HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Distance runner Valerie Paul has certainly come a long way from when she traveled around town with hot dogs in a cooler for canine training sessions out of clients’ homes.
Standing inside the newest expansion of her business, Paul acknowledged that things have moved pretty fast since she opened Impawsible Pups, a kennel, training and grooming business, just under five years ago.
The 31-year-old music/vocal performance major seems to have hit the right note with her career choice; a decision that occurred shortly after her 2007 graduation from St. Benedict and St. John's University in Minnesota.
An only child who grew up in the company of two cats, two horses, and six dogs, Paul said it felt natural to sprint towards a career in dog training.
She parlayed her roving business into a brick-and-mortar kennel in 2012, just a few of years after graduating from Tarheel Canine / North State Canine Academy.
There were seven dogs to start in the 3,175-square-foot space at 2109 Spencer Road.
The "optimistic" goal was to eventually take on 15 dogs daily – in addition to boarding, training and grooming services.
There were two employees at the time, and one was husband Hans Paul, whom Valerie met through choir practice at college and convinced to move back to her hometown.
The pack grew quickly, and now around 80 dogs bound in excitedly for daycare.
The original business plan called for five employees. Now there are 15, including three groomers and head trainer Brittney Schardein.
Paul attributed the success to the loyal word of mouth from her clients -- and to the installation of K9Grass, an antimicrobial, synthetic turf with a dense weave and infill underneath.
“We had exponential growth between two and three years,” Paul said. “That allowed us to do new kennels.”
Paul, who at 26 was a Style Weekly’s “40 under 40” honoree, launched the business with her own savings and hard work; assisted by her husband’s carpentry skills and the help of friends.
FETCHING NEW SPACE
The expansion gives Paul an extra 3,300-square-feet to restructure business operations. Impawsible’s new outpost will be used for storage, grooming, training, and hosting a variety of health and wellness classes. Clients will still drop off around the corner. Think of it as one building, though for now, a plan is all that physically connects the two spaces.
This time, Paul turned to BB&T bank for financing, though she declined to discuss the details of the loan.
“It’s a big leap of faith, but I’m ready to hunker down and work,” Paul said.
WHERE THE PAWS MEET THE RUBBER, DREAMS PLAY CATCH
Impawsible fills a space created out of a 13,535-square-foot building at 5606 W. Broad, owned since 2015 by Seredni Tire. Allen Tire formerly occupied the 1940s built, two-story building.
The former Allen showroom was converted into the space rented by Impawsible, and an auto bay was converted into a Seredni waiting room –which creates a buffer between businesses.
Mark Seredni, whose father and aunt established the family business in 1981 on Belt Boulevard, explained why the pairing works.
One of the first things Seredni noted about Paul, after he paused from his own work inside the shop, was her work ethic – and how well her business is reviewed.
“What’s important to us is appearance and professionalism,” he said. “We support local business and want to do well, and want her to do well.”
The entire parcel is now owned by Seredni, who, once the county is done upgrading the water lines, will pave the area in front of the original Impawsible, as well as the alley. A fenced walkway will connect the yards at Impawsible with the new grooming facility.
Mark’s wife Kristy added that they have always been a dog-loving family, and said of the arrangement; “selfishly, it has been nice and convenient.”
Now, she joked, they just have to find a way to team up and market the businesses to both customers.
Mrs. Seredni said that until they did the first walk through at Impawsible they had no idea the amount of business Paul is doing.
“She’s constantly at capacity,” she said.
DOGS GET THEIR DAY
Paul has signed a 20-year-lease with Seredni.
“This is what the goal always was, just didn’t expect it to happen this fast,” she said. “It’s happening faster than anticipated.“
The pet industry has, according to economic research, been riding a historic peak, and hit an estimated $62.75 billion in 2016.
Michael Hughes, head of the pack at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, has seen industry demands shift over the decades. His parents founded the business in 1972, as a complement to their careers teaching music at Henrico County Schools.
They watched the weekend and summer boarding service grow into a 140-staffed enterprise with two facilities, which can each handle 375 animals.
“A dog’s role in our lifestyle has changed dramatically,” Hughes said, and pointed out that most dogs used to live outside, whereas that is rarely seen these days. “Look at the ‘luxuries’ our society enjoys and the role of pets in our lives –our lives have gotten better and we can afford it.”
He also pointed out that as we moved away from an agrarian society, where dogs were task-oriented, they instead began to serve a more emotional role in our lives.
Paul agreed. “Studies show the benefits justify the relationship,” she said. “There has been a shift to a relationship, not an ownership.”
“There is a lot of interest in the industry,” Hughes said of the approximately 15 kennels in the area, and added that he doesn’t think the market is saturated.
“It’s not for everybody,” he said. “We work all holidays and in the summertime; the return on investment isn’t that great.”
Paul is just now digging in for the long road; her goals are to add more clients and programming -- and eventually another location.
Having run many marathons, Paul knows how to steel herself for what she calls “mile 23.”
“It's when I've put in a lot of time and energy and my body is depleted and I'm starting to doubt myself,” she said. “However, it's also that point when I know that the finish line is near and all I have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and before I know it I'm at mile 24."
“So, to put it plainly, it's not easy, but the end goal is worth it," she added.
Impawsible will celebrate the grand opening of its second space from 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday, June 24. There will be tours, vendors, products, giveaways and canine tips at the pet and kid friendly event.
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