Move over, Air Bud. One small business owner has a real underdog story.
She shoots! She scores! She barks?
For nearly a decade, Soccer Collies has been entertaining
audiences with nose-dribbling, soccer-playing dogs.
Founder and owner Mark Lukas was in his late thirties when
he first saw a dog maneuver a soccer ball with the precision of a professional
player. But it was a series of life-changing events in 2002—the death of his
son and a failed marriage—that laid the foundation for a small business.
In July 2004, Lukas adopted a border collie puppy, Ms. Z,
named after his late son Zak. She viewed every human as the perfect playmate,
and Lukas trained her to play soccer at home. Offense was Ms. Z’s strength. Soon
Lukas, who had owned an exterior cleaning company for 20 years, took the dog on
the road, showing off her skills to audiences at local fairs, half-time shows
and other community events.
What the Small
For six years, Lukas took Ms. Z and his other dogs (at one
point he had 10) to various venues in California for performances. Soccer
Collies gained notoriety among dog and soccer lovers with appearances at
professional soccer games in Los Angeles.
But a move to Florida in December 2010 to be closer to his
daughter dampened Lukas’ hope for the concept to go viral. The number of shows
dwindled. “There's more events and more of a demand for this form of
entertainment in Southern California than there is in Central Florida,” he
says. The business that was profitable and financially supported
Lukas for the last three years hit a rough patch. Then Ms. Z died.
Although Lukas put eight of his dogs up for adoption, he still
has one dog, BEK, who continues to work at the occasional fair, testing his
goal-scoring skills against human competitors. But recently Lukas has reshaped
the vision for his small business, as he no longer wants to be a purely
entertainment company. With renewed energy, his new goal is to repurpose the
business into one that helps “match potential soccer-playing rescue dogs with
the perfect soccer-loving family with children under 12 years old,” he says.
“I’m moving toward a soccer-dog adoption program,” Lukas says.
“I contact the local dog rescue and ask them to bring ball-motivated dogs to
the events we do.”
When families inevitably ask how they can adopt a pet like BEK,
Lukas directs them to the adoption-ready, soccer-playing dogs.
Weird Small Business
Lukas may be Soccer Collies biggest critic, noting that he
gets discouraged at times that the business hasn’t caught on as quickly as he
Nonetheless, “I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” he says.
“You just put one foot in front of the other and keep going.”