‘Dogfather of Harlem’ is grooming pets for free
Harlem Doggie Day Spa takes its grooming on a 12-day tour
Pet parents want their pups to look good. According to IBIS World, grooming industry revenue has grown at an annualized rate of 4.3 percent to $9.2 billion from 2015 to 2020. And as popular as the pet premium industry is, it’s still noticeably rare to see African-American businesses involved. That is, unless you know where to look — This Dog’s Life has a rundown of 22 black-owned dog businesses that sell pup-fun products like dog ties, dog treats and aromatic dog bowls.
And if you’re in the right place at the right time, you may see the “Dogfather of Harlem” making his way around the country in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City* and Washington D.C. from July 27–August 11. Brian Taylor, the “dogfather” owner of Harlem Doggie Day Spa, is temporarily closing his East Coast shop for three weeks to tour the country to groom dogs, with the financial backing of the Pandemic Pup Relief Fund (COVID-19 Pet Grooming Relief Fund).
Pet owners may be able to breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that their pets have the opportunity to get proper grooming after some dog grooming locations have closed due to the worldwide coronavirus outbreak. Taylor’s business also took a major nosedive in pet visits and profits. His overall business, which was founded in 2010 as a partnership and became self-owned by the end of 2012, took an 80 percent cut in revenue this year.
However, rules have never really stopped Taylor from pursuing his own dreams — even if it got him into a little trouble with his mom. As a West African kid who was instructed to never allow dogs inside the house, this only intrigued him to enjoy the company of dogs more. At the age of 15, a few years after moving to America, he snuck a pit bull in his basement. When his mother found out three weeks later, he had to find a place for the dog to go. He waved goodbye to the pit bull, but that dog only increased his interest in being around man’s best friend.
Fast forward years later as an adult, Taylor became a banker for J.P. Morgan Chase. While sitting money to the side to invest in a business, he revisited his love for four-legged pups.
“I wanted to invest in a business, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do at [the time I was saving],” Taylor said.
Initially he decided to invest in a dog walking partnership. But after that business relationship ended, he continued on by himself from 2010 to 2012 as a dog walker, completed an online dog training course and took classes at the American Academy of Pet Grooming.
“I really wanted to make sure I knew every aspect of the business,” Taylor said. “I started off as a groomer. In 2013, I opened Harlem Doggie Day Spa services. We offer overnight cage-free boarding, pickup services and sell dog food. It’s an overall business that Harlem, New York’s community could get into. I wanted to do something for the same community that helped me find my passion. I want to make sure that I give back, too. I’ve done so with my neighborhood Halloween costume party, youth basketball team games and inviting kids into my establishment to have hands-on experience with animals.”
Ten years into the business, dog care professionals could’ve never predicted how dog grooming would upend their business. Even though PetSmart and PetCo had to temporarily close their grooming salons or drastically reduce hours, that clearly didn’t stop pets from needing their fur cut, nails clipped and teeth brushed. Just like people, the grooming must go on.
Harlem Doggie Day Spa went from servicing an estimated 6K-9K services per year (including repeats) with 200 dogs per month pre-COVID 19. By March, he had to let go of eight of his 12 employees, only keeping four (one groomer, two bathers and a nail clipper). Nowadays his company is servicing more dogs at 400 dogs per month. But with people out of work, those services are not always paid.
“It’s not about money for me,” Taylor said. “It’s about helping people who need help. I’ve always had the dream to travel across the country when I bought a mobile van, and just stop in different places, meet new people, rescue dogs and just help. During the past few months when I lost revenue and was closed, dog owners would tell me that they just didn’t have the money for me to groom their dogs. So every five or 10 grooming sessions, I would say, ‘This one is on me.’ I know these people. They’ve been supporting me for so long. I wanted to make sure I give back a percentage of my company and help them in hard times.”
“The reason I decided to go across the country is because now is a good time for me to get in,” Taylor continued. “I’m not making the same amount of money I used to make, but at the same time, I want to be able to live my life. I honestly was just going to go grooming on my own, make a few stops, do some Instagram posts and meet up with my pals. But when I posted this on a Facebook page for black dog groomers, other people wanted to do the same. That’s how it became bigger than what it was.”
Since then, there have been sponsorships set up for dog treats, two shampoo brands, Amazon wish lists for donations and potentially dog gift box companies contributing to the dog grooming tour.
Although state lockdowns are slowly becoming less strict at the start of this month, New York still has some of the strictest preventative measures with people-to-people interactions. That hasn’t swayed Taylor’s optimistic views on meeting dog owners during his six-city tour. With tips from MoeGo, a pet grooming app, he and his team plan to strictly follow all personal protective equipment (PPE) guidelines, curbside pickups and safe bathing methods.
Supporters of his six-city tour have also decided to donate funds to assist in his Pandemic Pup Relief Tour via GoFundMe. According to Taylor, the funds will be used for travel expenses and all pet grooming is free. On his 12-day tour (six cities, two per day), his team’s goal is to service a total of 500 dogs, including helping shelter dogs potentially get adopted.
For more information on this event, please visit HarlemDoggieDaySpa.com.
* Note: Because Philadelphia is so close to New York City, the prior-planned stop in Philly is no longer happening.