Before the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Om Doggies, a new traveling grooming business owned and operated by Mercer Islander Tracy Harris, was due to open in May.
But then in March, Gov. Jay Inslee put in place a stay-at-home order designed to mitigate the spread of the virus. His order forced several “inessential” businesses to close — one of them being pet grooming.
Rather than take a common reactionary route to the virus, such as keeping things postponed indefinitely, Harris used the delay to her advantage.
“With that in mind, that extra time I essentially used to continue to polish up my back office, business rhythm,” Harris said.
As part of Inslee’s phased approach to safely reopening the state, many businesses, such as pet groomers, were eventually permitted to see through a kind of soft reopening under a modified version of Phase 1 before a more fully fledged reopening under Phase 2.
Om Doggies officially started business as soon as Inslee confirmed that Phase 1.5 was a go about a month ago. King County moved on to Phase 2 on June 19.
So far, Harris said, business has been great. She had communicated about her upcoming venture long before opening with the community (she’s lived on the south part of Mercer Island for the last decade), and word of mouth has helped it gain traction.
Harris uses a business model that sets her apart from conventional groomers, which typically set up shop at brick-and-mortar locations.
Using a charcoal-gray 2020 Ford Transit van (“imagine even bigger than what you see cruising around the Island from an Amazon Prime delivery perspective”), Harris drives to clients rather than have them come to her. The inside of the van has been completely renovated to accommodate her grooming interests — a tub is built in, for example. And when it comes time for grooming, it’s just her and the dog.
“People are very happy that I’m coming to their home,” Harris said. “I think that because of COVID or maybe looking to go outside of their routine from a minimizing social-contact perspective, the mobile edge does check that box for them.”
Harris began her pet-grooming career in 2000, at a luxury grooming shop in Bellevue. Quickly, she became one of the shop’s top groomers.
Harris, however, decided to take a break when her daughter was born. She still always had dogs around and did grooming from time to time. But Om Doggies, which is a passion project, makes for her most recent foray into professional grooming.
“I really emphasize quality over quantity,” Harris said, noting that the van is always climate controlled and that she offers hand-blown drying rather than cage drying, for instance.
Although Harris’ business layout doesn’t much resemble her more orthodox pet-grooming peers, she still has to follow the same payment and cleanliness guidelines as outlined for the state. When an appointment is booked, Harris reminds the customer that just one person should be bringing out the dog rather than the whole family to minimize human contact. None of these adjustments were noted as particular obstacles for Harris or her customers.
“One of the things I think a lot of us here on the Island feel is the sense of community here — the love and passion for pets is high,” she said. “The owners are there to do right by their dog, and they are delighted that they’re getting this…It just warms my heart to think that there’s so much passion for these pets, and I hope that the families that I’m working for now feel the love and dedication that draws me to this line of work as well.”
For now, Harris is looking forward to what the future brings.
“I have found a little niche here in my community where I get to continue to nurture my relationships with people and their dogs,” she said. “When I was thinking about the business model before pulling the trigger on, you know, buying this state of the art mobile conversion van, it feels really good, coming to fruition.”