The idea for Keith and Patrycia’s business was born out of annoyance with a frequent chore. Every time they had to bathe and brush their Bernese Mountain Dog, Roxy, they were left with mess and fur all over their house.
So they opened Bubbly Paws, a place where frustrated dog owners like them could wash their dogs without having to worry about the mess. Since opening in 2011, Bubbly Paws — a self-service dog wash and grooming salon — has expanded to three locations in Minneapolis, plus an online shop.
In January, Bubbly Paws took over our Instagram account for the day to show us just what it’s like to run a self-service dog wash and grooming business (spoiler alert: there are a lot of cute dogs).
People seemed to love the sneak peek into their business, so we reached out to Keith to talk a little more about the challenges of running three stores, the habits that have made Bubbly Paws successful, and the best advice they have for other small business owners.
Square: What is the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?
Keith: You know, a lot of it really depends on what’s going on. I normally walk into one of the stores around 9:30 a.m. And by that time, some of our groomers have already been there for two hours grooming dogs. So sometimes we deal with issues they might be having or with stuff that might have happened the night before.
And then we get the store ready for the day. We see the customer comments and complaints that have come in overnight. One of the things that we use is the feedback on the receipts. My wife and I actually go through each one of them personally and read and respond to it, whether it’s good or bad.
Bubbly Paws Instagram Stories during its takeover
Square: You have three locations, how do you balance that on a day-to-day basis?
Keith: We put ourselves on the schedule and work a front-desk shift at least four days a week, which I think helps keep us grounded. I think each of the locations is so unique and the customers are so different at each place, that it helps when we do our marketing [to be in the store]. Or if there is a complaint, we get to know the [customers], we get to know what’s going on. So we really try to be involved with each [location].
When I think of how many times people have just said something in passing like, “Hey, you know what? I wish you guys had this.” And then we start talking about it, “Why don’t we have that?” One lady was like, “I really wish I could buy the shampoo that you guys use.” So then next week, guess what? We’re selling the shampoo.
Square: What do you look forward to doing every day?
Keith: Honestly, the fun part is dealing with the dogs. Really getting to know them. You see some dogs that come in for grooming that are just so excited to come in. I’d say that’s probably a third of the dogs.
And then educating new dog owners — here’s the way that you should be brushing the dog, here’s how we can help save you money on grooming down the line, and just helping them whether it’s stuff related to our business or not.
Square: What is your least favorite task to get through every day?
Keith: You know, I think the least favorite [task] would probably be bookkeeping. I don’t think anybody really loves doing that. We use QuickBooks and try to make sure everything is in the right order for our accountant. I try to keep on top of the mess and do it every day so I’m not sitting at the end of the month trying to catch up.
The other thing is dealing with negative feedback that comes in. Nobody wants to hear anything bad about your business — we’re in customer service. I would say 99% of the people are always happy, but you’re always going to have that [small percentage of people] where something went wrong or we screwed up. And you don’t want to any [of it] to be negative, but seeing it makes you stronger … how you handle that mistake is what matters.
Square: What still surprises you about running your own business?
Keith: You know, I think the fact that you’re expected to know everything when you don’t always know everything. You’re supposed to have every answer to every situation at any time, and just be an expert on that. And I think that it’s the hardest thing to get ready for.
Square: What daily habits have made your business successful?
Keith: It’s not even really related to the dog wash. I do CrossFit every morning at 6:30. I think … it’s helped me de-stress from the business. It’s time just to get away and not think about [the business], which, in a roundabout way, helps you grow it.
The other thing that we do … I mean, try owning a business with your wife. If you think about it, your work day never really ends because you could be working all the time. So we try and set a limit — we don’t talk about work after five o’clock. We really try to leave work at work and focus more on our own personal time at home, which for the most part works really well.
Square: What is the best piece of advice you were given when you started to expand?
Keith: One thing that really helped us was knowing that you don’t market to yourself. You draw a picture of who your average consumer is going to be and describe her — it’s a 27-year-old woman, working full-time, might be in a relationship, has a dog. And that’s who you market to, but you never market to yourself, or your wife, or people that you know. You basically just create the fake person that is your average customer and do everything around that. How would this person react if they saw an ad like that?
Square: What piece of advice would you give other people starting businesses?
Keith: I think the one thing that helped us is that we just went all in. I mean I know that that’s scary to do, but I’ve watched other people do it, I think it helps to really succeed. Just going all in, then you have to succeed. Your paycheck’s basically based on you succeeding.
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