Fidelity P.O.W.E.R.

Fidelity P.O.W.E.R.

The Happiness Journey that Lead To Doggie Day Care: Entrepreneur Courtney McWilliams on the Founding of MaryMac’s Doggie Retreat


What’s Your P.O.W.E.R. Move?

“I’m an extremely shy person, so if I have to make a major decision, if I have to go network, if I have to do anything that’s deemed “powerful”, I have to listen to an hour of trap music to buck myself up. I have created an alter-ego, a stage persona, and use that to do what I have to do. Because traditional Courtney is too shy, too afraid, too scared to do it.”

What’s your P.O.W.E.R.ful Advice?

“My advice to readers is to get a notebook, write down your goals and your dreams, and take action. Have daily and weekly goals that get you to your major goals. I don’t believe in “no”, I believe in “maybe not right now”, and I see no competition— I’m my biggest competition. I’m very strong in my belief, and I believe in meditation, in writing what I want down, meditating on it, and expecting it to come to me. And get a vision board!

Courtney McWilliamsDuring her interview for this blog, Courtney McWilliams, owner of MaryMac’s Doggie Retreat, smiled as she talked about her personal and professional history. She chatted with a joyful candor about her entrepreneurial journey, so it was surprising when, shortly after declaring “my MaryMac’s playlist is legit going to make you smile,” she  shared that “my story is not as bright as everybody else’s ‘road to entrepreneurship’ story. For me, the story, it’s a little bit dark.”

For Courtney, the story began in childhood when she observed her mother, a social worker, giving so much of herself to her clients. “I never wanted to be a social worker because I saw the burden my mom carried. The burden of everyone else’s burdens. She was unable to enjoy the things she could have enjoyed because she was too busy giving herself to other people,” Courtney recalls. Even as a child, Courtney was wise enough to recognize the emotional toll this took on her mom, viewing it as a cautionary tale: “I never wanted to do that.”

Terrible circumstances intervened, forcing Courtney to follow in her mother’s footsteps despite her lack of interest in the field of social work and her own ambitions, which were to become a prosecutor. “I only became a social worker because my mother passed on when I was 21, leaving me to raise my younger brother ,who had just turned 12, and my youngest sister, who was 19. And I became a social worker because that’s what I was expected to do.”

Though it was not her passion, Courtney’s career as a social worker lasted 11 years, even overlapping with her career as an entrepreneur. MaryMac’s opened on October 21, 2019 and Courtney’s official last day as a social worker was January 22, 2021. For over a year, Courtney managed to both put in the time and energy required to make MaryMac’s a success while continuing to work part-time as a social worker.

Readers, you’re no doubt aware that this period of time was also when the COVID-19 pandemic brought many businesses around the world to a screeching halt. Not MaryMac’s. “I never closed. My groomer quit, then my neighbor asked me if I would groom her dog. I told her ‘Yes, I don’t know how to groom a dog, but I can guarantee a clean-smelling dog and a flea-less dog.’ I started running quarantine specials called ‘Quarantine and Chill’ and I was sending out information to people’s DM boxes that we had a grooming special for $50, that’s what taught me how to groom. I flipped from doggie daycare to a grooming salon, but grooming has kept MaryMac’s open.”

It wasn’t easy. “I ran MaryMac’s by myself until January of this year. So I was working 6-7 days a week. That’s when I changed my hours.” It was an intense and exhausting time, but it was worth it. Working by herself during lockdown, Courtney made six figures. The money she saved working alone during those laborious months enabled her to invest in continuing to grow the business. She says, “I now have a part-time staff, and I just hired somebody full-time. I have a marketing team and a Google team. So, me working by myself and not having to pay anybody allowed me the opportunity to do everything I’m doing now—  I was able to make six figures by myself. And if I did that by myself, what could I do with a team?”

Before opening MaryMac’s Doggie Retreat, Courtney put a lot of careful thought into what would differentiate her business from competitors. She drew on her own experience as a paw-rent of a dog with anxiety and researched the current local landscape of potential clients and competitors. She attended a dog care conference where she was the only black woman in attendance. She sought support from a business coach named Gentry Bronson, as well as guidance from a consultancy, the Dog Gurus, who works exclusively with pet care businesses.

Courtney decided to combine her love of dogs, her compassionate nature, and the most fulfilling aspects of her social work days by opening a doggie daycare catering to the needs of anxious dogs by providing more customized, individual care and attention than a standard doggie daycare. Also benefiting from the specialized services are doggie pawrents wanting to make sure their fur babies feel safe and comfortable. Accordingly, when you look at the website for MaryMac’s Doggie Retreat, you’ll see Courtney promises to provide “…A peace of mind for dog owners when leaving their dogs in our care, especially if their dog is anxious; safety for all dogs in our care, ” plus plenty of fun!

Speaking of fun, happiness was something Courtney spent a lot of time thinking about prior to opening MaryMac’s. She knew she wanted to make a career change and was determined to move away from the pain of carrying other peoples’ burdens and the frustration of trying to help people who didn’t want to be helped. Thus, Courtney emBARKed upon a personal journey to find out what makes her happy, and then to make plenty of room for those things across all aspects of her life.

“I went on this whole self-discovery journey of what happiness meant,” Courtney recalls. “That journey was really tough, because I didn’t know what happiness meant for myself, and neither did anybody around me.” Emotionally exhausted from dealing with other peoples’ problems all day, and frustrated by having to work two jobs to make ends meet (despite having two Master’s degrees) Courtney sought a more satisfying path by venturing outside her comfort zone.

One clue that pointed her in the right direction appeared while working as a social worker at a substance abuse clinic run by her aunt. As luck would have it, she found herself with the opportunity to offer each client the chance to foster a puppy. From lifelong first-hand experience, Courtney knew just how therapeutic it can be to interact and bond with a dog and believed fostering a puppy could be uniquely beneficial to clients at this clinic. She was right: the puppy foster parents “had the lowest rate of relapse in the state. Because the dogs loved them unconditionally. The dog was going to be there with them through thick and thin. The dog was not going to turn their back on them when their families turned their backs, their friends turned their backs, and the state removed their kids. Their dog was still there. That dog gave them hope. So that’s when I realized that dogs can alter human behavior.”

As part of her journey, Courtney prioritized meeting new people and trying new things. “I sat on Facebook every Sunday and would find events or activities that I was interested in, and go to them solo-dolo, and that’s how I met new people.” One of the people she met was a digital nomad—a person who can work from anywhere in the world with a Wi-Fi connection. Through meeting this person, Courtney developed an appreciation for the ability to control when she worked, whether from an office, from home, or “from a beach in Tahiti.” In pursuit of her goal of happiness, Courtney made a commitment to herself to travel every three months, a commitment she’s honored (with some pandemic-related adjustments) by scheduling time off to see the world, even if it meant closing up shop for a few days. Now, MaryMac’s has the resources required to remain open even if she’s taking a day off, Courtney is able to enjoy her time away without worrying that her clients (which went from three to 700 during the pandemic!) will be missing out on opportunities to play.

Though Courtney’s entrepreneurship story certainly does have dark elements, it also has plenty of sunshine to inspire us all. Many of us can relate to Courtney’s need to get pumped up before a big business event— we’ve all had moments where we’ve struggled to put our game face on, so Courtney has kindly shared with us one of the playlists she uses when she needs to get hyped to take on the world. You can find it here. If you’re already feeling good and want to experience the positive energy that the lucky dogs at MaryMac’s enjoy all day, you can also check out Courtney’s Spring Vibes playlist here. Perhaps the combination of and joyful music will help us all rise to meet whatever challenges life throws at us while helping us make progress on our own happiness journeys.

Courtney McWilliams is a proud member of Fidelity Bank’s P.O.W.E.R. program for women in business. Learn more about Fidelity Bank and the P.O.W.E.R. program or email Director of P.O.W.E.R. Liz Broekman for more information.

Learn more about MaryMac’s:

MaryMac’s Doggie Retreat
1470 Annunciation St, Ste 3105
New Orleans, LA 70130