Not Just a Pet Project

“I can’t come up with the words — but without the SBDC, I simply would not be. They’ve taught me and encouraged me and guided me to everything that has made me be.”

That’s Brenda Davis, owner of Clip-N-Dales, a pet grooming business that’s seen more than its share of challenges in its first year and a half of operation. But to her credit, Davis is no stranger to adversity. She overcame addiction and the setback of years of incarceration to emerge and build her business quite literally with her own two hands.

She learned about the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center from her parole officer, after another venture she’d attempted to launch with her sister didn’t work out. “She said: ‘Go take this business class,’ and that’s the biggest gift she could have given me.”

Davis’ instructor for the class was SBDC Senior Business Consultant Cory Arcarese, also the Southern Colorado Lending Officer for Colorado Enterprise Fund. Arcarese focuses on helping those on the disadvantaged Southeast side of Colorado Springs via her SBDC mentoring. Davis is a Springs native from the Southeast side, who attended Harrison High School and parks her mobile trailer at the Mission Trace Shopping Center. Davis says Arcarese “really took me under her wing, and explained to me what I should be doing, almost daily.”

The two became so close, that Arcarese actually provided the name from Davis’ business as the two were just joking around one day: “What about Clip-N-Dales?” she’d said, prompting Davis to joke about logo imagery that might consist of a pets’ play on the famous Chippendales Las Vegas male revue shows. After the laugh, the two thought better of actually executing on that; so today there’s a happy dog’s face that welcomes clients to the grooming trailer alongside colorful lettering that’s cute and inviting. Davis purchased the trailer for $4,000 and then completely gutted the inside after discovering black mold in the walls — just the first of the many hurdles to overcome. She then personally constructed two grooming stations split by a central bathing stall, meticulously waterproofing it all and outfitting the interior with all the necessary equipment.

In her 25 years professional grooming experience working inside other studios, she’d grown tired of what she calls a competitive environment between groomers inside overly busy atmospheres she felt weren’t optimal for the true client, the animal’s, wellbeing. “You’re dealing with someone’s family member, like a child,” she says. “I believe in grooming that doesn’t traumatize… I want the animal to run up to me the second time I see them, not run from me.”

With that in mind, everything she designed in her space is meant to be calming and more relaxing for pups and cats. There’s no kennels or cages, no overlapping appointments, and dividers can be shut so there’s privacy between the two grooming stalls. The second has actually remained vacant as of yet, as Davis continues to search for another groomer interested in joining her team. That’s part of her longer-term business plan, which is one more thing she has in-hand thanks to Arcarese and the SBDC. She said she experienced a more difficult learning curve because of how much technology had advanced while she was in prison, so things like a free website provided by an SBDC program were crucial to her.

“I learned how to do business plan, make a weekly budget, create a program to manage my money — I even met my bookkeeper through Cory — and do advertising and set aside savings for emergencies.”

And the emergencies have unfortunately come. After attending several SBDC webinars and graduating from the SBDC’s flagship Leading Edge series, an 11-week course commitment — as well as qualifying for the Transforming Safety grant specific to Southeast Colorado Springs to support community development — Davis finally opened for business in early 2020. Then, of course, the Covid pandemic hit, shuttering her newly opened business and forcing her on to unemployment until early May, when salons and similar businesses were finally allowed to start seeing clients again.

From that point until just after the new year, she began proving her model and growing the business, “staying really busy” between mobile contracts such as a KOA campground and retirement communities. She’d also park at Mission Trace to serve folks directly in the Southeast. Things were going well — well enough that in October, for Halloween fun, she offered free mohawks for pups to anyone who wished to stop by for a few minutes.

Then, in February, a DoorDash driver, distracted by following GPS directions in an unfamiliar-to-them area, blew through a stop sign at 40 mph and hit Davis, who was doing 50 mph on a bustling main road, knocking her unconscious and herniating three discs in her spine, as she tells it. That began another period of being out of work for months, also struggling to now pay for chiropractic and physical therapy appointments. But Davis isn’t a quitter.

When she was finally able to begin physically working again, she utilized Payroll Protection Program money to purchase a new truck to pull her trailer, the former one having been totaled in the accident. It still needs some front-end work in order to pull the big trailer, so for now, she’s parked until she can save up for either a smaller trailer or mini bus to create a second, more easily mobile unit. Back to her business plan, she’d eventually like to build a fleet of mobile groomers, preferably with ex-offenders that she knows learned skills via the Cañon City correctional facility’s dog training program. She was housed on the same cell block, and often shared grooming tips and did what she could with a plastic comb and mustache trimmers on the dogs in training. “I’m a terrible dog trainer,” she jokes, commending her cohorts. “I’m too prone to say ‘come here puppy’” and love on them, “and I don’t want to change that about me.”

She says she wants to “accommodate my passion to help ex-offenders learn trades and help them succeed in their goals, and so many of them leave prison with that animal knowledge but don’t know where to go next. Maybe I can teach some to groom.”

Today, she remains on partial unemployment due to only being able to physically take two or three clients a day, down from seven or eight. “It takes me longer now,” she says. “I can’t bend in certain directions and I’m not allowed to lift much weight, but I manage. Luckily I built the bathtub low enough for dogs to jump into, and my table lifts and lowers.”

She says her goal is to further rehabilitate and return to mobile services, “because so many of my clients need it,” the in-home one-on-ones. She hopes maybe by summer’s end that will be possible, both physically and financially.

“I push forward,” she says. “I believe in this business.”

Meet the Author

Matthew Schniper

Matthew Schniper, an award-winning long-form features writer and food critic, has 16 years of multimedia storytelling experience as a journalist, photographer and editor. His work has appeared in numerous Alt Weekly newspapers around the country, as well as in national publications like The Atlantic and Food Network Magazine. After serving as the Editor-in-Chief of the Colorado Springs Independent for several years, Matthew is now the Food and Drink Editor, allowing him more time to run his own Airbnb business and focus on freelance storytelling projects. He is the co-founder and moderator of Culinary Distancing COS, a Facebook group supporting food and drink businesses in the Pikes Peak Region during the Covid pandemic. Matthew is also working on a true crime book and podcast series exploring the intersection of autism, animal welfare, domestic violence and criminal justice. He holds a creative writing and film degree from Colorado College. Prior to working in journalism, he spent 10 years in the restaurant industry — cooking, serving and managing. Visit patreon.com/inSENSEd to follow his true crime project, and connect with Matthew at muckrack.com/matthewschniper and linkedin.com/in/matthew-schniper.

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