“What do I have to lose?”
It's a question Suzanne Quintal asked herself many times before opening Bytown Bark & Bathe, her self-serve hair salon for dogs in December 2020.
“Most places for dog grooming are in big stores with lots of other dogs and strangers,” Quintal explains. “They do a good job, but it's scary for your pet. I wanted to open something less institutional, more holistic. I wanted it to be esthetically beautiful, not just calm for the dogs but for the people coming here too with a Zen vibe like a higher-end salon. It makes for a relaxing atmosphere that's a great bonding activity for the dog and the owner. Dogs want to he handled by their owner, not left with a stranger.”
A trained interior designer, the forty-something Quintal was getting tired of the feast or famine routine of contract work when, in 2018, she began thinking about working for herself.
She spent two years doing her due diligence, researching the market and scoping out locations before she finally took the leap.
Quintal's first task was finding a location. That kind of fell into her lap while shopping at Healthy Pet Headquarters on Bank Street at Gladstone Avenue. The hair salon next door was up for lease, and she says the location couldn't have been better.
After 20 years of designing interiors, she's created a spa-like environment as cozy as a rustic cabin with lots of wood painted cream and grey. She also made her plumbing environmentally sensitive, with organic shampoos and conditioners, and waste water filtered to remove dirt and dog hair from the city sewers.
“Many people in Centretown have pets,” she explains. “They live in condos or apartments with tiny bathrooms. It's back-breaking work. They need a place where they can wash their pets. You want your pet to be healthy and happy and hygienic. They're your family.”
“Some people thought I was crazy for opening during a pandemic, but I thought, if not now, when?” Quintal asks rhetorically. “I saved my own money, did my due diligence. I even had a plan B in case the shop didn't fly. I was prepared for almost anything.”
The one thing she was missing was a crystal ball.
Subsequently, she didn't see the province-wide lockdown that shuttered all but essential retail for the next 20 weeks. Making matters worse, she didn't qualify for government subsidies because she wasn't considered an essential service.
Like so many local store owners, Quintal spent months locked out of her own store, with no money coming in and bills to pay. Hard times tested her patience.
“The pandemic slowed things down, for sure, but I kept to my goals. The first three months it was to make enough to cover the rent. If I could do that, it showed me the business was sustainable once things opened up.”
With the city now emerging out of lockdown to become a little more retail-friendly, Quintal's going full steam ahead to promote her spa for dogs, marketing on her website bytownbarknbathe.com, Instagram and Tik-Tok.
Hard work and careful planning opened the front door, but it's Quintal's positive personality that's making Bytown Bath & Bathe a fun meeting place for local dog-owners. She's become a role model for local female entrepreneurs, encouraging talented, motivated women to pursue their passions. Most of the toys, treats and accessories she sells are made by local artisans.
”We're building a nice community here,” she adds. “I've always had the entrepreneurial spirit. Women are good multi-taskers. They support each other. I love dogs, and really like helping people, teaching them how to wash a dog, and make it enjoyable. It can be a lot of fun.”
That may be the best reason of all to work for yourself.