Aquila Brown went to school to become a veterinary assistant because she loves animals.
“But once I got a job, I realized every time I saw a dog I was giving him a shot. Or, worse, helping people make a final decision about their pet. That’s not why I got into it.
“Since I eat whole foods and believe you can cure a lot with a good diet and nutrition, I figured I’d open a pet boutique and pets would love me.
“Turns out dogs don’t like baths much, either, so it’s kind of torture here, too. But at least they get treats, and more of them are excited to see me.”
Brown operates The Yuppy Puppy at the North Division Y. During a recent interview, she discussed her business, pet owners’ quirks, and the muscle car she began restoring when she was 14.
S-R: What pets did you have growing up?
Brown: I was only allowed hamsters.
S-R: What career did you imagine for yourself?
Brown: I wanted to be president. Then I switched to marine biologist, and then veterinarian. It never dawned on me that I would own a business.
S-R: How about your education?
Brown: I graduated from aviation maintenance school in September 2001, right when the industry’s bottom dropped out.
S-R: Aviation maintenance?
Brown: Yeah, I was a licensed airframe and power plant mechanic. I was living in Seattle, and my goal was to work for an airline. It’s a really good-paying job and right up my alley, because my hobby was automotives. I spent all of high school rebuilding a ’79 Camaro by myself – well, with the help of friends, neighbors and anybody who would teach me something.
S-R: Have you had other careers?
Brown: I was assistant manager of a tire shop, but that was just a job between jobs.
S-R: When you opened this shop, did you have a business plan?
Brown: Not even remotely. All I had was a rough idea and a very supportive husband. I originally thought I’d do a café – a place to come get coffee with your dog. But the (health department) isn’t keen on that concept. So it morphed into this.
S-R: How much did it cost to launch?
S-R: You opened right before the recession. Did that affect business?
Brown: Maybe, but I was growing and didn’t know any better. It might have been worse if I’d started in 2004 and was really thriving when things crashed.
S-R: How has the business evolved?
Brown: I didn’t plan to offer grooming when I started, just self-serve dog washing with some retail. Now, 50 percent of our business is grooming, 30 percent is retail and the rest is the self-serve.
S-R: Any changes ahead?
Brown: I would love to get a bigger, newer building. But I don’t want two locations, because I’m too Type A to have someone else run another store for me.
S-R: Have clients’ attitudes changed over the past seven years?
Brown: Clothing and carriers were really big when we opened. Now they’ve become kind of a joke. And you can tell the economy is coming back because more people are switching from self-serve wash to paying us to do it.
S-R: What do you look for in employees?
Brown: Passion – some kind of drive.
S-R: How much do your groomers earn?
Brown: One made almost $50,000 last year, plus tips. There are never enough dog groomers.
S-R: Do groomers make more than you?
Brown: Oh, yeah. Probably twice to three times what I make. But if I groomed, I couldn’t run the store.
S-R: What distinguishes Yuppy Puppy from the competition?
Brown: We kind of take the “self” out of the self-serve dog wash. We walk people through the process and help them figure out which products are best for their pet.
S-R: What products do you sell?
Brown: As far as food goes, we only sell products made in the United States or Canada. We focus on ingredients with nutritional value – grains like barley, oatmeal, brown rice. And we like to see identifiable meat sources. I don’t know what “animal” means.
S-R: What shouldn’t people give dogs?
Brown: I hate rawhide. It’s bleached to turn it white, and it doesn’t break down, so it can become like glue in a dog’s intestines. When I worked in a veterinary clinic, I saw too many surgeries to remove big wads of rawhide.
S-R: Is there such a thing as over-pampering a pet?
Brown: No. You can over-pamper your child, because someday they have to grow up and be a productive, independent member of society. But you’re always going to take care of your dog. Mine come to work with me every day and sleep in bed with me at night.
S-R: Tell me about a particularly pampered pet.
Brown: I have a customer whose dog arrives in a purse and doesn’t wear collars – she wears necklaces. Every time we groom her, she has a different tiara on her head. We shave the hair on her body short and leave her legs fluffy so she can wear a dress 24/7. I think that’s hilarious.
S-R: Do you get unusual requests?
Brown: So many, I don’t even know where to start. One I get all the time is people wanting to know how to make their pets pass for service animals, so they can take them into the grocery story or to a restaurant. I find that frustrating.
S-R: After a few baths, are dogs more comfortable with the routine?
Brown: Usually. They’re like children who freak out the first time you take them to a barber. A dog’s first and second baths are generally the worst. After that, most are fine. But some dogs are genuinely scared of water.
S-R: How often should a dog be bathed?
Brown: If your dog stinks, wash it. People used to think they should only bathe their dog once a year, because too many baths would damage the oils in their coat. But products have come so far. All the shampoos and conditioners we use in the store are vegetable-based and mild, so you can bathe your dog as often as you like. My own dogs get bathed every 10 days or so, because you can’t run a grooming shop and have dirty dogs.
S-R: How often should dogs’ nails be trimmed?
Brown: When you can hear their toenails clicking on the floor, or they snag in carpet, it’s time for a trim.
S-R: What advice would you offer a prospective pet owner?
Brown: Do research to determine which breed best fits your family. I can’t believe how many people tell me, “I didn’t know this dog would get so big,” or “I didn’t know these dogs shed like they do.” Talk to a vet. Google the breed. Come here – I’ll answer any questions you have to the best of my knowledge.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Brown: I get to wear a lot of hats. Every day is different.
S-R: What do you like least?
Brown: The same thing.
S-R: What are you most proud of?
Brown: That I started my own business when I was 23 and have made a difference in Spokane’s pet community. People know more and can do better with their pets because we’re here.
S-R: How many pets do you have?
Brown: Way too many – two dogs and five cats. I love them all. But when you spend all day working with pets, sometimes you just want to go home and have a couple of minutes to yourself. It’s like being a teacher and having 10 kids at home.
S-R: Your name – Aquila – is Latin for “eagle.” What’s the story behind that?
Brown: My mom named me Aquila because it’s a symbol of strength and independence, and she really wanted that for me. Then I moved 300 miles away from her, and she hates it. So I don’t know what she was thinking. (laugh).