Groomed for growth

Dog-grooming startup increased business tenfold, only to be shut down by COVID-19.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Serenity Pet Salon & Spa is a dog-only grooming startup owned by Lis De Souza. Until forced to close in March, the business was gaining clients every year.

Since the COVID-19 lockout, the company’s grooming wait list has ballooned to 700 names.

De Souza launched the business nearly five years ago. At last count, it was handling about 1,200 clients at its Odana Road location and another 1,000 at its two-year-old shop on Eastpark Boulevard.

Business has increased tenfold since launching. In 2019, the company “cleared” $500,000, she reports.

In March, when it became clear that the business could be forced to shut down due to COVID-19 precautions, De Souza directed staff to call in as many scheduled clients as possible. In one weekend, they worked 12-hour days and groomed a week’s worth of dogs.

That foresight covered April’s rent.

De Souza missed out on round one of the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program but had better luck in round two. In the meantime, she estimates 450 clients missed their scheduled grooming appointments at an average ticket price of $80 or more. Another 200 appointments may have been missed.

“You can’t run a half-million-dollar-a-year business if you don’t have time to put into the business.”
— Lis De Souza

Somewhat complicating matters, De Souza moved to New Jersey last fall to live full-time with her husband and their 11 — yes, 11 — dogs and two cats.

The arrangement works, she says, because of her management team. “Driving once a month from New Jersey to handle my VIP clients for a week or so is no big deal,” she insists. Normally she’d fly but she believes the risks are too great right now.

Of eight total employees, three, including De Souza, 34, are certified master groomers. Managers and certified apprentices receive a guaranteed salary plus commission. “A lot of people look at [groomers] as service providers, but we should be much more valued,” she insists. “Usually we see dogs more often than veterinarians and we’ve saved some lives because we catch things that may need attention.”

Wisconsin is one of many states that does not require any formal training to be a groomer. “Anyone can pick up a pair of scissors and call themselves a groomer,” De Souza laments. That’s why she encourages her staff to raise their game through grooming competitions, seminars, and continuing education, and they have plenty of awards and trophies as a result.

Being away from the business has actually helped, she notes. “I was working every day just grooming dogs. You can’t run a half-million-dollar-a-year business if you don’t have time to put into the business. This actually gives me time to think. I can communicate with clients, be active on Facebook, and handle marketing.”

With Gov. Tony Evers easing restrictions on pet groomers, obvious changes will be required, and managers are busy preparing the shop for required social distancing.

The Odana Road location will reopen first, and she’ll be the sole groomer for a while. She can’t wait. “I’ve been gone since March and I miss my business!”

She has no intention of selling.

De Souza understands why businesses were shut down for the pandemic, but in hindsight she believes things could have been handled differently.

“We’re all learning here, but I don’t think closing businesses has done any good. They could have forced me to close for a week to install proper protocols and I’d be good to go. Now we have a backlog of 700 clients.”

Serenity Pet Salon & Spa
6039 Odana Road/5550 Eastpark Blvd.

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