The pandemic has forced too many businesses to shut their doors, but one dog groomer has used these challenging times to create change that will far surpass the lasting effects of COVID-19.
Meet Brian Taylor. Brian is originally from Sierra Leone in West Africa but he’s been changing the future of Harlem for the last 10 years. When he graduated college, Brian began a career as a business banker. His decision to trade in his briefcase for a grooming table was part accident and part destiny.
He opened the Harlem Doggie Day Spa in 2010 with a partner. Brian intended to only be the business partner, offering his insight into building business relationships, marketing, and other general business operations. However, fate had other ideas.
Brian quickly found himself the sole business owner, which meant he had to learn how to adapt – a trend that seems to always work to his advantage. He enrolled in dog grooming school and dove in headfirst to the business. Eventually, Brian was running a doggy daycare, cage-free boarding facility, and pet salon, all fueled by his dedication to his clients and staying ahead of the latest trends.
The Spa Transforms Human Lives As Much As Dogs
The Harlem Doggie Day Spa does so much more than give dogs love and makeovers. Brian is passionate about giving back to the community and investing in future leaders.
He works in partnership with the New York City Summer Youth Employment Program and Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES). This innovative program gives Brian the chance to teach children to become dog groomers, bathers, dog walkers, and receptionists. The program has been a lifesaver for many teens who have gone on to become successful pet professionals themselves.
Brian had helped change the lives of countless kids and groomed over 10,000 dogs by the time COVID-19 hit, earning him the title of Dogfather of Harlem. As shutdowns plagued New York, the Harlem Doggie Day Spa struggled to keep their business afloat.
“March 7th of 2020, I had to shut everything down. Literally, I lost 80% of my business… by the time I caught wind of the pandemic, it was already too late,” he told iHeartDogs. “My employees were everything to me because I live where my business is,” he explained. “We had 10 employees and the first time I had to let go of all of them and that really just threw me off. I just didn’t know what to do. What saved me was the fact that I could still groom dogs. So I was like, ‘You know what? Whoever texts me and wants their dog groomed, if I have to pick up their dog on the side of the street, I’m just going to do that.’”
As if that wasn’t enough, Brian was hit with another tragedy. His good friend and mentor was a veterinarian, Doctor Julia Butler who owned 145th Animal Hospital in Harlem. Unfortunately, Dr. Butler contracted the COVID-19 while working and died shortly after.
The Dogfather Of Harlem Would Never Go Down Without A Fight
Despite the mountain of challenges, Brian had no choice but to succeed.
As he began making special arrangements to groom dogs with strict COVID-19 precautions, the Dogfather of Harlem started noticing how much it meant to people. Customers began offering to pay it forward by donating their tips and buying gift cards to help other pet parents in need.
“We raised about $5,000 in gift cards to reopen my business and then $2,000 in straight donations to help other people,” Brian said.
Within six weeks, he was able to give 12 free grooming sessions from donations. He put his heart and soul into each dog because he knew what a difference it was making not just for the dogs, but for their parents too.
He was far from done, though.
“I bought a mobile van three years ago. I’ve always wanted to go and help small businesses,” said Brian. “I wanted to travel across New York first and give free groomings in my van instead of being in the house.”
Once he conquered that goal, he pressed on even further.
“I decided I’m just going to go around the country and work with small businesses in the pet industry and help them make sure their business is operating properly.”
He explained that many groomers do amazing work, but many could use help learning how to operate things on the business side. Brian posted his newest venture to his social media accounts. Word quickly spread, and soon, the Dogfather of Harlem had a hefty GoFundMe to help him start his mission.
There’s Room For Everyone In This Business Model
Brian is passionate about creating opportunities for small businesses and African-American business owners.
“An article came out stating that 2-3% of income earned in the industry is earned by African-American business owners,” he said.
He wants people to know that the dog grooming industry is full of passionate, caring, and helpful people who want to see others excel.
“My idea is to find ways to help people in the pet industry and also create awareness around African American business and African American pet groomers. It’s super competitive and it’s not united, so I’m trying to create that team environment and let everyone know there’s enough business for everyone,” he explained.“If you’re black and ever want to work with dogs, this is a fulfilling industry to work in and you can be successful.”
The Pandemic Pup Relief Tour Transforms Lives Coast To Coast
In order to get this message to people, Brian and some of his friends started a Facebook group for black groomers called Black Groomer Association.
The group quickly gained a following. Brian started the Pandemic Pup Relief Tour and offered fellow groomers the chance to tour cities with him. The goal is to give back to local communities by offering free grooming because he’s seen firsthand how much dogs have helped people during the pandemic. Brian and 55 other groomers partnered together to make a difference.
They’ve been touring for a few months now and they’ve gone all over the U.S. including Harlem; Washington, D.C; Wilmington, North Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Lafayette, Louisiana; back to Brooklyn and everywhere in between. At each stop, they’ve had about 12- 15 groomers that came out and helped. They groomed about 120 dogs per location, and they’re quickly approaching 1,000 dogs groomed total – all for free!
“I didn’t plan it. I think the universe was just repaying me for all the contributions that I’ve made in the pet industry,” he said.
No one knows it better than Brian: Sometimes, the best things in life are the most unexpected.
So What’s Next For The Dogfather Of Harlem?
“The Pup Relief Tour is my passion project and it’s still growing,” he said excitedly.
While he continues giving back to communities around the nation, Brian’s ultimate goal is to open a pet grooming school in Harlem, New York with a focus on helping black students reach their full potential. He plans to help students gain even more experience by going on tour with him and learning from different groomers around the country.
You can follow his adventures all over social media!
See how the shop continues to transform lives: @harlemdoggiedayspa/Instagram
Follow the Pup Relief Tour: @puprelieftour/Instagram
Follow Brian’s pursuit of creating opportunities for other groomers: @dogfatherofharlem/Instagram
Watch the latest videos documenting their adventures and business endeavors: @dogfatherofharlem/YouTube
If you’d like to donate to the Pandemic Pup Relief Fund, you can contribute to their GoFundMe here