People love to spend money on their pets. In fact, the American Pet Products Association found that pet owners spent $66.75 billion dollars on various expenses related to their pets in 2016 and that number is estimated to reach $69.36 billion this year. Melissa Mitchner is looking to take a big slice out of that pet industry pie.
Mitchner recently re-launched her pet care business, making it Harlem’s first and only 24-hour dog care facility. The Bark Shoppe offers day and night care services, including therapy, boarding, and grooming. Dogs even get therapeutic care with scents and sounds. In short, it’s a state-of-the-art dog space. Mitchner initially opened her shop in August 2012, but this past October The Bark Shoppe got a revamp and added a 24-hour pet care and lodging facility or, as they call them, Day Care and Canine Condos. Pet owners can even check in on their dog via live stream.
Mitchner told MadameNoire about her love of pets and how changing demographics in Harlem from mainly Black residents to now Caucasian has affected her business.
MadameNoire (MN): What made you want to open a pet services business?
Melissa Mitchner (MM): I was inspired by a reality show. I did not grow up with any pets and was afraid of big dogs, but I saw a need in a changing community and I wanted to represent great customer service with and for people that looked like me.
MN: How did you raise startup funds?
MM: I didn’t raise any funds, I self-funded. I stepped out on faith and depleted my savings account. Whew!
MN: That must have been somewhat scary. What were some startup challenges?
MM: Finding people that understand your vision. Since I started at 26, I often worked with my peers and that was sometimes a challenge because I had over eight years experience in human resources, retail, and big box organization. It was hard to translate the direction where the company should go. People can’t envision what they don’t see sometimes, but I knew my plan. Also, battling the people that don’t understand your value and constantly try to discount your brand.
MN: This is a niche business, how do you market it to consistently get new clients?
MM: For the first three to four years it was word of mouth and referrals. That has truly been a blessing. I use social media and recently hired a PR company too to support my outreach. I still continue to self-promote across NYC and I always will.
MN: Why Harlem?
MM: Because people needed to know and see an owner they can identify with. Upon me opening, there were a lot of mixed feelings around gentrification and what that meant to the community. I wanted to be the girl on 115th Street that not only ran a business with integrity but is an example of what hard work and persistence create. I always had great models of greatness and I wanted to create that so that the new leaders that come after me were confident that if I did it, they can to and be confident in that.
MN: How is the changing face of Harlem affecting your business?
MM: We are seeing more international dog breeds. What’s important for myself and my business is that no matter how much the neighborhood changes we continue to be the face of love. A brand that old Harlem can identify with and new Harlem can appreciate. No matter the changes, we will continue to be a company that serves Harlem and pours directly back into the community.
MN: What has been the biggest business surprise since opening?
MM: How much we’ve grown and continue to set the bar higher. I can truly say we are just scratching the surface of what is to come for The Bark Shoppe.