Entrepreneur Mark Robinson loves what he's doing, whether it's helping handicapped pets or promoting clean energy



Published:

He's come a long way since his first speaking gig more than 30 years ago.Amherst resident Mark Robinson looks back at himself as "a nervous kid." He was barely 23 years old, addressing a roomful of insurance agents at National Grange in Keene. As a salesman for Honeywell Protection Services in Manchester, he thought it'd be a great opportunity to promote the company's burglar and fire alarm systems.It was an awkward, stumbling speech. When Robinson couldn't find his words, he filled in the gaps with lots of 'ummms.' Red-faced and unable to find a rhythm, he broke into a cold sweat. "I was terrified, and when I finished I told myself, 'I need to get good at this.'" And he meant it.He bought a public speaking course on cassette and listened to it at home and in the car. He attended workshops and joined the Keene chapter of Toastmasters International. (Currently a member of the Milford Toastmasters, Robinson recently achieved Competent Communicator status, each new level representing a major milestone for Toastmaster International members.)After his stint with Honeywell, Robinson began his career as a serial entrepreneur. His business ventures included a software publishing company and a computer magazine publishing enterprise in Peterborough. He bought and later sold a magazine. He wrote three books in the 1980s on software programs for business applications.Robinson's success in business grew as he studied the art of effective communication. All these years later, Robinson no longer breaks into a sweat when he faces an audience. He loves talking to people -- one-on-one or to a large audience, a blog post or a full-length book.The guy likes to connect with people, but the Internet gave Robinson what he'd come to crave -- a bigger audience."Everyone has a voice, and as a writer I love the Internet. It's amazing. It allows me to buy words for very little investment. I actually own those words."In fact, he owns approximately 1,000 domain names. Many of them he bought to protect his businesses. When he launches a new business website, he buys all the domain names that are similar, including common misspellings. He doesn't want his potential customers being siphoned off to another site, he says.Some of his domain names are Internet real estate speculation. Robinson brainstorms interesting names, secures the domain, sets up a website to capture traffic and then sells.For example, years ago Robinson bought coolestgadgets.comfor $6. He set up a Web page and started driving traffic to it. Once the number of visitors was impressive enough to warrant attention, Robinson sold the name for $4,500.Meeting a big needOne of his current ventures is handicappedpets.com, for which he owns about 50 domain names including handicappedpets.com. The site gets up to 20,000 visitors a day, and handles about 100 orders daily. And it has a robust Facebook following -- nearly 40,00 fans.This company started from the heart. Robinson had put his beloved dog Mercedes down after the Keeshond began suffering from epilepsy. A friend of his had just built a ramp so his dog could more easily get into and out of the car. It seemed there were handicapped pets everywhere.This new awareness of special needs dogs prompted Robinson to launch a website so pet caregivers could communicate with each other. He also saw a need and a business opportunity -- there are 72 million dogs in the United States. So what started in 2006 as a kind of support group for owners of pets with disabilities now occupies a 5,000-square-foot office and warehouse in Nashua and employs 14 people. Sales top $2 million annually.The company's keystone product is Robinson's own invention, Walkin' Wheels -- a lightweight but sturdy adjustable wheelchair for dogs. Robinson's office walls, hallways and reception area are decorated with photos sent in by happy customers. The photos show dogs of all sizes using the Walkin' Wheels -- dachshunds to mastiffs walking or running in the park. A YouTube video shows a dog walking into the ocean. Once the dog is floating and swimming easily, the owner detaches the wheelchair.Walkin' Wheels is not the first-ever wheelchair for dogs, but it's the first fully adjustable one, and Robinson has the patent. Walkin' Wheels costs between $199 and $499.Robinson also founded the Handicapped Pets Foundation, a 501(C)3 to provide low-cost or free Walkin' Wheels to those who can't afford them. "We want everyone to be able to care for their dog when they need extra help," he says.In addition to Walkin' Wheels, the company sells 200 other items that help pet owners care for their pets. Most of the products are best suited for dogs, though some can be used for cats, and one of the photos at the company's headquarters shows a fawn doing rehab with the aid of Walkin' Wheels.Other popular items include dog boots that protect paws against rough, frozen or hot surfaces; splints, diapers, rear harnesses and pet seat belts. The products have shipped to more than 30 countries.Robinson is a huge proponent of seat belts for dogs and says he believes they will be the norm one day. Big or small, a dog that's not belted into a vehicle will become a projectile upon impact, he argues.The Energy Grid, a Web marketing firm, is Robinson's other main business at the moment. Even before handicappedpets.com, Robinson was touring the country speaking about alternative energy solutions. Safer, cleaner energy has been a passion of his for nearly two decades. The Energy Grid helps those in the alternative energy field market their goods and services on the Internet.Robinson says he's able to run his two businesses and the nonprofit because he's surrounded by talented people. He considers himself lucky, but he's a man who makes his luck."When you align your business with what you care about and believe in, great things happen." After he started handicappedpets.com, he says, "highly motivated, brilliant people just started showing up. They are godsends. I can effectively run three businesses because of the passion and skills my employees bring." Edit ModuleShow Tags