With its self-service wash tubs, professional pedicures and custom grooming, Bark ‘N Paws is a one-stop shop for prettying up your pet.
Ever wonder what it takes to open a business? So You Want to Start profiles businesses and poses that very question.
Chris and Patti Deen spent 30+ years working for large companies in corporate sales and customer service. They chunked it all, moved from Richmond, Va., to Fayetteville and dipped into their 401ks to open Bark ‘N Paws in 2013. It wasn’t a rash move by a couple of wide-eyed neophytes who always dreamed of being their own bosses. They spent years researching the business and studying the market, even going to the trouble of interning with successful dog groomers in Virginia. They did their homework, put together a business plan and then did a 180 when the market told them otherwise. As Patti put it, “You have to pivot to what the market wants.”
Bark ’N Paws owners Chris and Patti Deen with their Boston Terriers Shomee and Sundae.
Q. What were your day jobs before opening this business?
Patti: Majority of my work was in sales and customer service for large companies, including National Car Rental and American Express. My undergraduate degree is in English and my master’s is in journalism, both from the University of Tulsa. Chris is a UofA graduate with a degree in agriculture, (laughing) which in this business relates to everything that drops on the floor!
Q. How many people work here?
Patti: Eleven, counting ourselves. That includes four groomers and some part-time students.
Q. How did you finance your business?
Patti: No bank owns us. We financed this from my savings.
Q. Why Fayetteville and why this business?
Patti: We moved here because Chris wanted to come home and we saw an opportunity with this business. Chris’ family lives here and we visited on a regular basis, so we were familiar with Fayetteville.
What we found here was one of the most dog-friendly places in America and there was no way for people to wash their dogs. We researched this business for four to five years by visiting 20 pet washes across the country, and Chris and I both did internships with pet groomers in Virginia. They freely shared their tips as we signed non-compete clauses and paid them consulting fees. When you’re financing your own business, you better do your homework.
Q. Is this your first business?
Patti: First time to own our own business and first time we worked in retail. Chris’ background is in sales—he spent 35 years working in the textile industry—and my background in customer service, so we know how to sell a service and take care of the customer.
Q. Any surprises once you opened Bark ‘N Paws?
Patti: We made an enormous adjustment in our business plan in the first six months. We thought most of our business would come from customers washing their own pets—and that’s a big part of the business—but we didn’t anticipate the demand for grooming. We started with one groomer working half days. Now we’re up to four full-time groomers and we groom around 35 dogs a day, six days a week.
Q. What’s unique about Bark ‘N Paws?
Patti: We’re open on weekends for one. Our busiest days are Friday through Sunday. I don’t think any of our competition is open on weekends. We offer a dog-washing service that’s not tied to grooming. Our competitors will wash dogs but only if they’re in to be groomed. We do a lot of nail trimming. Lots of customers bring their dogs in just for that service. With most dog groomers, you drop your pet off in the morning and pick them up on the way home from work. We require customers to pick their dogs up on three-hour cycles. It’s less stress on the pets since they’re not spending the day in a crate. Our workers are not 1099-ers (freelancers) but actual employees, and most have been with us for three years. That’s how we think people should be treated. And we buy local whenever we can. I released a company we hired to do social media after they mislead us about the work being done by out-of-state vendors.
Q. How do you get the word out?
Patti: In the first year we committed a hefty percentage of our budget to advertising, everything from radio and print to sponsoring a dog day at a Naturals game. Repeat business, word-of-mouth and Facebook drive most of our traffic today. I knew nothing about Facebook marketing before opening this business, now we have 4,000 followers. I love the process of analyzing the effectiveness of campaigns, and I measure it almost weekly.
Q. Every business has a down side. What’s yours?
Patti: Long hours. We’re open 10 hours a day Tuesday through Friday and nine hours on the weekends. That’s what the market demands.
Q. What’s the biggest upside?
Patti: The incredible dog-loving customers and their dogs. It’s a happy place. We laugh all day…at the dogs and at each other.
Q. Any advice to others thinking of opening a business similar to Bark ‘N Paws?
Patti: Start with deep pockets. Our plan was to survive for a year-and-a-half without taking salaries or money out of the business. No matter how hard you think it is or how long you think you’ll have to work, multiply it times two. Never give up; there’s always a way to make it work. You’ve got to have the constitution and the checkbook. And you have to pivot to what the market wants. You can’t be rigid.
And my advice to anyone starting a business is service, service, service. Start a business that provides a service. Amazon can’t change a tire yet; Amazon can’t wash a dog.