Yuppy to the Max
Meeting companion animals’ needs is the driving force behind the Spokane, Wash.-based retailer’s success.
By Lizett Bond
Assisting animals is a deeply personal avocation for Aquila Brown, co-owner with husband Gavin of The Yuppy Puppy LLC in Spokane, Wash., and Retailer of the Year Runner-Up for Outstanding Adoption and Companion Animal Support. Pursuing a career as a certified veterinary technician seemed a logical path to achieve that calling. But Brown hadn’t anticipated the difficulty of seeing animals euthanized that she felt could be saved.
“And I didn’t want to be the mean lady chasing animals down to give vaccines or shove a thermometer in their keester,” she said.
At a Glance
The Yuppy Puppy
Locations: 9423 N. Newport Highway, Spokane, WA 99218
Owners: Gavin and Aquila Brown
Size: 2,400 square feet
Employees: 2 full time, 2 part time
Years in Business: 5
Products and Services Offered: Full-service grooming and self -serve dog wash; nail trimming; holistic and organic pet foods and treats; a boutique carrying gifts and products for dogs and cats; adoption days
Instead, Brown longed for an environment where pets would be excited to see her. She envisioned finding loving homes for animals in need or helping them stay in their existing homes.
“I can’t think of more than a handful of dogs that are excited to go to the vet, “ she said. “I wanted to be able to love on them.”
In October 2006, with the opening of The Yuppy Puppy, Brown embarked on a quest to achieve those ambitions. Named after the family pet, DuraMax, a 6-year-old Shiba Inu, the store moniker was derived during a camping trip in which the tidy canine spent the entire holiday in a camp chair in order to avoid the inevitable dirt associated with such an adventure.
“We said, ‘This is the yuppiest puppy we have ever seen,’ and it came from that,” Brown said.
Today, DuraMax is the store namesake, mascot and official greeter. He has also served extensively as a therapy pet.
The Yuppy Puppy occupies 2,400 square feet of space comprising a boutique, five self-washing tubs and a full-service grooming salon. An extensive offering of holistic and organic pet foods and treats, collars, leashes and clothes are in the product mix. Toys fill the storefront window.
“Everybody parking in the lot outside can see all the toys,” she said. “The windows are covered in them, floor to ceiling.
“Well, not quite to the floor because if you put anything on the floor it gets peed on,” she added.
As expected, visiting pets are always welcomed at The Yuppy Puppy. Brown’s main focus, however, continues to be animals in need.
|Aquila Brown takes extra care with her in-store displays to ensure customers can easily find whatever they’re looking for.|
Working closely with shelters and rescues, she is able to provide education to both potential and existing customers regarding proper nutrition, general health issues, the importance of adopting and the problems associated with puppy mill purchases.
“The Humane Society of Spokane is where we do the majority of our work because it is 100 percent donation run, and as a no-kill shelter, it is going to go above and beyond,” she said.
Adoption events at The Yuppy Puppy are held during most of the year—wintertime is the exception when weather is prohibitive—in cooperation with the Spokane Humane Society. The store features a dedicated location for Humane Society adoptive kittens.
Brown also contributes to the fundraising efforts of several local rescues. Currently in the works is a dog-wash fundraiser held in conjunction with a local golden retriever rescue. For a nominal fee to cover expenses, the rescue will purchase certificates entitling the recipient to a self-serve dog wash.
“The rescue will benefit with every certificate sold,” she said.
Adoptive endeavors are not limited to rescues and shelters. Last year, when an American Eskimo puppy mill rescue took place, Brown and her team of volunteers stepped up to assist with the initial rescue, subsequent rehabilitation and adoptive placement.
|Grooming options run the gamut at The Yuppy Puppy, from professional in-store and mobile offerings to self-serve setups where locals even bring their goats for a bath.|
“There were 300 dogs living on about an acre of property and it was horrendous,” she said. “Our rescue ended up with 54 of those dogs, and they were covered in fleas, sores and urine.”
With employees and volunteers, Brown undertook the bathing tasks.
“We literally sat in a shower at the shelter and held the dogs in our laps while we washed them,” she said. “It was heartbreaking.”
Brown’s dedication to her community, both animal and human, is witnessed with the store’s Compassion Fund. Initially set up to assist a customer whose dog was purposely hit by a car and left for dead, the fund continues to be an important aspect as she strives to keep pets in the best possible home environment.
The dog’s owner had recently lost his job and was unable to pay the mounting vet bills.
“It was Valentine’s Day, and he called us in a panic,” she said. “I knew this customer, and he would use his last dollar to buy a bag of food for his dog.”
The Spokane Humane Society pitched in with a donation, but Brown felt she could do more. By hosting a “Dog Wash by Donation” day, the store was able to raise $1,400, and the fund was born. Often, those taking advantage of this support not only reimburse the fund, they add their own contribution, paying the kindness forward.
“We don’t advertise it, our regular customers know about it and will donate,” she said. “If I can have some funds set aside to save a dog’s life, I’m willing to do that.”
|DuraMax, the world’s “yuppiest puppy” with store owner Aquila Brown (left), grooming assistant Frankie (center) and grooming manager Kristen (right).|
Lending a hand at shelter and rescue community fundraising events plays a significant role in helping the animals, and a vehicle that truly puts the “fun” in fundraising is The Yuppy Puppy mobile dog wash. Built by Brown’s husband Gavin, the tub is towed behind a car and features its own water heater. Participants wash their dogs on-site for a donation.
“It’s hilarious, when you drive past it, it looks like a chariot,” she said. “It gets people talking, a real attention getter.”
Along those lines, The Yuppy Puppy sponsors a “Puppy Bowl,” which takes place on Super Bowl Sunday. The event features Humane Society puppies competing with stuffed footballs and a special football field of their own. The local Spokane news station attends and features the cavorting canines on television as local halftime entertainment.
“It garners awareness for the Humane Society. [Viewers say], ‘Look at these cute puppies available at the shelter right now, they need homes’,” Brown said.
Past events include “Bogs for Dogs,” a 4x4 truck competition conceived by the Humane Society director and Gavin Brown. Contestants raced through mud in an entertaining effort to raise funds for the shelter.
“It was a blast and fun to see that our shelter is willing to branch out and try really different, random promotions that involve different groups of people,” she noted.
Other participations include the Spokane Humane Society’s annual Furr Ball, a formal fundraiser. The Chip and Dip provides pet owners the opportunity to have their pets bathed and microchipped in store. Local Humane Society volunteers assist with the bathing chores.
Community involvement takes on many forms, and The Yuppy Puppy actively supports a program requiring Spokane area high school students to volunteer in their community. With three to four volunteers working at the shop at a given time on rotating schedules, the on-the-job training is invaluable.
“I have a girl right now who is 16, and has already volunteered for two years,” Brown said. “When she is 18, she will be eligible for hire.”
|The Yuppy Puppy’s signature “window of toys” includes kids’ “entertain-mutt” center.|
Brown said she feels that dedication to education sets her business apart.
“I teach people, and I can take the time to show them that they can solve problems with food, or with a regular bathing schedule,” she noted.
With customers in the store bathing their pets, Brown said she has a captive audience and can discuss pet needs and issues during those times.
Brown noted that she believes nutrition plays a vital role in pet health and wellness, and an extensive array of holistic and organic pet food product is available at her store. Foods requested by customers are often special ordered.
“We are perpetually in a state of growth, always trying to find new food that people want,” she said.
Before The Yuppy Puppy opened its doors, Brown’s first order of business was to create dog wash certificates for distribution to local shelters and rescues. Redeemable within 30 days of an adoption, the coupons also offer $5 off on full-service grooming. Today, she still presents this service to any adopted dog.
“Even if a dog is adopted off Craigslist, we still honor it,” she noted.
Word of mouth continues to be her most effective means of advertising. She also uses Facebook, Twitter and Constant Contact e-mailing, along with newspaper and radio advertising.
The weatherman for the local news station is also a customer, and Brown is often invited on to discuss adoption events or even to wash a dog on the morning news.
“If somebody backs out at the last minute, he’ll call me and say ‘Hey, want to come to the station at 3 a.m. and I’ll put you on the news?’” she said. “We use whatever form of communication we can.”<HOME>
Looking to the future, Brown said she would love to franchise, envisioning stores in Seattle, Idaho and Montana, but for now, she said she is invested in her own store and helping the animals.
“But I’d love to be able to travel and keep an eye on my stores,” she said.
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