After just 18 months in business, Kimberly Haines figures she still has a lot to learn about running one. But her impressive inception so impressed the Sacramento district of the U.S. Small Business Administration that it honored her Friday as startup of the year.
“Having a startup is a huge learning curve,” said Haines, owner of Folsom’s Pampered Pet Salon and Boutique, “and I’m just beginning to climb that curve.”
Haines initially appeared in this column in December 2013, a little over a month after opening her business at 6610 Folsom-Auburn Road and roughly a year after earning a business marketing degree from Sacramento State.
Although just 26 at the time, Haines had plenty of experience in the pet care business, having worked as a groomer at a local big-box pet chain for about seven years.
“I worked in the industry for so long that I knew what customers would be looking for and what they weren’t looking for,” Haines said. “I thought they would want more of the upscale salon rather than just a grooming shop.”
Haines carefully cultivates an environment where both owners and pets feel special and seeks employees who can provide that feeling. She now has 10 staffers, up from three in December 2013.
Most of those initial hires remain, Haines said, but employee recruiting and management have posed a challenge. It’s not that easy, she noted, to find a groomer with the right skills.
“Before I opened my business, I was never in charge of any employees,” she said. “There’s a balance between keeping your workers happy and wanting to support them and doing what you need to do for your business.”
Last year, Haines’ Pampered Pet Salon was voted the region’s best groomer on the KCRA 3 A-List. The distinction resulted in an avalanche of new business from pet owners throughout the Sacramento area.
Haines cites both her store location and positive Yelp reviews as instrumental in her success. Her customer database now tops 1,300, up from 93 in her first month, Haines said, and comparable sales have doubled or tripled month over month.
She has blown away projections made in her initial business plan, she said, and has been able to make extra payments on the startup loan from her dad, John Haines. He continues to help with renovations, sales projections and service. Mom Kathleen Haines assists with public relations, customer relations and business strategy.
While some customers will drive two hours for her services, Haines said, her location draws many residents of El Dorado Hills, Folsom, Granite Bay and Orangevale because of accessibility.
El Dorado Hills resident Ralph Torres was one of Pampered Pet’s many Yelp commenters. He began bringing in his long-haired dachshund, Maddie, for grooming in mid-2014 and has become a repeat customer.
“The No. 1 reason we go there is customer service ... Every receptionist we’ve encountered there has just been really good with our dog,” he said in an interview. “Kim, the owner, she’s the one who has done the grooming on our dog. She’s absolutely fantastic. You can see where her employees get it.”
Haines said she never stops thinking about her business, which she said her SCORE counselor, Frank Cuzzo, warned would happen.
“I thought, ‘Oh, he’s just saying that to make me think twice about starting a business, to make sure I’m totally into it,’ ” Haines said. “But he wasn’t kidding. There is no off switch … I’m always thinking of ways to improve.”
The grooming area of Pampered Pet has filled out, Haines said, so she wants to focus on expanding her retail product lines. She’ll be attending the national trade show for pet retailers, known as SuperZoo, in Las Vegas in July, to scout new products.
After she returns home, Haines will have another big event to attend: her September wedding to her Sacramento High School sweetheart, Steven Brimer. The two have been together for about 11 years, said Haines, who feels her business is running smoothly enough to take a short honeymoon.
Sacramento-based microlender Opening Doors nominated Haines’ business for the SBA award and also gave Haines her start with a small-business loan. Debra DeBondt, the agency’s chief executive officer, said Haines impressed staff with her preparation: “Kim went to school and learned about business, and she spent three years working with a SCORE counselor to develop a really solid business plan.”
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