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Retro Experience

Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe's customers come for the service and stay for the ambiance.




Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, San Diego, CA

AREA: 1,600 square feet ; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time,3 part-time ; FACEBOOK: /bowwowbeautyshoppe ; INSTAGRAM: /dogbakerybowwowbeautyshoppe

LEEL MICHELLE BELIEVES in creating an experience for her customers.

“A business shouldn’t just be a place to buy things,” she says. “All of the stores I treasure also have an amazing ambiance.”

That philosophy — developed over years working in the fashion retail and amusement park industries — informs Michelle’s Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe in San Diego, CA. As does her love of all things retro. They combine to win the 2018 PETS+ America’s Coolest Store title.

Fabulous ’50s

Michelle was born in 1975, but as a child she obsessed over an earlier decade. The theme of her 13th birthday party? The 1950s. Favorite gift that day? A Chubby Checker record.

“The music, colors and glamour were so beautiful, happy and interesting to me.”

Michelle carried that passion into adulthood. She used it — along with art and fashion studies in Italy and New York — to design her pet store, both in its original location in 2006 and where it exists today as of January.

Neutral walls and floors allow mint and pink paint to pop, whether on furniture repurposed as fixtures or on ’50s fridges that keep gourmet cakes fresh. She likes merchandising to surprise. Vintage suitcases elevate dog beds. Tiered cupcake stands hold tennis balls. Hair dryer chairs anchor displays that include another interest: pinup models.

“I’m most interested in pinup artwork from artists who put beautiful girls in a silly situation, and preferably with an animal! It makes it more fun and keeps one from taking life too seriously.”

All Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe employees don Retro Stylist Wear, the award-winning grooming apparel line Michelle launched in 2015.

“It goes with the store’s theme and keeps us looking professional and uniformed.”

Add to all this ’50s music and a friendly staff, and the ambiance she works so hard to create attracts a customer base heavy with regulars.

“Doing something special cements loyalty and makes it hard to go somewhere else.”



High-Profile Groomers

Thanks to Retro Stylist Wear’s success and 11 years as an in-demand groomer, Michelle has a stellar reputation with peers and clients alike. Her name attracts business and contributes to the overall experience. That proved a challenge when a growth opportunity presented itself before the recent move, one that wouldn’t leave much time for salon management.

Fortunately, her award-winning head groomer wanted to buy the department.

“Gabriel Feitosa is a rising star in the grooming industry, invited to judge competitions all over the world,” Michelle says. “It worked out really well for both of us.”

Now called Gabriel Feitosa Grooming Salon at Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, it continues her tradition of high-profile groomers providing pet and show cuts in a salon setting.

Gourmet Bakery

The previously mentioned opportunity involves the gourmet cakes that make this store a top destination for dog birthday supplies. Michelle has always created her own recipes — with veterinary guidance — and icing designs, but she outsourced baking. When her longtime baker decided to retire last year, she needed a new plan. After all, bakery items account for 60 percent of retail sales.

“I couldn’t find anyone that had the look. Or they did, but didn’t want wholesale volume. I said, ‘I guess we’re going to have to do this ourselves.’”

And they have. A new baker filled in while Michelle built a bakery at Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe. It opened in May with an explosion of color and taste. Pink and mint carry through to the counter, and are joined by blues and reds and yellows behind in a mural that resembles the icing drips on her cakes.

Additional offerings are in the works for both retail and wholesale, as are on-site doggie birthday parties and Very Important Pup service at ’50s chrome tables and chairs.

“I don’t want it to be your average dog bakery,” she says. “I want it to be a fun and memorable experience for people and their pets.”

It certainly will be with Michelle involved.




Five Cool Things About Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe

1. POST-GRAD: Most groomers graduate from school, and then work for a salon. Not Michelle, her next step was to open Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe. She says her lack of salon experience allowed her to thrive while her corporate background kept her grounded.
2. STORE DOG: Mumsie the Standard Poodle holds court at the store, serving as greeter — or security if someone commits a fashion crime, as she’s a very stylish girl. Mumsie, of course, gets coiffed by Gabriel Feitosa.
3. DO CALL THEM: Fans of Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe who also want to work there shouldn’t wait for a want ad. Michelle says the best employees have sought her out. She even includes a “Why would you like to work for Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe?” link on the store website.
4. JUST BROWSING … AND HAUNTING: Michelle moved her business into the 1912 building amid rumors of ghostly sightings. She hasn’t had any experiences, but a plumber she told of the paranormal sightings has yet to return.
5. MERCHANDISING 101: Michelle runs a popular Facebook group for pet business owners. In it, she shares standout merchandising examples from her store as well as advice. Search for “Pet Boutiques” under groups.

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with Leel Michelle

One book:
The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk by Palden Gyatso. This book has taught me to stay humble and grateful.

One gadget:

Best advice ever received:
“If you’re going to do something, do it right the first time!” — Lana Preston (My older — by 20 years — sister!)

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do professionally?
Repeatedly discipline an employee I really liked.

If your store were on fire, what’s the one thing you’d save?
My Standard Poodle Mumsie!

Advertising campaign I wish I’d thought of:
Yelp but better. Where we could equally review the client!


If money were no object, I’d do _________ to my store.
Order a fantastically expensive neon store sign at least 6 feet high!

Favorite film:

Best vacation ever:
Living in Italy for two years!

Favorite job at work that doesn’t involve customers:
Retail merchandising! Feeds my nagging mistress: creativity!

My hero is …
Myself. I was born into foster care, emancipated myself at 16, graduated high school a year early, lost my previous store mascot, Frida two years ago, followed by the death of my very close twin brother three months later, and I still have an optimistic outlook on life!

Favorite store that’s not my own:
Pet Store: They set the bar high!




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