During the COVID-19 pandemic, many small business owners have had to make tough decisions about how to operate amid the chaos. But despite all the challenges, local business owners are still forging ahead and finding inspiration in the fact that we’re all in this together.
We recently caught up with Beth Ruppel, owner of Wolfgang’s Pet Stop, to learn how she’s adapting to the “new normal.”
What do you love most about your business?
Beth Ruppel: When I and my team report to work, we are lucky enough to be surrounded by the cutest and cuddliest of “co-workers”. It really is fun working with dogs (and the occasional kitty, too). Our furry visitors are all regulars and we love and know them well. We feel a sense of companionship with them, as if they are all part of our families. The pet-loving community of the CWE inspired me to start this company 15 years ago and continues to be what I adore most about this business today. We have made it our mission to nurture close relationships with our clients. We are there from puppyhood and kittenhood to the golden years and we grieve when it’s time to say goodbye. On the flip side, our customers have been there for us, too! Folks encouraged me through my pregnancy and then watched my daughter grow up in the dog pack! When the business faced financial troubles back in 2014, our clients rallied behind our “Save Our Tails” campaign and helped us get through that tough time. It was truly incredible. Both I and my staff have built such wonderful relationships with the people and the pets we serve, we couldn’t imagine doing anything else, even in the face of uncertainty.
How has your business been impacted by COVID-19?
Beth Ruppel: We had to completely close our doors on March 22, 2020 and remain closed for 4 weeks. There was a lot of uncertainty and disagreement about what was considered essential at first, but it didn’t seem that grooming or daycare services were among the exemptions. There was a lot of anxiety among the staff as well. We all wanted to be part of the bigger solution, take some time to isolate, and make sure we were all safe and healthy. So we remained closed through April 22, 2020. By then, the health department had clarified that grooming and pet care are indeed essential services and my staff all felt healthy and ready to return. We reopened for grooming services on April 23 and daycare services on May 4, 2020.
How are you pivoting your business model to accommodate employees, customers, and vendors during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Beth Ruppel: We have made some changes in operations to ensure safety of clients and staff members. Our staff members maintain social distance, where face masks when interacting with others, and have sanitation routines to make sure things are disinfected. Our groomers and bathers are no longer coming out to chat with clients and greet the dogs, they are all remaining in the salon to groom the dogs. We have one receptionist handling all check-in instructions and check-out payments over the phone. Also, we are limiting our salon reception lobby to one customer at a time and have it set up to ensure social distancing. We have set up an outdoor waiting area in case more than one person arrives at a time. And we are also able to pick up dogs at the curb. We no longer keep and store the clients’ leashes and collars and now only use our own gear. All of this ensures that we are limiting our personal contact. Similar procedures are being implemented for our daycare dogs with sidewalk drop-offs and pick-ups. Our retail floor upstairs can accommodate two people shopping for food or treats, as long as they are maintaining distance.
How can community members continue to support your business during this challenging time?
Beth Ruppel: Our community has helped us so much already. When we saw the closure coming, we asked clients to make a purchase for future services to help us stay afloat during April. Many of our clients were able and willing. This allowed us to pay all our April expenses, even though we did not have revenue coming in. I am so grateful to my community. But I know that we paid April bills with what would have been May or June revenues. I also know that, as many folks are able to work from home, our daycare numbers will likely be down, but my staff will be there and ready. So I guess my hope is that our daycare pack will start coming back to see us and our grooming clients will be patient with appointment times as we try to get everybody back in and on schedule, and importantly, I’d like to plan for growth this summer. I hope my clients will actively refer us to friends and with online reviews. Of course, buying a gift certificate for a friend goes a long way!
What are you doing to think proactively about your business when the economy is reopened?
Beth Ruppel: While the business was closed, I was busy making some leasehold improvements, equipment upgrades, and changes to operations that I hope will allow us to run smoother while accommodating growth this summer. I keep reading that people are adopting pets during quarantine. They’re going to have to go back to work at some point and I want to be ready for them when they do! My trainer and I are hoping to start small group classes this summer for the new puppies and we can certainly teach old dogs new tricks, too. My groom team is rested and my daycare space is improved.
*If* you have any free time, what are you reading, listening to, creating, watching, cooking, baking, or doing to pass the time indoors? What are you doing for health and wellness?
Beth Ruppel: I did learn a bit about myself over the quarantine. It seems that the books I would read, the rooms I would organize, and the art I would create if only I had the time… it turns out I was never really going to do those things. I am humbled and wiser. I was very happy to go back to working on my business even before the people, the pets, or the staff came back.