Wüf pet spa is a booming grooming business in Over-the-Rhine. In fact, business is busting through the seams, according to owners Jessica Whitaker and Jonny Casey. Every inch of space is in use.
Being right across from Findlay Market is great, Casey said, but “we only have 675 square feet, and we can only do so much with the spa. We’d love to hire more groomers to accommodate more appointments, but we cannot physically fit more grooming tables or stations in this spot…so we’ve been desperately looking for space and happy to find one we can grow into.”
The owners said they look forward to opening a second location in Fort Thomas later this summer.
Space to grow
“Our salon in OTR has a very open concept,” Whitaker said. “You walk in, and you’re right there where dogs are being dried. It’s been impossible for us to have a receptionist or even answer the phones while we’re working. It gets pretty loud.”
Work is underway in the former Colonel De shop at 18 North Fort Thomas Avenue. With almost 3,000 square feet of space, the owners plan to include a designated reception area, more space for grooming and a separate spot for cats.
Right now they have a staff of eight, including the owners, and have four grooming tables. The plan, said Casey, is to start with the same number of groomers and tables in the new space, but they will have much more room to grow, add staff and offer more appointments.
Humbled, happy, a bit surprised
“We’re just so humbled because when we opened our OTR location, we had no idea what to expect.” Whitaker said. “We started out with just the two of us. We didn’t realize we would outgrow that space so fast. We are just really fortunate to be able to make this jump.”
They first opened their business in June of 2019 and were just reaching their one-year anniversary when the COVID-19 shutdown hit.
“Unfortunately grooming was not considered an essential service per the state of Ohio, so we were not able to operate during that,” Whitaker said. “It was pretty concerning but luckily a lot of our clients were pretty supportive. They purchased gift cards, and we were able to just hang on.
“When we opened back up, we were just so busy because everyone needed their dog groomed because no one was able to get an appointment during the shut down. It set us forward to a good spot.”
For the love of a dog
For Casey, his interest in dog grooming came through his love for his first dog.
“I’d had a dog almost my whole life, 19 years,” he said. “Her name was Starr. When she passed away, I was a just getting out of high school…I became really passionate about giving back for all the unconditional love she showed me.
“I was fortunate to get onto a place initially as a dog bather. I started traveling to different salons to learn things and eventually became a groomer. Then I went to Nash Academy in Lexington for dog grooming. I was teaching at Nash and working on my degree at the same time.”
When he finished his degree, Casey took a job as a manager at a chain pet business where he met Whitaker. She was working as a bather when the couple first met, but soon went to an academy for groomers operated by the company. They both moved on to another pet spa in Norwood.
“We just went on this journey together and learned a lot together. We decided to open up our own space and that’s what Over the Rhine became,” Casey said.
One dog at a time
Whitaker said the combination of their experiences gave them a broad spectrum of knowledge about the business and how they wanted to operate.
“We realized we both enjoyed working with dogs one-on-one, which isn’t something many salons do,” she said.
At the corporate-run salons “it was just a lot of dogs coming in at the same time, and we would shuffle through appointments during the day. They’d book three dogs at the same time. You’d bathe them, and have one sitting in a cage with a blow dryer on it. Then you put the next one in the tub and do the same thing. Then you’d pull one out, finish the haircut while the others were drying. So a lot of times the dogs would be there for five or six hours just kind of waiting in the cage under the dryers,” she said.
Whitaker and Casey agreed they prefer working with one dog from start to finish, much the same as in a salon for humans. They found their way was better for the dogs and their owners. Having a dog come in and go straight through the process is more relaxing for the dog and the groomer, Casey said.
Dogs respond better to having the same person for the entire process, she said.
“Our groomers are to the point with their clientele that the dogs are excited to come in and see them,” she said. “They are on a first-name basis with the owners, and they remember what kind of haircut they like and what they get. If you go to a corporate store you’re not going to get that type of personalization most of the time.”
Owners have been very receptive to the shorter appointment times, she said. But if they cannot pick up their dog right away, they can leave the dog for a few hours for a fee.
Dogs in the family
Casey and Whitaker have two human children and seven dogs. Their advice to dog owners is to keep their dogs on a regular grooming schedule.
“Regular grooming is an important part of a dog’s life,” Whitaker said. “For people with puppies, start grooming them early. We suggest no later than 4 months old because they can go through a fear period at 5 or 6 months old. Introducing them to grooming while they’re babies sets them up for success with being comfortable with grooming as they grow up.”
Both owners said they are excited to join the Fort Thomas community and to have the space to grow.