Grooming Good Business: Pet groomers thriving in NNY

SYDNEY SCHAEFER / NNY BUSINESS Wendy Warren, owner of Shaggy Dog Lodge & Day Spa in Watertown, recently began offering house calls in her mobile pet grooming van.

BY: Matthew McClusky 
Humanity over vanity. That’s the motto reverberating practically daily throughout Harbor Paws in Sackets Harbor. Those three words—humanity over vanity—guide owner Kate Johnson, her mother, Therese Johnson, and the rest of the Harbor Paws staff as they all juggle balancing customer’s wants with making sure that the clientele, dogs of all shapes and sizes, is a happy one.

                “We’re constantly dealing with different personalities with the dogs,” said Therese Johnson. “We have to always put their comfort above all.”

                That’s the way it goes in pet care, where groomers must deal with owners and dogs.

                It’s an industry that is growing and thriving throughout the nation and right here in the north country. And, with so much competition, standing out from the rest can potentially be an issue for the separate businesses. That’s why some offer lodging on top of grooming features like fur trims and nail clipping. There’s also the rising trend of mobility, as in taking the grooming facilities out on the road directly to customers and their pets via fully-equipped vans. One could say it’s dog-eat-dog in the pet-care world.

Rise in pet-care services

                A simple Google search shows there are close to 20 dog-grooming facilities within a 15-mile radius of Watertown, a total that doesn’t even count the numerous groomers who do the work as a hobby and as a secondary source of income.

                For Joan Papp, owner of Pampered Pooch in Watertown, competition certainly wasn’t an issue when she opened her business 23 years ago. She says there is more competition in her field now than ever, but explained that several changes in population caused the “demand to grow,” requiring her to adapt on the fly.

                Making sure her two and four-legged customers are always satisfied means being flexible when it comes to punching the time clock. That’s why she will sometimes be at the facility on a random Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon to accommodate a customer who can’t come to her during the usual workweek hours, or she will even stay open later than normal to work around both people’s schedules and dog’s preferences.

                “We work with the situation,” said Papp. “There might be a dog that isn’t as agreeable; you just take everything into consideration.”

Designer Dogs in demand

                The designer dog industry is defined as a cross between two purebred dogs. A purebred dog is one that has been bred over many generations to breed true, meaning each puppy that is born looks and has the same characteristics as the others. And, in the north country there seems to be one designer breed that is a favorite among residents. 

                “The doodle really took off,” said Johnson. She continued that the doodle is a breed that they have seen frequently at Harbor Paws over the past several years of being in business.

                Goldendoodles, which is typically a mix of golden retriever and poodle, and labradoodles, usually having ties to the labrador retriever and poodle, are cross-breeds that have been around for a long time but have seen a spike in numbers in recent years. One potential reason for that is because they’re a type of dog viewed as hypoallergenic, although there is varying documentation on whether that claim is true. However, there is seemingly one concrete trait on the doodles.

                “Most of those types of breeds shed less than other more traditional dogs,” said Johnson.

                That’s a plus for pet owners looking to give their vacuums at home a bit of rest, but the doodles often need to be groomed much more frequently. As in once every six to eight weeks, if not sooner, according to Harbor Paws staff.

                Johnson says the doodle fur tends to grow at a more rapid pace and that can cause it to get tangled or develop mats. The doodle breed is one of the many reasons why Harbor Paws has stayed so occupied.

                Dealing with the evolving world of dog breeds has its issues, like learning the types of blades to use when cutting. Johnson considers pet grooming to be similar to being a blacksmith or another highly trained worker.

                “We’re in a skilled trade. You have to learn it and try to perfect it to make sure you’re doing the job properly,” said Johnson. 

Mobility in pet care

                In operation since 1997, Shaggy Dog Lodge & Day Spa in Brownville just recently added a different dimension to its grooming and bordering services. Owner Wendy Warren “tapped into a new clientele,” she said, with her mobile grooming van.

                Warren first started using the van back in January and in just over three months has already had success.

                “For individuals who can’t come to us, we can now go to them,” said Warren. She continued that the mobile van eliminates the stress of customers trying to get to the Shaggy Dog’s main location. Furthermore, it can help with dogs that might be a little shy or even skittish around other animals.

                “It’s perfect for dogs with behavioral issues like having trouble around other dogs,” said Warren. “Or for senior dogs who can’t move well.”

                The Shaggy Dog grooming van has been on the move, going as far away as Carthage, a trip that can take up to 40 minutes. Despite the travel time, Warren says her new capability is an extension of what she has done for over two decades. “We provide good customer service,” said Warren, and her passion for her work is clear when she talks about not only pets, but animals as a whole. With the need for pet groomers growing, the evolution of taking the facility on the road is likely only going to become more standard.

Got your goat?

                It might be called the Shaggy Dog Lodge & Day Spa, but Warren’s grooming shop has some other furry friends on the premises: goats.

                “Kids get to hold the baby goats, and get to take pictures with them,” said Warren.

                They’re not just there as an attraction, though. Warren and her family use the goat’s milk to make soap that is then used in the grooming process on the dogs.

                “It’s all natural and it’s safer than some of the other get grooming products,” said Warren.

                Warren and her family initially bought goats for their milk. But, when her daughter had dietary issues the goat’s milk was something she could tolerate. It wasn’t until a friend suggested that Warren start to learn how to make soap that the idea for the product began. According to Warren, since she started using the all-natural suds, dog’s coats have a cleaner look. On top of that, she claims that some dogs that were experiencing fur loss have even had it start growing again.

                “It’s all healthy and it’s a little bit different than what everyone else does,” said Warren.

DYI dog care

                For anyone who is too busy to go to the groomers and, just the same, too busy for the groomer to come to them, there is yet another option. All you need is $10 and ten minutes.

                Tiny Bubbles Car and Dog Wash on Bradley street in Watertown may have left some people scratching their heads. Even Jake Doldo, 22, thought his father Anthony was “crazy” when the idea of the business was first kicked around. Reviewing carwash blueprints for what would be a new venture next to the family’s General Store, Anthony first saw the car and dog combo. After a tour of one such facility near Tupper Lake, Mr. Doldo knew he was on to something, and decided the dog wash had to be included in the construction of the building.

                Three years after its opening, Tiny Bubbles Car and Dog Wash has been a big hit according to Jake, who works for his family’s operations.

                “We’re usually pretty busy, especially in the spring and in the fall,” said Jake. The pet wash offers owners a chance to scrub their dogs and cats inside stand-up tubs, with an assortment of shampoo, conditioners, tick treatments and a de-skunking soap all at their disposal, all with a slightly heated water rinse to ensure comfort of your pet. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s much like a self-serve carwash having a variety of cleaning options.

                “People might have wondered about it in the beginning, but now most people seem to be pretty happy to have the easy option of a dog wash,” said Doldo.