The PoochMate journey began one wintery day in 2014, when 37-yearold Preeti Sood decided to take the big leap of faith and give up her banking career. “I wanted to follow my passion of doing something good for dogs,” she laughs when asked. A pet lover all her life, the idea of PoochMate came to her after few personal bad experiences and accounts of mishap from friends at regular pet spas and veterinary clinics who were not equipped to handle non-medical needs of dogs.
The idea seemed so bizarre that her parents were concerned. “I had to convince them that if it did not work, I would go back to banking,” she says. The long years of working with the bank allowed Sood to take a sabbatical for a few months; which was her way of having a cushion if things didn’t work. To make sure she got things right, Sood went to London to pursue a short-term dog grooming course. She knew she was on the right track once she was back.
She set up shop in Sainik farms, a part of Delhi, where several homes have dogs for pets. Some have more than one to boot; and PoochMate finds itself safely lodged amid the humdrum of a human marketplace. Sood acknowledges the lack of proper business understanding when she started off, but the location helped. “It was initially very confusing as I did not have much figured out. But, the location helped a lot in my business,” she recalls.
Today, PoochMate Spa works on an appointment basis, though walk-ins do happen, but in three years, the amazing work offered at PoochMate has made it a well known address for dog lovers to take their pets for a well deserved grooming session. Serious pet lovers swear by the experience their pets have received and express happiness about this unique facility.
The initial days were not as smooth. The concept was new and there were not many takers. “I had given myself 6-8 months before deciding on anything. I was convinced about the business idea and was willing to take the risk of investing around Rs 15 lakh in the venture, which I did from my own savings,” says Sood. Customers were not easy to find initially, but that did not deter her as it allowed her to work with her own two dogs.
The concept of pawdicure, deep conditioning and full grooming was nascent and she had to explain them to several clients before they were convinced to provide the same to their pets. “Several serious pet owners go all the way to provide the best for their pets and that is what make our services stand out, as we pay close attention to the comfort and benefits of the pets,” stresses Sood.
Over time, she has employed two full-time staff members, who help her with the regular work, but Sood is the one to get into the act of providing the actual services, whether it is the hair cut, de-matting, dry grooming or tick flea wash, she is hands-on with every aspect of running her work space. These treatments can cost anywhere between Rs 500 to Rs 4,000. She thoroughly believes that people who are pet lovers do not see this as an expense, they view it as something in the interest of their pets, who matter as much as any other family member.
Sood was also competing in a way with vets. And, although vets do offer some of the facilities that she offers, the mindset of a vet being a medical setup, did work to her advantage. PoochMate is what a wellness clinic is for many of us and does not fall into the trap of being perceived as a hospital or clinic that you visit when you are unwell.
Trained abroad and experience in handling pets was the clincher. “People pay for our facilities and quality of products.” Much of what PoochMate offers is sourced from outside India and the quality is remarkably visible and takes into account the need of different breeds of dogs. “In other commercial spas they have standardised mechanisms in place and they use common products for all breeds which can be tricky because different breeds require different products and services. We cover a much wider range.’’
Pays to go niche
Being a trained professional with a Dog Grooming Course in London at the British Dog Groomers’ Association and certificate recognising Sood by the City & Guilds, London, UK sits prominently at PoochMate. Any degree of doubt vanishes when one visits the salon. “I have applied what I learnt and felt was the right for dogs in India, post my course. I take care of each of my client’s pets and their requirements as per breed, size and coat. I don’t take in more than six appointments in a day and I personally take care of each one of them.”
Today, PoochMate has 425 clients and is relentlessly growing. The business has a turnover of over Rs 40 lakh and Sood is happy that she gave up the banking job to chase her dream. She also has an online presence, where off-the shelf items are available. Clients come in with their pets from all over the National Capital Region. She has created her own line of products. The martingale collars sold by her are designed in such a way that the impact of choking is lesser around your pet’s neck. “It allows them to breathe while running and we were able to develop this after observing pets closely and the impact of standard collars.”
Social media presence, packages for pets and a variety of products for pet owners to explore have made her clients come back frequently and bring along their friends. So, does she plan to expand? “Yes. We would like to expand to more salons. But, I am extremely choosy in getting the right people on board who believe in improving wellness and lifestyles of pets as much as I do. We do not want to rush into expansions at the cost of compromising on the quality.” The grit, determination and hardwork are traits that have transformed Sood from a 9-5 employee at a bank into a businesswoman, who calls her own shots with a successful business that has everything going for her.