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Retailer of the Year 2011-2012: Outstanding Grooming Salon

Retailer of the Year
Groomed for Success
Focusing on health and fun helps Bubbles & Ecouture attract and keep a devoted customer base.

By Devon McPhee

A pivotal moment in Gladys Tay’s life occurred when she was 15 years old. That year, her dad bought her a schnauzer, which she named Bubbles.
Tay groomed Bubbles herself, and, upon graduating from high school, made the decision to go to grooming school instead of college. She earned her grooming certificate for the Wisconsin School of Professional Pet Grooming in a couple of months and worked as a groomer for a number of years.

Bubbles & Ecouture
Owners Gladys Tay and Frank Foo pose on the salon's guest couch with some of their favorite clients. Photos courtesy of Bubbles & Ecouture.
After some time, Tay decided it was in her best interest to also get a college degree. She enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study communications and continued to work as a groomer during her spring and winter breaks. Once she had her college degree in hand, Tay said she faced one of two prospects: either join corporate America or open up her own grooming salon. She chose the latter and named her shop, located in West St. Paul, Minn., after the dog that started it all.
Bubbles & Ecouture opened three years ago and grew to success; it was named “Best Pet Groomer for 2010” in Best of the Cities by Minnesota Monthly. Tay co-owns with her husband Frank Foo, whose B.S. degree in computer networking is instrumental in establishing and maintaining their web presence.

The focus in store and on the web is on natural and organic grooming.
“We use organic and natural products for health reasons,” Tay said. “We want to avoid all the chemicals and unnatural ingredients in many of the shampoos and conditioners.”

The use of these products also appeals to customers who appreciate it when their dogs don’t go home smelling like a flower or perfume shop.  
“Scent is a very personal thing,” Tay said. “And many of our customers like it that organic and natural products are fragrance-free. Their dog does not leave here with a smell, and they are very clean.”

The salon, which is decorated in bright colors (primarily pink and yellow) for a fun and upbeat feel, received special recognition as the Outstanding Pet Grooming Salon as part of Pet Product News International’s 2011-2012 Retailer of the Year award program.

An Inviting Atmosphere
Husband and wife team Frank Foo and Gladys Tay opened Bubbles & Ecouture four years ago in West St. Paul, Minn. The 1,000 square-foot grooming salon is considered unique in that it has a no-kenneling rule. Dogs that are waiting to be groomed romp and play in the open area of the salon.

Tay and Foo encourage potential customers to visit the salon with their dogs before making a grooming appointment. It’s a win for both two- and four-legged clients. Owners get to see all the salon has to offer and dogs can get familiar with the environment, which can help reduce anxiety when they’re dropped off, Tay noted.

“Customers always comment about how happy their dogs are after coming to our salon,” she said.

A bright, cheery place, Tay attributed the salon’s success to its focus on friendly service and its inviting atmosphere.

“We’re taking care of our client’s babies,” she said. “We want it to be as comfortable here as possible.”
Bubbles & Ecouture typically services nine dogs per day. While the staff uses quality products and offers lush service such as facials, Tay said she shies away from calling the salon a luxury spa.

“I think high-end sometimes intimidates people,” she said. “We want to appeal to anyone who cares a lot about their pet.”

One of the salon’s biggest selling points with customers is that it does not kennel dogs that are awaiting grooming.

“Dogs when they’re kenneled often end up shaking because they’re scared or stressed,” Tay said. “Here they get to run around and play. They’re very comfortable here.”

The no-kenneling rule came about by accident, Tay noted. Originally, she and Foo planned on purchasing kennels, but in the meantime they let their clients’ dogs have free rein in the shop as they awaited their turn. Customers commented on how happy their dogs seemed when they came to pick them up, and eventually Tay and Foo put two and two together and no kenneling became the rule.
“We got really good feedback from our customers when we weren’t kenneling their dogs,” Tay said. “They would tell us, ‘We don’t know what you do here, but our dogs always seem really happy when they came back from the salon.’ Eventually we realized it was because we weren’t kenneling the dogs, and we’ve done it ever since.”

The couple does not offer promotions or specials and, since the first year, they do not spend any money on advertising. New customers come to them through word of mouth, and one of their biggest supporters is the local animal hospital.

Pet grooming
Dogs wait for their owners in the open play area.

“We don’t have a formal arrangement with the hospital,” Tay said. “They heard about us through a friend who had brought their dog here to be groomed. Then [the hospital staff] came over, met us, liked us and began sending people over.”

The salon incorporates 300 square feet of retail space, which includes organic and natural food and treats, toys, accessories and grooming supplies. While not a money maker, Tay related that the retail space helps with customer relations.

“We offer these products for the convenience of our customers,” she said. “If they run out of a box of treats, they can easily pick one up here. We don’t do promotions or push the products; they don’t really affect our bottom line. If they go, they go. If they don’t, it’s fine.”

Tay hopes to expand the salon’s retail space during the next few years, offering more one-of-a-kind products.

Unlike many shop owners, Tay doesn’t market to a particular income level. Instead, she markets to a specific philosophy.

“Our target audience is people who appreciate their dogs not only being groomed well, but also the fact that we’re using eco-friendly, natural products and we don’t kennel their dogs,” she said. “We target people who are interested in the health and well-being of their pets.”

From the looks of things, that philosophy has definitely worked.



Bubbles & Ecouture

Location: 883 Smith Ave., West St. Paul, Minn.

Owners: Gladys Tay and Frank Foo

Employees: 2 full time, 20 part time

Square footage: 1,000

Years in Business: 3

Products and Services Offered: Full-service dog grooming salon, including baths, trimming, toenail clipping and painting, ear cleaning, teeth brushing, deep conditioning, facials and other spa services. Offers a select number of retail products, including organic and natural treats and food, toys, collars, leashes and grooming supplies.






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