Veteran Entrepreneurs: Lila Tenissen And Michelle Thomsen, Owners Of Bed N Biscuit Ranch

Written by: Brady Drake

Lila Teunissen and Michelle Thomsen are both Bismarck natives and are co-owners of Bed N Biscuit Ranch, a dog training facility, daycare and boarding facility. They also board and groom cats. Both have a strong love of animals and served their county.

Lila joined the Army right after graduating high school and got her animal fix by pet sitting for friends as often as possible. A good friend, Jen, really got her thinking about dog training and boarding when she introduced Lila to her well-trained and gregarious Jack Russel Terrier. Over the years she has owned five dogs and has wanted to open a training facility. She felt her dream could become a reality when she met Michelle Thomsen, who was of a similar mindset.

They both volunteer with the Central Dakota Humane Society and Furry Friends Rockin Rescue and are passionate about their own fur babies. After many discussions and soul searching, they found a great property and launched their new venture: Bed N Biscuit Ranch in November of 2018. They managed to open even though Lila’s mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed away a week before the grand opening and Michelle gave birth to her first child just three months before opening!

Lila has served in the North Dakota National Guard as a medic, active duty Army as a linguist and Medical Service Corps officer, and transitioned back to the North Dakota National Guard where she has served as a Medical Operations Officer, Deputy Director of Personnel and Commander of the Civil Support Team. She has completed her AA
in Arabic, BS in Microbiology, and MBA. The military has allowed her to travel to almost every state in the US as well as South Korea, Europe, Iraq and Ghana. Lila retired in July 2020 with over 23 years of service and is now working at Bed N Biscuit Ranch full time as a Certified Professional Trainer for dogs.

As a child, there was always a family dog in Thomsen’s house.

Michelle graduated from North Dakota State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with an emphasis in Criminal Justice in December 2002. In February 2003, she deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom I with the 957 Multi-Role Bridge Company. In 2005 Michelle purchased her first home and her military career was not conducive to her having a dog. She traveled often and sometimes for months at a time.

In August 2008, Michelle entered the University of North Dakota School of Law. She completed her first year then went to training to be a Military Intelligence Officer and deployed to Kosovo in support of Kosovo Forces 12.

In December of 2011, Michelle graduated from the University of North Dakota with a Juris Doctorate.

What was your first job once you finished your service?

Michelle is still serving full-time in the North Dakota National Guard and Lila is now working full-time as a Certified Professional Trainer for dogs at Bed N Biscuit Ranch.

What led you to military service?

Lila: I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up and the military seemed like a great opportunity to try out some different career options, travel to different places and potentially get my higher education paid for or at least mostly paid for. I have been a linguist, a medic, a clinical support director, worked in human resources and commanded a hazardous materials team and left the service with an MBA. I’ve also been stationed throughout the U.S. as well as South Korea, Iraq, and was able to work on projects in Ghana.

Michelle: I initially enlisted for the tuition assistance that allowed me to earn a law degree. I have continued to serve for over 20 years. I have a great sense of pride in being able to serve our local community and nation. It’s great to see what can be done when dedicated people come together as a team. The National Guard taught me how rewarding servant leadership and volunteering can be, and the effects of being a small part of a huge team.

Did you take advantage of military benefits when starting your business?

Michelle: Yes, Lila attended the Boots to Business course that is offered through the Transition Assistance Program and was linked to the Veteran’s Business Outreach Center

as well. They provided help with business planning, marketing, and helped find free places to advertise our services and helped us optimize our Google account. These helped us expand our audience and customer base with very inexpensive advertising, optimized word of mouth, and improved where we showed up in online searches.

What skill that you learned in your military service do you use most in your business career?

Lila: The military really teaches you to work with an 80 percent plan. If you wait for the 100 percent solution, the opportunity will have passed you by which translates very well into business. You have to be able to step into the unknown and work things out as they come. It also teaches you to think outside the box, recognize your weakness and use any and all resources available to you to overcome those weaknesses. We each bring very different perspectives to the business. Lila is more of a big idea, strategic thinker while Michelle is very much about the bottom line and what has to be done today. It has been a great balance that is working very well so far.

Would you have been able to start a business without your military experience? Why or why not?

Lila: I believe we could have started a business without military service but it would have likely been much more stressful. The Boots to Business and Veteran’s Business Outreach Center really did provide a solid planning base for us and gave us good frameworks for making early decisions. I don’t know that Michelle and I would have developed the same skill sets that we have now if it weren’t for our service. Those skills and experiences really prepared us to be ok with the unknown and able to reach out for help when we needed it. It taught us to be flexible on what the path would be to get the doors open and to look at all options along the way. I feel Michelle and I are smart and stubborn enough we could have done it on our own, but without the military, we wouldn’t have met and the idea would never have been formed. So we definitely have the military to thank for bringing us together to create Bed N Biscuit Ranch.

What words of encouragement do you have for a fellow veteran nervous about taking the plunge into entrepreneurship – or maybe a veteran who started a business and is struggling?

Have your personal finances in order and know what you are able to risk financially. Once you do that, there are many resources and people that are willing to help you out. Attend the Transition Assistance Program and take the entrepreneurship add-on.
Once you have a base plan, attend trade shows or conferences to learn as much as possible about the venture you are looking into. People, especially those outside of your competitive market, are usually more than happy to give advice on what works and what doesn’t. Most importantly, estimate start-up costs. Conferences will show you the latest and greatest items and ideas that are in your market. If possible, contact and visit a similar business outside your area or in your area if you can find someone local to help you. The Small Business Administration has many tools as well.

Many veterans struggle with finding a sense of purpose when reintegrating into the civilian world. How can getting involved in the business community help with that reintegration process?

Lila: I felt very disoriented as I transitioned out of the military and I knew I would be training dogs at Bed N Biscuit Ranch! Even if you have a plan, there is a certain level of routine and security that is removed and it is hard to adjust to civilian life. You have to pick out clothes each day, paychecks are more variable, you likely don’t have the long history with your new co-workers that you did while you were serving. All of these things add small amounts of stress that can really add up. Going into business for yourself can help develop a sense of purpose and give a very clear goal of where you are heading which helps orient you as you come out of uniform. Once the business is up and running, you inevitably connect, not only to your customers but to others in the community that can develop into mutually beneficial relationships. Our connection to Furry Friends Rockin Rescue and Central Dakota Humane Society has grown over time and we plan to continue to develop relationships with other organizations over time as well.

What are some things you would’ve done differently with your business career if given a second chance?

We’ve been open for just over two years so there aren’t many things that we would have done differently at this point. If we had had more capital, we should have created a larger facility but we worked with what we had. We started the business discussing how to overcome partner disputes and if worse came to worse how to dissolve the business, so I feel we really went into this prepared for all contingencies except COVID. COVID really challenged us to grow our training and grooming operations to keep our doors open and has actually been a blessing in disguise. Boarding had been the main income source but now all three operations (boarding, grooming, and training) are operating at full capacity and are doing very well. I don’t know that grooming and training would have taken off as fast if our boarding revenue hadn’t dried up and we
had no choice but to really expand those two.

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.