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Retailer Of The Year 2011-2012: Outstanding Holistic Approach


Pet product News Retailer of the Year
A Natural Place for Nurturing and Growth
The right location, open-minded customers and a holistic approach help Equus & Paws thrive.

By Devon McPhee

Elizabeth McNeilly considers it a success when her clients start booking fewer and fewer appointments.

This may sound absurd, but the owner of Missoula, Mont.-based Equus & Paws LLC, a holistic dog grooming spa and boutique, stands by it—at least for her canine massage clients.

Elizabeth McNeilly
Elizabeth McNeilly owns Equus & Paws, winner of Pet Product News' Retailer of the Year special recognition award for Outstanding Holistic Approach.

“I tell clients that I should be able to fix most problems in one to five sessions, and after that it’s just maintenance,” McNeilly said.

Massage clients bring their pets in for a variety of reasons, from arthritis to hip dysplasia to relaxation.

“Everybody needs a massage,” she said. “It’s good for your health, for the lymph nodes, to reduce stress and to relax your muscles.”

McNeilly can share many success stories that attest to the healing power of massage.
Consider the one about the dachshund that was accidentally sat on. The poor pup could not move its hind legs properly; it got around by using a scooping motion with its back-end. Its owner brought the pooch into the boutique for a series of massages. Within three sessions, the dog had regained use of its back legs.

“I don’t see that client as often because the dog is up and walking around, and I think that’s great,” McNeilly said.

Getting Schooled
As the only employee in her dog grooming and equine and canine sports massage boutique, Elizabeth McNeilly, owner of Equus & Paws LLC in Missoula, Mont., spent a number of years gaining the skills needed to make her business a success.

She attended Rocky Mountain College in Billings for three years, majoring in equestrian studies. After that she became certified in equine sports massage from Equissage in Round Hill, Va., followed by canine grooming and massage certification.

“I loved it,” McNeilly said in regard to her education.

When she graduated from grooming school, she began working as a traveling dog groomer, making house calls for clients. She soon learned that the best way to expand her business— and maintain her sanity—was to open a grooming salon.

“People want to be able to look into the windows of your business, to see and feel the products, to receive coupons,” she said.

The lessons don’t end there. As a new business owner, McNeilly said a number of small learning opportunities occur fairly regularly. For instance, she once attempted to fix a maintenance issue herself instead of calling her landlord. But instead of solving the issue, this DIY approach ended up costing her $300 unnecessarily. She also quickly learned not to advertise over her budget.

“Those were expensive lesson to learn,” she said.

Still, it’s by learning that we grow, and through formal education and the school of hard knocks, McNeilly has grown Equus & Paws into a very successful business. —DM

The boutique, recipient of Pet Product News International’s 2011-2012 Retailer of the Year special recognition award for Outstanding Holistic Approach, offers a number of other services to its customers in addition to canine massage, including equine massage, full-service dog grooming and a self-service dog wash. Products sold include all-natural, made-in-the-USA treats, toys and food for dogs, cats and horses.

“I’ve always believed in a holistic way of life,” McNeilly said. “I believe in being healthy and natural and in doing things within your community to support each other.”

Location, Location, Location
McNeilly first opened Equus & Paws as strictly a grooming salon about 31/2 years ago in Billings, Mont. Business there was hit or miss.

“Things would go really well October through December and in March, but the rest of the time it fluctuated,” McNeilly said.

Clients in Billings didn’t appreciate McNeilly’s focus on quality, all-natural products.

“They didn’t understand why I wouldn’t use the knock-off brands from Walmart because they didn’t want to spend the money, and that bothered me personally,” she said.

During those years, McNeilly would attend Pet Fest, a celebration of all things pet-related, held annually in Missoula. On her visits, she became very familiar with the city and felt that the local obsession with animals made the perfect environment for a business such as hers. Eight months ago, she made the move.

“It was the best business decision I ever made,” McNeilly said. “Business has been steady since I opened the doors.”

With more funds and 400 extra square feet of space, the move also allowed for an expansion of the store’s offerings to its current slate of products and services.

The shop enjoys a customer base that far surpasses the one it had in Billings, McNeilly reported. She attributes much of her store’s success to the old business adage: location, location, location.

“You have to find your nook, find a place like Missoula that’s ready for services like this,” McNeilly said.

Canine massage
A happy—and relaxed—client receives massage therapy during a local event.

These words of wisdom ring true especially for equine massage, McNeilly noted. Owners considering adding this service should be located in states with pockets of wealth, such as in California, Washington and Colorado, or in areas that have a large show-horse population, as do Vermont, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia, she said.

Eyeing Expansion
Full-service grooming makes up about half of the store’s revenue, while canine massage brings in an additional 20 to 25 percent. Self-service offers another 5 percent, with the rest coming from retail sales.

While equine massage hasn’t generated much business, McNeilly would like to see it eventually make up at least 15 percent of Equus & Paws’ sales.

“I love equine massage,” she said. “And I’m really good at it.”

Dog and cat toys
Equus & Paws offers a limited range of dog and cat products, but McNeilly plans to expand the selections as well as offer equine items.

One way she plans on achieving this goal is by generating enough business to hire a front desk person. With someone manning the desk, McNeilly would have time to drum up business at local horse shows.

“Right now I’m doing everything, which means I can either schedule appointments or go to shows. I can’t do both,” she said.

She’d also like to expand her equine retail offerings.

“There’s no real tack shop or place that sells supplies, and I have the room and the option to expand, so I can really cater to it,” McNeilly said.

In a few years, she would like to have enough clientele to hire a second groomer, and she dreams of bringing in an animal acupressurist, as well. She also has the option to expand, as the space next door stands vacant.

“We have lots of places we could grow,” she said.



Equus & Paws

Location: 2825 Stockyard Road, Missoula, Mont.

Owner: Elizabeth McNeilly

Employees: One full time

Size: 1,500 square feet

Years in Business: 3

Products and Services Offered: A holistic dog grooming spa and boutique, Equus & Paws offers full-service grooming, a self-serve dog wash, as well as canine and equine sports massage. Retail items are all-natural and made in the USA. The offerings include toys, treats, food and accessories for dogs and horses, along with a few items for cats.

Website: www.equusandpaws.com



 Posted: Jan. 26, 2012, 7:25 p.m. EST

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