By Jen Phillips April
When Ashley White, a former veterinarian tech and recent university graduate, decided to open a dog grooming salon in her hometown of Ovieda, FL, it was with an eye on providing top–notch customer service.
“I thought I was going to be a veterinarian, but I didn’t love school,” says Ashley. She did complete a degree in Animal Science and knew she wanted to work with animals.
When her family’s long–term groomer had health problems and sold her salon, Ashley didn’t find another groomer she trusted as well as Shelley. It seemed a natural fit that when Shelley’s health improved and she wanted to groom part–time, Ashley and her husband Cameron would put their heads together and create a business plan for a grooming salon of their own.
“We created a business plan in late December and opened in April,” Ashley says. “Within the first week we’d already exceeded our projections. We opened across the street from the Ovieda Historical Society. It’s next to a walking trail where a lot of dog owners walk.”
When it comes to marketing, Ashley and her team use a combination of real–life events and social media.
“The Historical Society hosts a monthly Farmer’s Market and we offer dog–related events at the same time. We’ll have doggie ice cream, paw print art. We’ll invite people in to have a cup of coffee. We’re able to amplify what this town is all about, which is the community itself.”
It seems to be working. Just four months in and they’re booking 50–75 grooms per week. Willow’s Groomer (named after Ashley’s Golden Retriever, Willow) opened on a Saturday in April, coordinated with the monthly Farmer’s Market across the street. They even had the mayor do a ribbon cutting.
Skilled at real–life events, their social media presence is excellent, too.
“My mom has a Newfie mix, and I thought our bathing tub was big until Luna got in. Then we decided to do a ‘Big Dog Tub Challenge’, a contest to see who has the biggest dog in the area. We’re inviting people to take pictures of their big dogs in the bathing tub and post it on social media. We also have a wall in the salon where we have pictures of the biggest ears, biggest smile, and so on.”
The grooming salon is 1,200 square feet with two grooming stations and one big room for kennel space. There’s a separate bathing room and 900 square feet of retail. Ashley says, “Retail is the cherry on top of the sundae. We’ve partnered with other small businesses around the country to sell their pet–related items. Everything is owned and operated in the USA.”
She continues, “There’s a local artist who paints pet sayings on wooden planks, we have a seamstress who makes doggie bandanas, we carry candles from a company in Northern Florida, and we have a dog treat making kit called Knead Love. People come in to shop for their grand dogs.”
Ashley pays the same care to choosing her retail goods as to her customers and staff.
Shelley, the groomer of 30 years’ experience, brought her former receptionist, Barbara. Then Ashley and her husband hired Jessica, a full–time groomer.
With experienced staff in place, Ashley could focus on welcoming their new clients. She and Barbara handle reception. “We don’t sit behind a desk. You’ll find me rolling on the floor with the dogs. We give people a tour of the salon and ask them questions because we want to treat them like family. We ask them how long they’ve lived in Ovieda, or if they’re new, how they like it.”
She says they also take pictures and videos of the dogs for their clients which helps put people at ease.
“One of our dogs was fear–aggressive so we made a video of him getting bathed and groomed for his owner. We give that level of service to all our clients.”
Always on the lookout for opportunities to connect, Ashley even helped one family adopt a Golden Retriever.
“We had a family in town posting in a Facebook Group about adopting a dog. They wanted to find out about different kinds of dogs and wanted to know if they could visit other people’s dogs to see if it would be a good fit. I invited them over to meet our Golden Retriever Willow. They came, met Willow and decided to adopt their own Golden Retriever.
“Later, they said their son had been battling depression and, since getting a dog, they’d been able to stop all medications.”
Ashley and the staff at Willow’s Groomer have created such a welcoming culture that it’s not unusual to have clients bringing friends and family by just to meet everyone and have a look around. And while her husband works a full–time project manager job, he also helps with marketing and business plans.
When asked what’s next for Willow’s Groomer now that they’ve seen such growth in just a few months, Ashley mentioned the future events they’re planning including ‘speed dating with your dog’ around Valentine’s Day, where dog lovers can meet other dog lovers and see if they’re compatible. She’s also interested in growing their family of groomers.
Ashley concludes, “No matter what, we want to treat everyone like part of the family.” ✂️