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Building an Emotionally Invested Customer Base

Episode 81

082522 podcast doguespa

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Combining his passions for dogs and art, Josh White has created a unique dog grooming salon that keeps customers coming back. Dogue Spa (think of “Vogue” for dogs) in West Hollywood, California does standard grooming, but it also uses color to make dogs look extra snazzy. Most importantly, customers trust the experienced staff to go above and beyond—from expert grooming to teaching proper at-home upkeep. With its welcoming environment, humans and dogs alike have been known to treat Dogue as a second home.

On the Yelp Blog: Read more about how Josh creates demand for his services online, becoming a viral dog grooming sensation that ignites customer excitement.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind their interactions. Let’s hear what’s behind this week’s review.

KAYLA: I got a doodle puppy. I was really excited about it, but then I kind of learned more about the grooming process and really all the ins and outs of it. I think that when you first get a doodle, you don’t really understand the upkeep that it takes.

You kind of just understand they’re hypoallergenic and that they’re really good dogs. Really the upkeep is what they don’t tell you, unfortunately. And so I was a little nervous about that because at one point I was like, well, we have to get him exposed to grooming. And so that way he’s not all fidgety, like a little puppy, and learns what we’re doing with it and makes sure that he’s gonna be set up for the rest of his life.

But I actually got recommended by a friend from Instagram to go to Dogue. And so I was looking at their Instagram and they’re grooming this dog. I think that he’s maybe about two, but all of his grooming sessions, he looked fantastic. Very gray. Not too poodly, not too doodly, but kind of just in between.

And so I had asked her where they got him groomed and she recommended Dogue. And I was like, that’s crazy because I literally just found them on Yelp. They had really good reviews. And so something for me that I always look at is, I actually read the reviews. I like them better when they have photos, just so I can see firsthand.

And so I just tried it out. I took a recommendation, I took all the information that I got from Yelp and I just made my own conclusion that we’d go for it.

EMILY: Getting a new puppy is such an exciting time and yet…you have to brace yourself for tons of work. There’s so much to do, so much to buy, so much to remember. With all of that going on, it’s easy to forget the importance of dog grooming. But after getting her doodle puppy, Winston, Kayla J. soon realized the extent of dog hair upkeep she was facing. So, she turned to Dogue Spa in West Hollywood, a grooming salon with plenty of doodle-specific expertise. After a couple great experiences, she left this review:

KAYLA: I recommend Josh and Jay at Dogue to anyone, especially owners with a doodle. Our doodle puppy got his first and second grooming with Dogue and he will be coming here for all of our grooming desires. Jay is extremely creative and did a wonderful job on our last grooming. Thank you for allowing a safe, clean environment for our pup. We love you, Dogue, and you have a loyal customer for life.

EMILY: Such a great, to-the-point review. Kayla hits a couple key words that would stick out to any dog owner, like safe and clean. Dogue owner Josh has been a dog lover his entire life, so he knows what’s important when it comes to a business that works with dogs.

JOSH: I’m Josh White and I’m a dog groomer in West Hollywood. I own Dogue Pet Salon. And I’ve been working with dogs most of my life. And even before working with dogs, I just always had a passion for, specifically, dogs. I studied dogs as a kid and dog breed books. And even as a kid, I always had the vision to have, not necessarily a dog grooming salon, but something with dogs.

And I wanted to call it Dogue because I love fashion. And it’s a pun on Vogue. And we started this four and a half years ago. And it was just something I wanted to do where we combined style with dogs, making it feel more like a salon. And this is where we are today. And that’s how Dogue was created.

EMILY: Josh turned a lifelong passion for dogs into a career, plus he was able to incorporate his love of fashion and art into his business. It’s always so cool to hear from a business owner who has blended multiple interests to create a unique company. And Dogue is a very unique place. Not only do they offer standard dog grooming, but they also embrace Josh’s artistic side with unconventional cuts and color.

JOSH: I’ve been grooming for about 10 years. And I’m a very creative guy and I love art. I love fashion. I love pop culture. And I just wanted to mix that into what I do with my dogs. And for grooming, it’s definitely an art form. Instead of us painting or sculpting, we’re sculpting dog hair. And we just get inspired by what someone may bring in, or we give them advice on what will look good for their dog.

And we just love to do color, which is perfectly safe. We use a brand that is safe for the dog. It’s called OPAWZ. It’s just making your dog have a little bit more oomph to them. We could definitely do the basic stuff, the breed standards, but we just love to make it more of an art form or, like, for a special occasion.

So if you want your dog to look like a cheetah, a zebra, a painting, a dinosaur, anything, we’re definitely capable of doing that. And it’s just making people feel a little bit more joy with their dog. I have a pink dog myself. And she’s been every color in the book. And the smile she puts on people’s faces, and the excitement people get when they meet her, is the same for these people’s dogs.

And it’s just a good feeling to be known or respected as a creative groomer. We just love doing artistic cuts. It’s a different world out there, but a lot of people love it.

EMILY: It’s awesome how Josh’s dog, Snow, is a little brand ambassador who brings people joy. At the end of the day, it makes sense to create a business that you yourself would use. And when a business owner has that passion and pride for what they do, it’s contagious. One way that Josh shows that pride is through the open floor plan of the Dogue Spa. Everyone who enters the shop can see dogs being groomed.

JOSH: So most grooming salons nowadays, what happens in the back is the bathing, the drying, because it’s a messy job. You wouldn’t wanna see that, to be honest. It’s nothing bad, but it’s just messy. It’s hair everywhere, water, the bather getting wet.

But in the front room, you could definitely see the whole cut. We don’t advise an owner to stay and watch their dog because your dog’s just gonna wanna come see you. They smell you, they see you. But, everything’s in the open. It’s not as stressful or anything extra on top of us, just because it’s what we do.

We’re confident in what we do. And nothing changes that if someone sees a dog being groomed. But it’s good for people to see how the dog is performing, how they’re acting. Especially if an owner brings in their puppy and their puppy’s just wild and moving, and then you come several months after and you see your dog standing perfectly on the table. It’s just a good feeling of accomplishment seeing your dog is actually becoming a good grooming dog. And it’s just a lot of training that we do even for these people’s dogs. Not every dog starts off on the table, perfectly standing and still. But, our job’s to help the dog become confident,

EMILY: The environment is hustle and bustle, but things are kept in control, thanks in part to the confidence of Josh and his staff. And on top of everything, they manage to train the dogs to get effectively groomed. When you go the extra mile and show off those above-and-beyond skills, you can build and maintain a strong base of customers who trust you.

But you can’t expect a business to run like a machine all the time. Sometimes new customers will bring fresh challenges. Ideally though, as time goes on, things get better and better. And, with those positive developments, you can create a community made up of staff and customers… and sometimes dogs.

JOSH: If a dog is good at behavior, they’re not causing a ruckus or aggressive, we let the dogs roam free in the salon. We have a whole run with fresh, real grass for them to go to the bathroom and they play with the dogs all day.

So dogs are always playing. Between that, if we have time, we’re playing with the dog. We’re giving them attention. We’re taking pictures with the dog. And we just make the dogs feel comfortable like they’re at home. And at the end of the day, these dogs become like our dogs as well. We see them so often. We’re always hanging out with them.

We see these dogs more than a vet will see their dogs. And each person has their favorite dogs and they become like our own and we just treat it as such. So I think the feeling a dog may have is like: This is like my second home. And that’s what we love to do because it’s the best feeling when a dog is just so excited to come here.

I’ve had dogs that have been so afraid or aggressive and didn’t wanna be here. But after time and time, they just get so close to us and they run through this door. We’re trying to open the gate and the dog is just jumping on it so excited, and they see some of their friends that they’ve seen before, they see us. And it’s just a big puppy family really.

EMILY: For many businesses in the pets category, their customers also include our four-legged friends. Creating a great in-store experience for dogs is an extension of the human owner’s experience… and keeps them both coming back.

EMILY:  Kayla discovered Dogue when her doodle Winston was still a puppy. Some dog grooming salons may have rushed to check Winston in and send Kayla on her way. But at Dogue, she was relieved to be talked through the grooming process in a transparent, back-and-forth conversation. This gave her the opportunity to engage with Josh, discuss Winston’s grooming history, and get educated about grooming and at home maintenance for her breed.

KAYLA: So the first initial interaction was actually with Josh. He was the one that was going to be grooming my dog Winston.

They had these cute little pink chairs at the front of the shop. And he just sat down with me. He asked me what our grooming was like at home, what were my desires, maybe the length that I was going for. But also reiterating that if I do want my dog’s hair to be longer, since he is a doodle, that it is more high maintenance. That he will have to be coming every four to six weeks. And we will have to be doing the baths at home and everything like that. So they really do make sure to see if you are doing that part.

So it was really important and they stressed that at the beginning: maybe if he doesn’t specifically need a haircut, if his hair hasn’t grown out that much, that we’re still bringing him in. So that way he can have the bath and get more comfortable with being in the grooming salon. You know, hearing the clippers, getting his face clipped and his paws clipped. So they really stressed that at the beginning of the appointment.

EMILY: Kayla had some minimal knowledge of what Winston’s hair upkeep would be like when she first got him, but she left her first appointment feeling well-equipped to take care of him at home between visits. Patrons who are armed with an awareness of the staff’s specific skills can become some of the most loyal customers. They fully understand what they can bring to the table versus professional groomers whose true expertise can’t be substituted. Kayla may feel perfectly competent bathing and brushing Winston at home, but she also knows when he needs to go to Dogue.

That’s not always the case with every customer. Grooming maintenance on a dog like Winston takes more than going to the groomer every once in a while. It requires that the owner takes a proactive role in keeping them properly groomed at home. And not every customer knows this when stepping into a grooming spa, and if they’re not doing their part at home, this can require a tough conversation about upkeep and maintenance that’s required to allow the groomer to deliver the desired cut. But that tough conversation can go a long way to create trust with a customer and deepen your relationship.

JOSH: A big part of our clientele here are a lot of poodles and doodles or, like, bichons. But mostly poodles and doodles. Of course, dogs with fluffy hair.

And a lot of people get these breeds. Obviously, you see it somewhere. It’s cute. You love it. You got this breed now. And a lot of people don’t know the maintenance, or how much it costs, or what you need to do at home. And that’s our job to let them know, like: this is what you need to do. So when someone comes in, even if their dog is completely matted the first time, it’s our job. When they pick up their dog, we’re like, “Hey, your dog…This or this or this.”

And we help them know what to do at home. So the main thing is having a brush and a comb. A lot of people think they just need a brush and that’s it. Or they brush once every three weeks. They don’t know how often. So it’s a combo of the two. You need a brush. You’re brush, brush, brushing. And then get your comb. Check it if it hits a tangle: brush, brush, brush. And make it fun for your dog. Make it an exciting thing. Give them treats. Make it a bonding experience. And it will make it easier for us. And we do it for them. And it’s also good for us. It makes it a better experience for your dog.

If it’s a puppy, we’re telling them: Touch them everywhere. Touch them on their face, touch their paws. Use any object, a remote control, a comb, your cell phone, different weird objects. It just desensitizes the dog to being used to these things in their face because we’re coming at them with scissors, combs, brushes, clippers, water, and a dryer.

And it helps us out a lot and will help them out in the long run and for the dog to have a great experience coming to grooming. So we just like to educate them and make sure that it’s fun for the both of us. It’s a teamwork effort. It’s our job to do the cut and groom your dog, but it’s also the owner’s job to keep that up at home. And you make a mutual respect for it all. And it’s just a good thing for owners to know what breed they got, what it takes to maintain it. It just makes it easy. Make it fun. Make it a thing for your dog.

EMILY: We often think about the staff at a business being a team, but customers can be part of the team, too. Engage with your customers and show them the importance of their role. In turn, they’ll have an increased emotional investment in you and the success of your business. As that relationship builds, another medium to explore is social media like Instagram.

KAYLA: I definitely think, even from the first interaction of going to Dogue, just by talking to the business owner and him getting to know, not only me, but also my dog, I think that helped me have trust. And I think that’s really important in this dog grooming relationship that we’re going through.

And so for me, just each time, each interaction, it got better. They got to know us. And by the second time that he even went, they even remembered his name and my name as well. So asking different questions. They had followed us on Instagram, so they’re always talking to us over Instagram or showing love on his posts.

And so I think that just that continual relationship is something that, for me, forever that I live in LA, I will only be going there. I have referred a bunch of our friends there as well. So it’s just that relationship that feels really good. I feel like they have my dog’s best interest in mind.

But also, the first time I was a little nervous. So they just had that way of calming me, when it came to giving over this tiny puppy for multiple hours and going through the grooming process to just the process that it is now. And them just being able to keep up that relationship has been really, really, really meaningful to me.

EMILY: A close relationship between a consumer and a local business is valuable. Particularly in an industry where your customer comes back. They’ll keep showing up and they’ll bring referrals along the way. And consumers can feel whether that relationship is genuine. Instead of forcing a certain type of customer service or trying to fit within a pre-existing mold in your industry, you might consider infusing your business with your own personality. This will help you  attract the customers that make sense and you’ll feel more fulfilled.

JOSH: We always recommend: if you booked with one groomer, keep going to the same groomer. So your dog is just used to that groomer. It just makes it easier instead of changing around. And you really just bond with these dogs. I’ve been doing some dogs, even prior to Dogue, I’ve been doing it for 10 years.

And it really touches us because again, these dogs are just like our dogs. We see them so often. We’ve seen them grow. We’ve seen what the parents may go through and we bond with our clients as well. And when I opened Dogue I wanted it to be more free than other salons. They’re very, like, don’t ask personal stuff with the client. And I’m like, ask them, how was your vacation? How was your wedding? We get dogs ready for a wedding. They’re the ring bearer or something for the wedding. And it’s just asking them these questions and making it not so formal, more personal. And, especially me, I connect with all of my clients. They’re like friends or family at this point. And I genuinely care about them and their dogs.

EMILY: Genuine relationships with customers are rewarding. But when a business owner starts to grow a business that emphasizes those relationships, the onus can be put on them to become a public-facing individual. That can be a lot of pressure. It may involve upkeep of a social media presence. But it also may increase positive perception of the business.

KAYLA: I definitely think that by having the business owner kind of at the forefront, it shows that they’re invested in their business. And I think that for small business owners specifically, it makes it feel like you’re really impacting their life, their baby. Their business is their baby. And I can just tell that by the way he has posted on social media and just his overall involvement. You can really tell that it’s very near and dear to his heart.

And so for me, when I look at these reviews, that’s something that I look for. You know, they’re always responding to the reviews that people write. They’re always commenting on people’s posts on Instagram. They’re always posting. And so it just made this little community.

I just think that’s really cool that the business owner is that involved and that invested. And I think that it really helps. If all businesses could be like that, I think that it would make this community of small businesses really thrive, especially in those areas where…you know, it is West Hollywood. And there are the larger organizations or the larger chains. But being able to support something so close to home, I think is really cool.

EMILY: Because she gets a window into Josh’s life and the Dogue community via social media, Kayla feels invested. Plus, the staff takes the time to respond to reviews and leave comments on the social media accounts of their clients. But in an industry where people are being asked to put a lot of trust in a business, there can be negative reviews. And there may be two sides to the story.

JOSH: We get a lot of people who show us on Instagram more than anything, I feel. Their dog gets done, they take pictures, they post and tag. But when we do get a review, we all definitely see it gets sent to us. And I show, if it was this groomer or that groomer, like: Hey, look what this person sent. But I don’t think we take it too much to heart.

If it’s a great one, we’re like, wow, thank you. We love it. If it’s a bad one, of course, any business gets bad reviews. It’s been rare for us. But of course, we’re getting bigger and bigger and bigger. You get those. But those reviews are always a person who doesn’t understand what is possible for their dog.

It’s never something like: This person messed up a haircut, I didn’t want this. Or it’s never been: My dog was hurt or my dog felt this way. It’s maybe something like: I wanted a full teddy bear cut and they shaved my dog. But it’s also, your dog was very matted. It’s nothing we could have done. We explained everything to you. You’re just not satisfied.

And that still is just where we feel like educating the owner. But not everybody wants to hear that or take that. And some people get very defensive about their dog and they feel like they’re doing everything possible for their dog. We try our best to explain and educate, but we can’t make every single person happy. We just try our best.

EMILY: Dogue Spa gets a lot of interaction on Instagram, which makes total sense! It’s a dog grooming business with an artistic twist, so of course people want to show their dogs’ new style to the world. Nowadays, having an aesthetically-pleasing business that caters to customers who love to share on social media can set you apart. And those photos also make their way to Yelp where they help a business stand out.

KAYLA: I definitely think that the photos are important when writing a review only because it allows you to see maybe the result that you could have. But also I think that there’s a pattern and consistency.

So with dog grooming, I wanted to see that they had done other doodles before. So I liked looking at the reviews because there were hundreds of pictures of doodles and poodles. So it allowed me to see them do such artistic work and it’s so creative that I was like: if they can definitely nail that and they can do that well, then I have full confidence that they can give my little guy the perfect haircut. So it’s definitely really important.

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