instagram account for their dog, owns numerous dog-related articles of clothing, and has conversations with their dog on a regular basis – I would have to say that National Pet Month is 11 months shorter than it should be. I spoke with Erin Fenstermaker, a CEPA whose love for animals is so deep that she has made an entire career out of it. Erin is the Owner and Principal of EF Consulting, an Exit Planner at boutique investment bank, Birdseye Advisory Group, and just so happens to be a certified Dog Trainer.
Why the Pet Industry?
Erin began her career in the wireless technology industry but realized that she lacked passion for the field. In 2004, she quit her job to travel the world for six months. Erin noticed that two thirds of the locations on her “must see” list included an animal she was interested in seeing. She says, “during that time I realized that my love for animals should be turned into a career. So, working in the pet industry became my focus once I returned, and I have been involved in it, in one capacity or another, ever since”.
Shortly after she finished her trip, Erin was hired as the Director of Sales and Marketing by Carol Frank, the founder of Avian Adventures—a manufacturer of products for pet parrots. Ten years later, Carol and Erin have teamed up again, at Birdseye Advisory Group. Every aspect of Erin’s career now involves the pet industry. She says, “My consulting work has focused on working with pet industry entrepreneurs; and Birdseye Advisory Group, where I spend the bulk of my time, is the only investment bank that focuses exclusively on the pet industry. I am exactly where I want and should be based on my passions and interests!” As a niche investment bank, Birdseye Advisory Group stands out with the many small business owners and entrepreneurs in the pet industry because of their deep connections and knowledge of the industry. Being in a niche market also allows for deeper client relationships and a close-knit network of industry leaders.
How has becoming a CEPA helped grow your business?
The CEPA credential provides advisors with the knowledge to help owners with their personal, financial, and business planning throughout the exit process. Erin’s colleague Carol heard a CEPA speak at a professional conference and knew that having a CEPA credentialed advisor on her deal team would be a huge advantage when pitching against other investment banks. Erin said, “As the lead investment banker at Birdseye, Carol thought it would be a great differentiator for her to have a CEPA on her team, as we could potentially attract business owners thinking about selling earlier in the process and allow us to have better prepared clients that wanted us to sell their business. And of course, she was right!”
Erin also explained that the CEPA credential gave her extra confidence and credibility with both existing and new clients. The education that is taught during CEPA Masterclass and CEPA Executive Experience classes creates better prepared advisors in the Exit Planning community. Erin highlighted the benefits of CEPA by saying that, “Being better prepared gets you better clients”.
Client Success Stories
Erin works as both a business consultant and an M&A professional for small businesses in every facet of the pet industry. Her first consulting client, the owner of a very large dog walking company, has been with her for eight years. When Erin first took on this client, they were in personal financial straits and needed help growing their business to get out of them. In the past eight years, the business has doubled in size. Erin says, “She and her business have changed in so many positive ways and knowing that I had a small part in that confirms I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing”.
In her work with Birdseye Advisory Group, Erin acts as the Lead Exit Planning Advisor for their clients. One of these clients was looking to sell their company but did not have an organized set of financial records nor the systems in place to properly track financials in the future. While the company’s EBITDA was high, the low structural capital made the business less likely to trade at a premium multiple. The owner’s goal was to sell the company at 10x EBITDA, and through Erin’s help and guidance, they were able to successfully recreate three years of financials and the company did successfully sell at 10x EBITDA.
The Million Dollar Question – Cats or Dogs?
Erin refers to herself as an “equal opportunity animal lover”. Throughout her life she has shown her love for all animals in everything she does. She has volunteered with Sea Otters in Brazil, worked on a Wild Animal Refuge in Namibia, and walked with gorillas in Uganda. Erin served on the board of the Humane Society of Dallas County and has fostered 25 animals – with only one “Foster Fail” in her 12-year-old dog, Peanut. Peanut has two feline siblings – Finn, the “Boss of the Household” and Pippi, an elusive cat that likes to hide rather than be photographed.
Erin says that her love of animals is a major selling point for her firm. The majority of M&A and consulting firms that she competes with work in a variety of industries and therefore do not have the niche experience that Erin and Birdseye Advisory Group have. Erin says, as my 25-pound fluffball of a dog barks at the mail man in the background, that in the pet industry, potential clients are not turned off in the least by cats and dogs joining in on Zoom calls. “You need to have some levity and fun in your career”.
Happy National Pet Month from all of us at EPI. Go give your pets a big hug for us!
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