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The Story of a Growing Grooming Business – Struggles and Successes to Share

Special Guests

Danielle Aymar

Danielle Aymar is the owner of Zen Dog Spa in Charleston, SC. She is a pet care expert with over 25 years of experience in the field. She started her career in the grooming industry and later worked at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. After relocating to North Carolina, she began working in the Pet Boarding & Daycare Industry. Finally, in 2019, she was able to pursue her dream of creating Zen Dog Spa in Charleston, where she and her team of stylists and groom techs provide a positive grooming experience for every pet that walks through the doors.

Joe Zuccarello interviews Danielle Aymar, owner of Zen Dog Spa in Charleston, SC, and a pet care expert with over 25 years of experience. In 2019, she was finally able to pursue her dream of starting her own business! Listen as she tells her story about launching and growing the pet spa and how her team has helped make it a success!

Be sure to check out the Zen Dog Spa website while listening to this episode!


Announcer (00:03):
Welcome to Hey, Joe, a podcast answering questions asked by our listeners, created by pet professionals for pet professionals, and now your host. Hey Joe’s, very own, Joe Zuccarello.

Joe Zuccarello (00:27):
What’s up everyone? Joe Zuccarello here and welcome to Hey Joe, a podcast brought to you by Paragon School of Pet Grooming. Check out our site at ParagonPetSchool.com for lots of really cool information on a variety of programs, products, and to connect to educational resources such as webinars, podcasts, current events, special news certifications, and lots of other helpful information to help you grow yourself, your team, and of course your business. Let’s get started with this week’s episode.

Joe Zuccarello (00:58):
Hey, everyone out there in the Hey Joe listener audience. This is Joe Zuccarello, your host of the Hey Joe podcast, and I am bringing you a new episode of the podcast and one that I know. I start out probably every episode talking about how excited I am about the guest, but I hope you understand out there that I really do try to get excited about the guests that we have on. And the person that I have on today, I have known for a handful of years, and I am just continuing to be impressed by her ability to not only own a successful pet services business, but to be a really great entrepreneurial spirit, but also be one that is just so fantastic at being a leader, not only growing her business, but growing her staff, growing her team through strong leadership skills. And I felt like I’ve been watching her do what she does for several years, and I thought, you know who benefit from this? You the Hey Joe, listener audience. So today I am joined by Danielle Aymar, and Danielle is a professional pet groomer and she’s also the owner of Zen Dog Spa. Danielle, thanks for joining us on the podcast today.

Danielle Aymar (02:12):
Thanks for having me, Joe. I’m so excited to be here.

Joe Zuccarello (02:15):
So Danielle, I gave just a little bit more than your name to the HR listener audience out there. Can just tell us a little bit more about who you are and how long you’ve been in a grooming business and just sort of your career leading up to the grooming industry, grooming business, and then now how it had morphed into a successful business owner.

Danielle Aymar (02:43):
Of course. So I have been in the pet care industry for a little over 25 years now. I started out in my early twenties as a dog groomer. I learned to groom through an apprenticeship in New Jersey with a wonderful owner there. And from there I was able to actually open my own grooming shop within about two years of becoming a groomer. I had that shop for about three years and then decided I was going to go travel and see what else the world had to offer besides New Jersey, I ended up in southern Utah working for a best friends Animal society. They are the largest, no-kill organization in the United States, and I was a groomer there. And then I also kind of branched off and did dog care, just general dog care, mostly the puppies. I worked in the adoption realm for a little while and then humane education as well.

Danielle Aymar (03:39):
And then my family and I, we relocated to North Carolina and at that point I kind of wanted to stay in the pet industry. So I was lucky enough to work with a growing daycare boarding industry out there called Roughhousing. I was there for, gosh, about six years, I believe. And at the end of that was helping manage four facilities that usually had over a hundred dogs a day. So it was a pretty big job, but it was a lot of fun. It really gave me a really good view into boarding and daycare, something I hadn’t really been involved with before. And throughout all of this, I was still grooming. I was grooming my dogs, I was doing side jobs, grooming, and then when I relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, I decided that the time was right. It was finally time for me to go back into business for myself.

Danielle Aymar (04:36):
I had learned so much through my past experience owning a business as a very young 20 something year old, working for a nonprofit and then working for a larger organization. So I was able to find a grooming shop. It was called Coats and Tails at the time, and it had been in business for about 20 years. Great location, really good solid client base. So kind of took the leap and bought that. We just celebrated, we’re celebrating this month our five years as Zen Dog Spa. And so yeah, it’s been a very active five years. We’ve had a lot going on. We have a lot coming up. But yeah, I’ve loved being a part of this industry. I’ve loved seeing the changes that are taking place, and especially in grooming right now, I’m super excited about where we as an industry are going in grooming.

Joe Zuccarello (05:35):
Well, that is, I want to go back to one of the earlier things you had mentioned, and I just learned a lot more. Hey, for the listeners out there, I just learned a lot more about Danielle that I didn’t know before. So I’m impressed. So now I have lots of questions, but one thing that you had mentioned was that you learned grooming and then think, you said within two years after graduating, you took a bold, brave move. I mean, you were still a very young person and a young person in this industry, but also young person age wise to start your own business.

Danielle Aymar (06:11):
Yeah, yeah. It was scary. I’m not going to lie.

Joe Zuccarello (06:15):
So did you have people around you that had owned their own business before, so it wasn’t as scary, or was this, you sort of had this unique entrepreneurial spirit amongst maybe your peer group at the time?

Danielle Aymar (06:29):
So I think it’s a little bit of both. I was very lucky to have my mentor, Stacy Herbert, she’s the dog spa over in New Jersey. Hey Stacy. She really showed me how to be a really strong business woman early on. She kind of set the example for me of what I wanted to do. So I got very lucky in that way. I was very well prepared to do that. I also had a wonderful support team. My dad was in there on the weekends fixing things. My brother-in-Law at the time would come in on the weekends and wash dog, my mom, my receptionist. I was very lucky in that I had a very close-knit family and community to help me through that. But it definitely came with its challenges and there are definitely things that now looking back 20 years later as a business owner, I realized that I could have done a lot differently.

Joe Zuccarello (07:27):
Well, but again, one really great part that I admire about what you just said is that we’ve all been in those times when we say, boy, if I would’ve known then would I know now? Well, my question is how would we know now if we didn’t experience then? So would we still appreciate it? I still think no matter, even if we could go back and rewind time and make ourselves smarter back then, maybe other than the Powerball winning tickets or some…

Danielle Aymar (07:55):
Winning numbers,

Joe Zuccarello (07:56):
I think we’d be at any stage saying, boy, if I would’ve known then I think five years from now, if I say I’ll probably looking back, boy in 2024, if I would’ve known then would I know? And that’s okay. I think that’s what makes us essentially career learners. We’re always seeking more and more information. So at Zen Dog Spot, how many grooming stations do you have now? How many grooming professionals do you have working for you now? And you’ve got some exciting news? I don’t know. I

Danielle Aymar (08:30):
Do. We’ve got exciting stuff.

Joe Zuccarello (08:32):
Well, I dunno if I was supposed to say anything, but okay, I’ll put it out there.

Danielle Aymar (08:35):
No, it’s out there. It’s out there. So currently there are nine of us on the team. There are six full-time groomers. I have a full-time groom tech, a full-time client experience coordinator, and then myself, who I groom probably 50% of my time is grooming and then 50% of my time is working in and on the business. So we are actually next month getting ready to shut down for some renovations. The retail space directly next to us became available earlier last year. And so we are working on moving ourselves into that space, so connecting the buildings, making sure there’s safe pass-throughs for the dogs and stuff. And then I’m taking this opportunity to update the grooming shop because as I mentioned before, it has been a grooming shop for 25 years. So it has seen some things. It has seen some things. So we’re getting ready to basically do a whole overhaul of our bathing area, modernizing it, getting new tubs, getting just fresh new equipment, fresh new walls, fresh new floors. So yeah, we’re getting ready to do some pretty big things here and basically doubling the space of the spa. So that is basically going to give us the ability in the future, not the near future, but the future to basically double our capacity.

Joe Zuccarello (10:07):
So I mean, you’re going to grow to 12 or 15 staff members and think about, people ask me all the time, and you and I have worked together on several topics over the years, and people say, well, how many dogs should I expect the average groomer to groom or the groom tech to perform in a day? And we talk about those things. But even if in your setting you’re going to end up with the 12 grooming stations, 15, I mean, you’re going to continue to grow. There’s going to be a day when you’ve outgrown your space where you’re at right now.

Joe Zuccarello (10:40):
But I mean that’s probably at that number of grooming stations and that size of business probably in the top, oh gosh, at least top 10% of the size single businesses that I’ve probably witnessed myself. So coming from a very large grooming business background in my past, in my career, I think our smallest location at the time had seven grooming stations. The largest one had 20 grooming stations. I mean, you’re going to begin to rival some of the most established, largest grooming businesses that exist. Now. You probably, probably what happens with me when I get up into a presentation at a trade show or conference or introduce myself on a podcast or a phone call, even with somebody that doesn’t know me when I say the size of business I had, they said, are you crazy? Right. Are you crazy? So do you get that a lot, your peers, when you say, I have nine, I have a team of nine right now, and we’re going to expand. I’ll probably end up with a team of maybe even twice that at some point,

Danielle Aymar (11:51):
Right? Yeah. I think sometimes I say it to myself more than other people say it to me. But yeah, I mean, I think some people are surprised actually that a grooming shop is that big of a business and that it’s that lucrative and that there is a need for us to have twice as many groomers as we have. Now. I’m in Charleston, South Carolina, which is number one, a beautiful place to live, but number two, it is extremely dog friendly. There are dogs everywhere you go in Charleston, you are going to see dogs. And so there’s no lack of clients. And we currently have a wait list of about a hundred clients just waiting to get in. So I feel very, very grateful that the business is actually located where it is that I have the client base that I do, and that my clients are the ones who are getting us those hundred waitlisted clients all came from current clients.

Danielle Aymar (13:04):
I don’t currently do a lot of advertising. I don’t do a lot of promotions. It’s a lot of word of mouth. So yeah, it’s pretty exciting. It’s pretty exciting. And the other thing that I think is it’s really showing people that grooming is, it’s a career, it’s a profession. It’s not just a task. It’s not just a menial job. I believe in my people, I believe in continuing education. And so really showing that a business, a small little grooming business can become a bigger, successful small business, I think kind of helps show the whole community that it’s a business that means something. It’s

Joe Zuccarello (13:48):
Legitimate. I mean, so many times in our industry, I’ve been in the industry at the time of this podcast. We’re talking January 20, 24, next month in February, I will start my 39th year in the industry. And the pet industry served me really well for my career. I mean, people take different pathways in this industry, but I still believe we’re in the best industry on the planet doing things with pets. I mean, come on. And the people that love their pets and as challenging as any day is, I think that we just have to at some point, take a step back and look at other professions. And I’m really thankful. I’m not a roofer.

Joe Zuccarello (14:36):
I’m thankful. I’m really thankful that God did not bless me with the superpower of being really good at being a roofer, but I’m also not a dog groomer. But I’ve led and grown and established some pretty really great grooming business models and grooming businesses, helping people like yourself do what you do. But not to take anything away from you, but let’s just dive into that, right? You’ve got a team of nine people and you talk about this profession, and I think that that’s important for everybody to understand that this is a profession, it is a career. It’s something that at Paragon, we try to tell our employers just like yourself, that use our program to grow their team, that you’re not offering somebody a job, you are offering them an opportunity at a career. In fact, I just met with a group yesterday who they work with inner city youth that just don’t have the resources or really even exposure to the profession of dog grooming and how we’re going to be able to help those inner city youth get exposed to a career of dog grooming to consider that as a profession. But how many of the people, Danielle, do you have on your current team of nine that you’ve grown yourself?

Danielle Aymar (15:58):
Half of my groomers, so I have six groomers. Three of my groomers came to me experience with certifications through other programs. And then my other three groomers were hired in as groom text. They started out bathing, drying, doing all the stuff that you got to learn first. And that’s when I found Paragon, my very first Paragon graduate, Ms. Dana, she had everything. Hey, Dana, she’s the best. She had all of the qualities that I wanted for a groomer. Number one, she was compassionate. That’s the biggest thing for me. We always approached all of our dogs here with compassion first. So she already had that. She was a hard worker. I mean, she came in and there were days where she was the only bather, and this was back when we were doing it old school where we had a bather for bathing and drying all of our dogs.

Danielle Aymar (16:54):
And this girl would whip out 15, 10, 15 baths and just keep going. So she had the work ethic, she just needed the skills. And that’s where I found Paragon. I think it was in Atlanta probably about four years ago that I first found out about Paragon. And what I did was, so going back a little bit, when I learned to groom at the time, I was through an apprentice. So Stacy taught me everything, but when I left there, I didn’t have any kind of certification behind me. So when we decided to buy the grooming business and to own a grooming business, again, it was important to me that I had a certification behind me. And so when I found Paragon, I was like, oh, let me check this out. And so I put myself through the program. I did level one, I did level two, I did all the homework, I did all the learning, and it was a really good refresher for me coming back into the industry full time.

Danielle Aymar (17:56):
But I also realized what a great program it was. And what I loved is that my employees, again, I could hire for the qualities I wanted and teach them the skills so they can do all of their knowledge based learning, all of their reading, their videos online, and then their practical stuff is being done here at the shop with us, with me and my manager and our senior groomers helping guide them through that. And it’s been very successful. I mean, I have now three Paragon graduates. Ms. Dana’s rocking it. She’s doing six dogs a day. Ms. Liv is bumping herself up. She’s doing about four or five dogs a day. She had her first six dog day the other day, and we were also proud of her. Congratulations. So they’re really progressing at a really nice rate. And what I love is I’m able to teach them more the way of Zen Dog, so they can have their skills through Paragon, but then they get their fear-free, they’re compassionate, kind of dealing more with the individual dog. We can focus on that part here.

Joe Zuccarello (19:08):
Yeah, I’m glad you said it that way because really it’s a great segue into, you mentioned that you are a professional groomer. You’re still grooming, right? But you’re grooming about 50% of your time and the other 50% of the time you’re spending on your business, not in your business. And I know that that sounds so cliche, but we miss that all the time in business. And I hear from my business owner, employers out there all the time, how can I focus on my business? I’ve got to be grooming. I’ve got to be, but at some point, you made that your goal and you said, listen, I got to march toward this. I got to march toward if I’m going to have changes, if I’m going to have the business, the size of business, and really, and these are things you’ve shared with me, and so I don’t want to put words in your mouth so you could say it yourself too.

Joe Zuccarello (20:02):
But for all of the Hey, Joe listener, audience members out there that are owner operators or managers of the business, and you’re actively performing the duties of the business, great, that’s wonderful. Don’t ever lose touch of that. But your growth potential for the business will be limited by how limited you are to be able to spend some time on the business. So Danielle, what was the switch for you? I mean, at some point you were grooming a hundred percent of the time. I mean, well, okay, a hundred percent of the time grooming and then another 20 50% of the time still on your business. So I mean, you were beyond Bell as a business working

Danielle Aymar (20:45):
120% of my life. Yeah,

Joe Zuccarello (20:47):
Exactly. You were 120% of yourself. And lemme tell you, Danielle’s about this tall. So 120% of Danielle, right? I mean, that’s not sustainable.

Danielle Aymar (21:01):
No, not you want

Joe Zuccarello (21:02):
To grow, right?

Danielle Aymar (21:02):
It’s not right, exactly. It was probably about two years ago. Throughout the first three years of the business, I’ve just been grooming and I’ve been kind of putting a lot of other stuff off to the side and doing a lot of the admin stuff at night. So about two years ago, big changes happened in my life personally, and my business partner ended up leaving. And so I was kind of left with a really big business and just really me running it. And I had an amazing team, but they were grooming, they were doing their thing.

Danielle Aymar (21:43):
So I finally came to the realization of if I really want this business to grow, I can’t be tied to my grooming table for eight hours a day. I can’t help my people doing that. I can’t be there for my clients, both my dogs and their owners, and I couldn’t actually be there for myself. I was really burning the candle at both ends for sure. And so I had to get kind of vulnerable and I had to ask for help from my team, which is hard. It’s very hard. I’m very much like the superwoman. I can handle everything. I can do everything. And so I started delegating. I started delegating certain tasks to certain people, and it was amazing. It was amazing to watch and see how my manager could take one thing and run with it. And then two of my groomers are very into social media, and our social media presence is terrible. And I was like, Hey, do you guys want to try to make this? And they’re still doing it. They’re posting all these fun things. They’re making videos. And so I just realized you have a strong team. Get your team invested, get your team invested in what’s happening. So that was a cool big change. Yeah.

Joe Zuccarello (23:04):
I’m sorry. I’m sorry I stepped on you. No, no, no. Go for it. What’s really cool about that when you do that, didn’t you see them enjoying their job maybe more than what it was that they enjoyed? Just disturbing.

Danielle Aymar (23:18):
It was so fun to watch. It’s so fun to still watch them. They have their little ring lights set up that they can put their phones and make these fun videos on Instagram, and the dogs are all happy. And it’s been really fun to watch them as we’ve made these changes, actually start to enjoy their jobs a little bit more. And I’m realizing they’re feeling the same way as me. They’re feeling like they were changed at their grooming table for eight hours a day, and that’s not what I want. That’s not what I want for my employees. So it involved making a lot of changes both the way we did things procedurally and just making a lot of changes in our mindsets. But we’re getting there. We’re still not there. I’m going to be honest. We are still not every day we’re looking at different ways we can improve and we really never stop. And I don’t know if that’s me and my team is like, could we just stick with what we think? But they always seem to be really excited about being a little bit more innovative and making changes that are good for the dogs, the clients themselves, and the business.

Joe Zuccarello (24:32):
It’s interesting. I want to sort of go back to one of the statements you said is that you had to get vulnerable, right? Yeah. I had to get vulnerable with yourself. You had some major personal challenges and personal and professional challenges, right? What’s interesting is that here we are, I can’t even believe we’re four years past, we’re past Covid, but past the 2020 covid march that we all seem to, it’s almost like, I don’t know if you base your timeline on before Covid or after Covid, but that’s sort of what everybody does. You go back and say, okay, when did I do that? Oh, that was before. So you had Covid happening, you had some personal challenges, you had some professional challenges. Sometimes they’re all sort of blended together. But I love that all of the words you chose, you had to get vulnerable. You had to say, okay, wonder Woman, I need some superhero friends. I’ve got to have other people on my team. And I remember having some of those conversations with you

Danielle Aymar (25:42):

Joe Zuccarello (25:42):
Then and having been, I mean, I was honored to be invited into your business to work with you and talk through some of these things, but I in no way reason for your success. You had to make those challenges. You had to use the education or resources that you sought out, assemble ’em in a certain way and push forward. And I mean, it kind of is representative of the beginning of your career when you were a 20 something who started your own business. So that bravery, that courage, sometimes just faith, maybe just leaning into it. I love that you give your team a lot of credit. That’s one thing I learned along the way in my career was that there was so many times it was like, listen, I’ll just do it myself. It’s just faster just for me to do it myself. But then, yeah, it might’ve been, but then I had 50 of those faster things I had to do myself, and I didn’t have time to breathe. You don’t have

Danielle Aymar (26:44):
Time to do them.

Joe Zuccarello (26:45):
So I appreciate that about you, and I know that those are some of the challenges that you faced. But what’s really cool too is you’re not stopping with just professional dog grooming. I mean, I don’t want to make it sound like professional dog grooming something minor at all, because it’s major. You’re a strong member in your community, which is important. You talk about Charleston, it’s this small little neighborhood, which is awesome because your little corner of Charleston Charleston’s your neighborhood. Your customers are your family and friends and neighbors, but you wanted to go further, so you wanted to keep enhancing the skill level of your team. So you keep them learning, keep them engaged. They’re doing things other than hands and fur grooming to fulfill them. One of the things that you put in that you established is you started to incorporate fear-free grooming. So talk to the Hey Joe listener audience out there, just what’s the 30,000 foot view of Fear Free Grooming?

Danielle Aymar (27:50):
So Fear Free, it was actually created by Dr. Marty Becker. He has several programs. There’s a lot of vets, veterinarians that are following the Fear Free model right now. And Fear Free is basically, it’s a way of working with animals that we’re actually being more compassionate. We’re watching their body language, and we’re helping them alleviate the fear, the anxiety, the stress that a lot of times goes along with grooming and with vet care, there is an anxiety component to grooming. Unfortunately, we are taking Fido away from mom and dad, we’re putting them in a crate, we’re getting them wet, we’re loud noises, all this stuff. And so it’s more looking at grooming as like, yes, we have to get all these things done, but can we find a way to do it that makes the dogs maybe just a little bit more comfortable, maybe just a little bit more trusting so that the dog, and I’ve seen this, I mean, over the five years we’ve been doing this, I’ve seen this, the scared little puppy that can barely make it through the front door and is just like, what is happening?

Danielle Aymar (29:02):
What is going on? Taking the time, using happy hoodies, using treats, using positive reinforcement to introduce them to the grooming world and setting them up for lifelong success of grooming. And so those same puppies who their first visit could barely get through the door, are now pulling mom and dad through the door. Through that, we have this swinging front gate that takes from the lobby to our grooming salon. And I can’t tell you how many dogs come tearing through that front gate and just so happy, so happy to, and some that actually go into the grooming room looking for their groomer. Where is my groomer? I want to say, have to say hi first before I go in the crate. So that’s my ideal. I would love for every dog that walks through Zen Dog’s spas front door to do that. But that’s, that’s not the case. So just really taking it back and realizing that you don’t have to cut every single nail on the dog’s foot. Sometimes you’ve just got to stop. Sometimes you just got to take a break. Yeah. Sorry, I think I kind of went a of little bit off track there, but that’s the whole theory of fear Free. And it’s not, you’re never going to remove all of the fear, all of the anxiety, all of the stress, but we can alleviate it and we can make it a more positive experience for both the dog and the client.

Joe Zuccarello (30:33):
Well, and that’s the point. I’m so glad you made it because I was going to make it myself, but you beat me to it, which means you own the process and you own the level of expectation of fear-free grooming practices, which is, it’s more fear less than necessarily fear free because there’s no scenario that we can create, no environment that we can create that’s going to be completely free of fear. Because I mean, dogs are like people. We’re all afraid of something. Sometimes different levels of fear, different types of fear. Arachnophobia don’t even put a spider around me, right? Listen, my wife takes care of the spiders on our, but I look at all of that, and I think there are people out there that, and I’m one of them, I’m one of them. But after talking with you and knowing what you do with the Fear Free, there are a lot of people out there that’s like, yeah, that all sounds really great. What am I going to do? Light candles and play yoga music in the background and burn some incense and dogs aren’t going to bark? No. All of those things are going to happen.

Danielle Aymar (31:46):
All of those things happen.

Joe Zuccarello (31:48):
What can we do? And if I am really going to go that route, how in the world am I going to make money? I’m only going to be able to do two dogs a day. Well, you know what? This is for all of you listeners out there, Danielle’s doing it, and she’s done a really great job because I think you’ve got a level head on your shoulders about what is possible and what is not. But it’s always on the table. It’s always, it’s that compassion piece. And if the principle of fear free drives a deeper compassion, well then listen, I’ve seen it, and I’m certainly, I’m not going to name names, but I’ve seen some grooming environments when I watch, I’ll do observations when I’m at different facilities and places, and I’ll watch groomers that are spectacular groomers and groom techs that are just spectacular and compassionate. But I’ve also seen something that looks like pro wrestling,

Danielle Aymar (32:45):

Joe Zuccarello (32:47):
Where we’re wrestling the dog onto the table, we’re using a stronger, stiffer hand. And I think it’s one of those things, it’s one of those things that this is what puts the professionalism into our profession is in order to know what to do and how to do and when to do it right. And to your point, I bet if a dog is too much of a naughty Nelly, sometimes we have to say, we can’t do that dog’s grooming. I mean, this isn’t a win-lose type of arrangement with dogs, and it’s sad, but I’ve seen that. I think we are moving past that. We’re actually elevating the industry by putting more professionalism into the profession. And you are certainly an advocate and a positive force in that direction. So I appreciate you talking about how you have put Fear-free program into your grooming and your level of expectations, because I think that that helps temper maybe opinions that are out there about, can I do it in my salon? Should I do it? Yeah. I

Danielle Aymar (34:00):
Mean, I want to say we kind of have a balance of Fear Free, but within reason, a lot of when you, when you go through the certification of Fear Free, it’s very much about the dog always gets the choice. They can choose to get on the table, they can choose to get in the tub. And yes, I would love for that to be true, but unfortunately, if you were to give every dog coming in your door the choice of what they wanted to do, you’d probably do one dog a day and you can’t. So it’s just finding that balance for us anyway, of what can we take from Fear Free to apply to our daily lives, just to make our lives and the dog’s lives and the dog’s experience just a little bit better? And

Joe Zuccarello (34:44):
It doesn’t take anything away from the concept of Fear Free. In fact, I think it’s paying it some incredible homage and honor to say, listen, this has guided the way that we do our business, and we do it in a compassionate way, but we do still have to make money because we’ve got staff that staff needs to make money too. As an employer, I’ve often said this, as an employer, our number one job is to make sure that our staff has a job.

Joe Zuccarello (35:16):
That’s our number one job. Our number job is to make sure that they have one and one that they feel fulfilled and one that helps ’em be successful. And our one big objective at Paragon is helping others achieve their success. We’re not going to do it for them, right? We’re going to partner with them. No, we’re going to help them achieve their success. I appreciate, by the way, the kind words about Paragon. We do try hard at Paragon, and it’s wonderful to hear. It’s wonderful to see Ms. Dana. We met her right at Planet Pet, and you know what? She’s probably so embarrassed. She’s listening to this podcast right now, and she’s probably blushing. But as a young lady who had just graduated a program when we first met her, she’s walking away from us and I can’t even say walking. She’s skipping from us after.

Danielle Aymar (36:04):
Yeah, she’s fangirling over you, Joe Fangirling hard over the whole period.

Joe Zuccarello (36:07):
I don’t want to go that far, but I guess. But my point in, she was just so proud, right? Yeah. Comes not like Pride, right? But she was proud of her accomplishment. She was successful, and she couldn’t contain herself. It was so cool. It was good. That’s

Danielle Aymar (36:26):
Really all I want for all of my employees. I want them to be proud, and I want them to be successful, and I want them to be proud of their success. That should drive everything.

Joe Zuccarello (36:39):
It really should. And sometimes that’s in our business, and sometimes it’s not. And as an employer, if our number one job is to make sure that they have a fulfilling and successful job, that’s a really great life lesson. And sometimes it’s just a mismatch. But we have to understand if we can communicate just like we do with the pet, with compassion, I think we’re going to be a much better employer of which, so Zen Dogs pop. Where do you see your business in five years? Where are you going in five years?

Danielle Aymar (37:07):
Gosh, I just want to get through this year right now.

Joe Zuccarello (37:11):
Hey, you put the question down for me to ask, right?

Danielle Aymar (37:14):
I know. I know.

Joe Zuccarello (37:15):
Just for all of you listeners out there, I always ask my guests, Hey, throw a couple of questions down so that I can ask the, I know this cme from you. I didn’t ask. I’m not setting you up.

Danielle Aymar (37:23):
So in five years, I would love to see us pretty much at capacity in this facility, be done with all of our construction, have a good solid team together. One of the things I really want to focus on once we’re kind of settled in our new space is actually be becoming a site for people to come and learn to groom with us using Paragon, kind of how I’ve trained my employees. So they could sign up with Paragon and do all their online stuff and come do their practical stuff with us, and we can also help them incorporate some of the Fear-free stuff into their grooming. So that’s something that’s in the back of my brain, probably around the five-year mark to start really kind of focusing on that and looking at what that looks like. But I just hope that we’re still here with Smile and Dogs and Smile and people rocking out dogs. As my Brooke Groomer likes to say, she’s all rock out dogs every day. So yeah, I just want to continue to provide a compassionate grooming experience to the dogs in Charleston. I want to continue to grow our Zen Dog family. Already got a really, really good family, and I’m excited to see who else wants to join the crew. And yeah, I’m really hoping we can kind of take this whole fear-free Zen dog model and help other groomers become successful in what they’re doing.

Joe Zuccarello (39:01):
Well. So as we wrap up this episode, and you’ve just been just so kind to be a guest on the Hey Joe podcast, and I mean, our time has flown by. So as we start to wrap up to speak directly to the Hey Joe listener audience out there, there’s really two people that are out there. One is somebody who is maybe graduating, graduating a course, or maybe they’ve been a groomer for a little while. Maybe they aspirations to open up their own business. Some of them just want to be really great at being a really awesome employee. Your team, they want to be really good at being a really great employee. But then there’s also employers out there that like yourself, that are really having some staffing issues and just really struggling to staff. Just briefly just touch on, for all of the existing groomers out there that either want to be the best employee you can be, what should they do? If they want to open up a business, what should they think about? And for all of the employers out there who are experiencing staffing issues, what should they consider?

Danielle Aymar (40:06):
Okay. I would say for current groomers, continuing education, it’s so important. Get to a convention, get to an expo, get online. I mean, there is so much online, TikTok, Instagram, all of these amazing groomers out here in the world who are doing really great work and showing how they get that work done. And literally, all you have to do is probably sit and stare at your phone for 20 minutes, which let’s be honest, we all do that every day anyway. So start using that knowledge that’s out there and start getting it into your routine and start applying it to what you’re doing. For people who are looking to go into business for themselves, I would say number one, figure out what you want your business to be. When I bought coats and Tails, it was a very different business than what I had envisioned, and I had to really stick with what that vision was.

Danielle Aymar (41:02):
I knew I wanted to go the Fear Free route. It was hard. I inherited a business that had been in business for 20 years, and things were done a certain way, and people were used to, every time I bring in Lucy, her nails are going to be done, and if you’re not going to put a muzzle on her and hold her down, then I’m not going to bring her to you. And I had to say goodbye to a lot of those people. I’m very much a believer of your vibe attracts your tribe. And so I just really focused on, these are the people I want as my clients, and really put the energy towards them. And you’re going to lose clients. There’s going to be people who aren’t going to buy into that method of grooming, but that’s okay. There’s a place for them as well.

Danielle Aymar (41:50):
So just be really clear about what your vision is for your business and what you want it to be, and a business plan. I have to tell you, I’m going to be 100% honest. I had a little bit of a business plan before I bought this business. I had a rough idea of what I was going to do throughout this whole expansion. I now have a 50 plus page business plan that is, I am so proud of. It has given me so much joy to look back and see where we were in 2019 and where we are now. So don’t lose sight of that either. Right? Always, always keep in mind that you’re always growing, you’re always expanding. And don’t forget to celebrate all those successes.

Joe Zuccarello (42:32):
That’s wonderful.

Danielle Aymar (42:33):

Joe Zuccarello (42:34):
And overcome staffing issues, what would you recommend to them?

Danielle Aymar (42:38):
Yeah, staffing. So we went through it after COVID, just like everybody else, impossible to hire people, impossible to find people to show up for even the interview. And so again, I really didn’t, during my interview process of hiring Ingram Techs, I wasn’t really asking them about, what are your grooming skills? What are your dah, dah? I was asking about their previous job experience, their previous, what makes them excited, what they’re excited about, what their hobbies are, what’s the best job they’ve ever had, things that would tell me that they’re going to be a really good employee, that they’re going to have the skills. And the other thing I started doing is if I finally got somebody through to the interview process, I always have all of my potential employees come in and spend two hours at the shop. And a lot of times they’re just kind of watching what we’re doing.

Danielle Aymar (43:42):
They’re maybe bathing a dog, maybe helping dry a dog. But what I love about that is it brings them in. Everybody in the salon gets to spend time with them, kind of get to feel them out a little bit. And it shows me, number one, very firsthand how they are with handling dogs, because that’s really the base. If they’re afraid of dogs, if they’re really standoffish, if they’re just standing there with their arms crossed, watching everybody else work and not really trying to jump in and help out, that’s my first, maybe this isn’t the best fit. Now, if they come in and they’re engaging with the team and they’re engaged with the dogs and they’re, how can I help? And that’s the person I want, that’s the person that I want to come in and learn from the beginning, start at the beginning and help them grow into an experienced professional groomer.

Joe Zuccarello (44:39):
Well, and what you’re pointing out, and we’ll close with this, is that you’re looking for somebody first to be a really great employee, a really great, the team. The team gets a vote, right? The team, somebody, the team

Danielle Aymar (44:50):
Gets a vote.

Joe Zuccarello (44:51):
Is this person somebody we want on our island or not, right?

Danielle Aymar (44:54):

Joe Zuccarello (44:55):
But what I really like about it as well is that you’re first trying to focus on making sure that they’re a good employee, right? Way before technical ability. They’ve got to be what I call a aaa employee attitude, attendance and appearance. And that’s where reviews start with good employees or employees that might need coaching or reinforcing some principles, but that AAA status, attitude, attendance, and appearance before any technical ability. And that’ll keep us much more sane as employers. Daniel, thank you so much for being a guest, if you would, on podcast. I’m really proud of you. I’m proud of your team. Thank you. And I will have some more information about Zen Dog Spa on our website@paragonpetschool.com. If you’re ever in the Charleston area. I bet Danielle would welcome. Yeah.

Danielle Aymar (45:50):
Please come check us out!

Joe Zuccarello (45:52):
Danielle, thank you again. I appreciate you, appreciate your business, appreciate the force that you are in the business. Thank you. And you have a great rest of your day.

Danielle Aymar (46:00):
All right. Thanks, Joe. Thanks so much!

About Joe

Joe Zuccarello is president of the Paragon School of Pet Grooming, leaders in grooming education on campus and online. He possesses more than three decades of experience in the pet grooming, product development and pet business consulting disciplines.

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