Yet here is Taylor, in her blue-and-orange-decorated store, wearing blue-and- orange shoes, a blue-and-orange shirt, a blue-and-orange sweatshirt, even blue glasses. She stands, a billboard with a pulse, next to two Australian-made K9000 self-serve dog- washing machines, which automate dog-washing by shooting water, shampoo and conditioner through one hose.
“People who see me and have known me through the years, even my family, they say, ‘What happened?’ ” she says. “I don’t know. All of the sudden, it’s here.”
How Taylor went from bringing churches and schools to Liberia to bringing the region the newest innovation in the $3.5 billion-a-year dog grooming industry is a quixotic, spiritual tale of entrepreneurship. There were business seminars at Holiday Inns, ideas that came in dreams and a local community of architects, church members, bookkeepers, mentors and contractors who bought into Taylor’s metamorphosis by writing her checks, giving her cut-rate deals and imparting business know-how.
“I just heard this spirit in her voice and saw this passion in her face,” said LaNilta Taylor, part of a husband-wife architect team that gave Ethel Taylor a decent price on their services. “We felt we needed to help her out.”
Taylor stumbled onto the idea for the business — she was surfing the Web and saw the dog-washing machines — two years ago, at the height of the recession. It was a brutal time to start a business, with more than 4,500 small businesses shutting down in 2010, according to theDistrict of Columbia Small Business Development Center Network. Banks weren’t lending money. A lawyer told Taylor she was stupid and crazy.
“But I really just thought this was my year to do something new,” she said.
Taylor did her homework on the industry. She found that in Ward 4, where she lives and wanted to open the business, there are more than 2,000 dogs — not to mention thousands more
in nearby Silver Spring and Takoma Park. And she already knew people were crazy about their dogs, cats and other pets.
Collectively, owners spent about $17 billion on their pets in 1994. Today they spend about $50 billion a year, according to the American Pet Products Association, with about $3.5 billion spent on grooming and boarding. But according to Mintel Research, only 29 percent of dog owners use grooming services; the rest choose either not to wash their dogs (gross!) or to wash them at home (hassle!).
The local doggie industrial complex has stores such as Bark ’N Bubbles that offer self-washing services, but typically there is just a big tub and supplies to use. The K9000, at $18,000 each, is a nifty but expensive advance — a carwash for dogs. In fact, most machine owners locate their K9000s outside carwashes.