We recently sat down with Downtown Doghouse Founder Nancy Chinchar to learn how her adopted dog lead her to become an expert groomer and petpeneur. She offers us some great insights and tips on selecting the perfect groomer throughout the country. She also shares about her TV appearance on Anderson LIVE!
Q. Tell us about your life changing moment when your “likes” list inspired you to enroll in Nash Academy of Animal Arts. What was that like. What feeling did you have. What was your biggest fear and what inspired you most to make the move.
A. It was 2003. I was working at my second internet company and the bubble was about to burst. I watched colleagues and friends all around me stress about all the layoffs that were happening.
I made a list of all the things I was passionate about and could potentially build a living around. At the top of my list was my newly adopted dog, Otto. The best part of my day was spent hanging out in the park playing fetch, and watching Otto play and engage those around us. In that moment, I decided I wanted to work with animals. Grooming seemed like a perfect way for me to connect with dogs and also express my creative side.
I interviewed at a few school and recognized Joey Villani of Nash Academy of Animal Arts as the master. I put in my notice at work and started school soon after.
It felt right, so I went for it and I have never looked back. Every day we learn and grow. I’ve been so lucky with the team I’ve put together over the years. They are so talented.
Q. What made you open your own boutique and what was the vision for Downtown Doghouse? You opened Downtown Doghouse in 2003. Tell us what the sector was like before you had the salon.
A. I wanted Downtown Doghouse to be a friendly place where people from all over could stop in for advice about caring for their dogs and the dog would get a treat. I wanted to sell atypical retail, not the stuff you find in Petco, but items made by small businesses and real artisans. I wanted it to be a neighborhood place. A real sense of community.
When I opened in 2003, it was like that. People would stop in on their daily walks for a chat and a treat. I loved it. Times have changed. New York City changed. We still have visits from our local dogs but our customers come from miles away because they’ve heard about us from breeders or read about our awards and trust our expert team of groomers. They appreciate our skill with Bedlington Terriers and our handstripping techniques with Seallyham Terriers. The neighborhood has changed too. We often work with the house manager, and not the dog’s owner. Mostly, though, the breeds have changed. The first ten years we were open, we saw yorkies, haveneses and shihtzus. Now we see doodles. And more doodles! And each owner wants something very specific done with the haircut so everyone here has to have excellent scissorwork.
Q. We heard you were on Anderson Live! – Tell us about that experience.
A. We were on Anderson Live! It was amazing! It was right after Oprah announced the end of her show and Anderson Cooper’s first week of his live show. He was doing an episode on animals because his mom was a big animal lover. One of the segments featured the women from the reality show Dog Moms and one of the moms was a long time client of ours, so she recommended us for another segment. We groomed a shelter puppy that was going to go home with a little girl in the audience. It was a surprise for the girl. It was so special. The night before the show I put together this great outfit to appear on camera because I was asked to walk out on stage and hand deliver the puppy to Anderson. Well, the morning of the show they had a wardrobe change and had me wear a smock. So funny.
The segment was amazing and included so many different types of animals. I remember I got to play with a sloth backstage. That was the highlight for me.
…and, what a small world we live in. The producer of the show, coincidently, was subletting an apartment from her brother and she had been getting my mail because her brother was my neighbor and I had just moved out of the building.
Q. Tell us about all your family dogs.
A. I only have one dog right now. Her name is Jenny. That was her name at the shelter. When people ask me what kind of dog she is, I say, “black.” She’s like 27th generation mutt. I saw her picture on the web -- when I adopted her, I was looking for a 3 year old Lab. That’s how they pitched her on the rescue site. Every time I spoke to someone at the rescue, she got a little younger and a little less Lab. When I finally met her, I was like, “This is a puppy! She’s not a Lab!” But I couldn’t leave her there.
Q. What are some tips to share with pet owners throughout the country when they are looking for a groomer.
A. I love this question! Stop in to the shops near you -- maybe not on a Saturday afternoon when they are super busy, but stop in. Are the people friendly? How does it smell? Can you see what’s going on? How do the stylists handle the dogs? Watch them work. Ask them what a grooming appointment would be like for your dog. Do they seem knowledgeable? Can they answer your questions or at least get back to you with answers if they don’t know? (Sometimes the person working the front desk is not a groomer and may need to speak to a stylist to get an answer.) If anything gives you pause, try another shop. I’d also ask around. Talk to your neighbors who regularly (4-6 weeks) groom their dogs. Lastly, how happy (and beautiful) do the dogs look when they walk out of the salon? You want to be happy with the cut and you want them to be happy with their experience! Lastly, brush your dogs! If a stylist says your dog is too matted to brush out and needs to be shaved, don’t argue -- they are looking out for your dog! Go short and start brushing!
For more information about Nancy and Downtown Doghouse click here.