The Pursuit of Happiness

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” Henry David Thoreau

The past two weeks have been monumental for my family and I. I went from managing a small shop in Mesa, AZ, with plans to turn the space into a school, to moving out of my in-laws’ house with not even a day’s notice to West Jordan, Utah. Wow! Let me back up a bit.

My wife and I started a salon in the Buckhead/Chastain Park area of Atlanta, GA in May of 2012. Little did I know that some of the most wealthy people in America lived there. I could have, and should have, charged over $150 for the grooms that I was doing but I just couldn’t bring myself to do so. The property manager even told us several times to raise the prices, but I ignorantly and stubbornly refused to do so. At the time I believed that it was wrong to charge so much for something that I would gladly do for free. I thought that by charging so much it somehow took away from the art and the passion. In just over a year, we were over $50k in debt to the landlord. I’ve never worked so hard in my entire life to go so far in debt! We were usually there from 6:30am to 10pm, working non-stop with only one break around 8pm to eat “lunch” before cleaning the shop for the next day. Sometimes we wouldn’t get out of there until after midnight. We would watch our girls grow in their sleep because that was the only time we would see them was when they were sleeping. It was discouraging to say the least. I broke down in tears several times when no one was around. We closed on Sundays to groom rescue shelter dogs, and I remember throwing up and collapsing on the floor in tears unable to get up. Grooming those precious rescue dogs probably saved my life that day.

Needless to say, we lost that shop and everything that we put into it. But the good news is that the landlord forgave the debt, which is unheard of! I was told that I did business with my heart, and in order to be successful I have to do business with my head rather than my heart. Perhaps. They say that there is no loyalty in the grooming industry, but I know from my personal experience that that’s not true. When we lost our shop, my clients still showed us a tremendous amount of support by allowing me to groom their dogs in their homes until we figured out our next step. Some of them even offered to let us live in their house with them! This is when I realized how flawed my thinking was. I used to think that rich people were detached from reality and cold-hearted. This could not be further from the truth. Had I not seen their homes I would have never guessed that my clients were so well off. I realized that my thoughts about success and money needed to change. Being poor is not righteous or holy, and being rich is not sinful.

One day, after leaving a client’s home I forgot how to get back to the highway. My phone was not working because we didn’t pay the bill. I was planning to use the money from grooming that day to pay the bill. So I couldn’t call my wife for directions or use the Maps on my phone. When I reached a familiar road, Chamblee-Dunwoody Rd., I took a right instead of a left. That “wrong” turn led me to a house on the side of the street with a little red sign that read, “For Rent.” It was next to other home businesses along the road, and it looked like it could possibly work as a home-based grooming shop. I stopped and took down the number on the little red sign. I knew that we were broke, and that our credit was shot. We had no real chance of getting the lease, but somehow it all worked out and we rigged the side of the house as a groom room. It wasn’t pretty, and we were washing dogs in the carport – even in the freezing winter! But our clients still supported us. My wife and I were so grateful for them, and we will never forget the kindness that they showed us.

We were now in our 3rd year of business, and things were finally starting to look up for us! We had significantly reduced our expenses by working out of the house we lived in, and our clients were all finally on a regular grooming schedule. We had a waiting list for new potential clients because we were completely booked at least a month ahead. Then we got news that my wife’s parents in Arizona needed help. My mother-in-law, who was the caretaker for my ill father-in-law, suffered multiple strokes that left the entire right side of her body paralyzed. We got the news at the end of December 2014. We packed up and moved out to Phoenix on January 12th, 2015. Our clients were devastated that we left on such short notice, and I still feel bad for letting everyone down in Atlanta. Trust me, after struggling for 3 years and finally getting a taste of success it was difficult to leave. But I just knew that I could never tell my wife and her parents that after working so hard we’re finally starting to make a profit so we can’t go out to help them. It really wasn’t even a decision – we knew what we had to do. So we left.

While in Arizona, I was fortunate enough to work with Michelle Knowles, CMG/Certified Skin Aesthetician at Animal Health Services in Cave Creek, AZ. I learned so much from her during my short time there, and I will always be grateful for her willingness to share her knowledge and wisdom with me. I also got the chance to work with some amazing groomers at Cage Free Grooming in Tempe, AZ. The groomers were amazing, the owners not so much. So I found another opportunity to manage a shop in Mesa called Pampered Paws Pet Salon. While working there I got a call from Gary Cassera, one of the dog trainers that I admire and followed on Facebook. I was shocked to hear that he wanted to work with me, and had an opportunity for me out in Utah. That phone call was the beginning of my journey home. Within days we planned on a trip out to Utah to meet and discuss the possibility of working together on several projects – one being a new grooming salon they were getting ready to open. He told me about Heather Beck, another very reputable trainer/behaviorist who I would be working with. Not only did Heather pay for the flight out to Salt Lake City, but she opened up her home for me to stay in during my trip. I honestly didn’t know how to handle all of this. I’m not used to this kind of treatment, and I was feeling so nervous. This is a video I took on her back patio while I was there: 

As soon as I returned to Phoenix, we rented a Budget truck the next day to begin packing. The very next day we were on the road to Utah, much to the dismay of my in-laws. The biggest lesson my wife and I learned by going to live with them in Phoenix is that you cannot help anyone who is unwilling to help themselves. You can love them, but you cannot change them. I don’t believe that it’s our responsibility to change anyone anyway. My wife and I learned what it means to just let others be without any judgement. We still believe that this was a necessary step in our journey towards our dreams. I shared some of my thoughts during the beautiful drive up here in this video: 

After meeting the staff at K9 Lifeline, and getting to know Gary and Heather better, I believe that I’ve found my home. For years I’ve been met with resistance towards my philosophy on dog grooming. While other groomers were looking for ways to groom faster, I was looking for ways to make the groom more pleasant for the dogs. I never looked to skip steps or take shortcuts because I didn’t want to become a shortcut groomer. My mentor, Jim Rohn, would say, “The question to ask is not ‘What am I getting here?’ The question to ask is ‘What am I becoming here?’ What you get doesn’t matter. It’s what you become that really matters!” No matter what I am getting paid, I always do my very best on every dog I groom. I want to honor the dog’s thoughts and feelings, and be respectful of them. For years I’ve been trying to find other groomers who I could align myself with but it seemed like no one was interested in me. It makes total sense now that I had to team up with people like Heather and Gary. We already see eye-to-eye on how to handle the dogs. All I had to do was show them how I apply their training and behavior methods to my grooming process. I feel like I’ve finally arrived home. It is my great pleasure to show you our new salon that I will be grooming in: 

So here I am, in West Jordan, Utah with my loving family. I am so blessed to have this opportunity! It all makes sense now why we had to go through all the struggles and hardships the past 5 years. It didn’t make sense at the time, but looking back on it now it all makes perfect sense. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Steve Jobs

I’d like to thank each and every one of you who have supported me either through my YouTube channel, my blog, my grooming business, by purchasing my book, and all the encouraging emails. I would not be here without you – you crazy people who totally get me! You even read this entire essay – are you nuts? LOL! I didn’t intend to write such a long blog – I do apologize for such a lengthy post. Things don’t always work out as I plan, but I thank God that it always works out according to a master plan.

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