SAUK RAPIDS – It’s the year 2020, filled with distance learning, grocery delivery, face masks and all forms of social distancing activity structured to stem the spread of COVID-19.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the only mobile dog grooming business in the Saint-Cloud area remains very busy.
Wags on Wheels, headquartered in Sauk Rapids, is the brainchild of the owner / groomer Raylene johnson. Johnson’s lifelong love of dogs, his knowledge of cosmetology, and his desire for a major career change inspired the 2017 launch of Wags on Wheels, a fully loaded dog grooming trailer.
“Before I went to cosmetology school, I actually thought about becoming a dog groomer,” she said. “But I went into cosmetology. I loved some of them, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Then I had an office job and I hated it. Finally, I looked at my husband and said, “I have to find something.”
“And that’s when my mom was like, ‘Well, what about dog grooming? And I said, yes, I could venture down that path, “she added.
The idea for a dog grooming trailer was inspired by a similar business in Johnson’s hometown of Hibbing. Johnson says she followed business owner Hibbing, a family friend, before starting Wags on Wheels.
These days Johnson grooms between 6 and 8 dogs per day located within a 15 mile radius of St. Cloud. The trailer, which she pulls behind an SUV, is generator-powered, air-conditioned, and includes a tub, electric grooming table, and hairdryer. Johnson typically works Monday through Thursday, taking the remaining three days off to be with her baby.
“I used to go on weekends if it was absolutely necessary, but now that I have my son I want to be home with him,” she said.
Like all dog groomers, Johnson faced challenges with Minnesota’s stay-at-home order in May. Wags on Wheels closed for several weeks and Johnson’s sole proprietorship was not eligible for a PPP loan.
“Fortunately, we had (money) saved for my maternity leave,” she said. “But it was hard.”
Johnson says she spent the closing answering calls from dog owners seeking advice on how to groom their dogs at home.
“I’ve had people who weren’t even my clients asking me questions like ‘how can I keep my dog’s coat from tangling during COVID? “” she said. “I was always more than willing to help them out and tell them what types of brushes or products to buy. I’m all about education.
Now that she’s back to her regular grooming schedule, business is booming; Johnson says she receives about 4 to 5 calls each day from new potential customers. Each dog’s grooming schedule depends on their individual needs, she says.
“Most of my clients are probably on a 6 to 8 week schedule,” Johnson said. “I have some 12 weeks. Then I have seasonal customers – people who just want a spring or fall discount. So it all depends on the breed and the owner.
For the most part, Johnson says the pandemic hasn’t caused him to lose clients.
“There was a couple who said, because of COVID, that they didn’t want me to come,” she said. “Which is good – I knew it would happen.”
So what’s Johnson’s favorite part about owning Wags on Wheels? Relationships, she said.
“I can really spend this one-on-one time with the dogs,” Johnson said. “I get to know the owners better than you would in a normal grooming salon. I meet their families and see how they live. Of course, being my own boss and working my own hours is a bonus. “
“But I really like getting to know the puppies,” she added.