LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Academically gifted teenage sisters from Lakewood Ranch have proven they also have a talent for business.
Nelly and Gracey Wilson are partners of a home-based dog- and cat-sitting company called Critter Sitters launched two years ago from their parents' home in Esplanade at Lakewood Ranch.
The entrepreneurial venture is fast becoming the talk of the golf and country club community,
Although the sisters are on fast tracks in school, which requires a lot of studying, like typical teenagers they earn spending money and save for college. Rather than work for minimum wage, they decided to become their own bosses.
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Nelly, 18, was recently presented the Outstanding Graduate Award at State College of Florida Collegiate School, where she graduated with a high school diploma and an associate's degree. She will enter the University of Florida this fall.
Gracey, 16, continues her studies at SCFCS for another two years.
After realizing babysitting wasn't an option because their community has mostly older residents, the sisters turned to another option -- caring for people's pets. Mom, Annie Wilson, came up with the catchy company title.
"Most of the work that we do is with dogs and cats. With cats, we do the feeding, water, litter box, and we'll give
the cats some play time and come back the next day. With dogs, we'll come back several times a day for a walk, depending on whatever the clients are looking for," Nelly said.
They have 35 clients who use the basic services, which includes a free initial consultation.
Prices vary according to the services provided based on the customer's individual needs and where they live in Lakewood Ranch. A basic sitting fee starts around $15.
Critter Sitters gives each client a detailed, daily log of activities and feeding schedules so they know what the company is charging for its services.
They've been so successful, they have had to hire help, bringing in Tami Caruso, a neighbor who has been part of the Critter Sitters team for more than a year.
"We split the duties depending on our schedules and how busy we are. That's the reason we've had to bring on Tami, because we can't handle all the duties that we have now," Nelly said.
The sisters said they are profitable and satisfied with the size of their business. They keep individual spreadsheets to gauge the amount of money they're saving, and spend little on overhead. Marketing consists of free advertising on the Esplanade community website and word-of-mouth referrals.
"They're getting close to a tipping point and now they'll have to decide if they want to take it to the next level," Annie Wilson said. "If they do, the structure of the company will have to be set up very differently. But, my hope is that after they get an education and work for themselves, they come back full circle and work together."
As for maintaining high academic standards and enjoying life outside school while running an entrepreneurial business, Nelly said it's a combination of practice and time management.
"It's a challenge to merge time but we are students first and the business is our second priority."
"What amazing young women they are," said Esplanade resident Cindy Seager, who met the girls two years ago and asked them to look after her cat, Whiskers, while she and her husband, Don, went out of town.
"They're very thorough, very mature and so kind hearted. They left us a detailed log of what they did and Whiskers was so comfortable with them," Seager said, proud to be the first Critter Sitters client. "Everyone you talk to here has had tremendous experience with them."
Critter Sitters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.