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Higher Calling

Jusak Yang Bernhard and Jeff Manley serve the people and pets of their community, creating connections that have a positive impact beyond just their bottom line.

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Wag Heaven, Georgetown, TX

OWNERS: Jusak Yang Bernhard and Jeff Manley; URL: wagheaven.com; LOCATIONS: 2; INSTAGRAM: wag_heaven; FACEBOOK: wagheaven; FOUNDED: 2019; AREA: 1,815 square feet Williamsburg Village; 1,720 square feet downtown; TOP BRANDS: Victor, Fromm, Nulo, A Pup Above, Earth Animal, Tucker’s, Big Moe’s, Erica’s Healthy, Exley Farms; EMPLOYEES: 7 full-time, 5 part-time


WHAT MAKES WAG Heaven Pet Supplies & Self-Serve Dog Wash in Georgetown, TX, a fixture in its community? The faith and generosity emanating from owners Jusak Yang Bernhard and Jeff Manley. Rather than looking for opportunities that help only their business, they’re quick to ask others, “What can we do for you?”

Yang Bernhard says, “We’re much more than a retailer.” The approach works, helping this pop-and-pop store earn more than $800,000 in annual revenue (92% from retail and 8% from baths). “Part of what we do is connect people,” Manley adds.

Often those connections benefit others without direct gains for Wag Heaven, which has two locations in town. The couple believes everything turns into something and that kindness gets passed on. Yang Bernhard points to universal truths and higher callings rather than pinning success on their Christian faith alone. They describe feeling led and watching for paths to appear.

Jusak Yang Bernhard, left, and Je Manley

Jusak Yang Bernhard, left, and Je Manley lead their team at Wag Heaven.

Meaningful Connections

Community-first thinking puts Texas-based companies Victor, Nulo and A Pup Above as well as area brands Big Moe’s Treats, Erica’s Healthy Pet and Exley Farms (honey and skincare products) on Wag Heaven’s shelves.

It’s also why Yang Bernhard and Manley lead and participate in many local events and fundraisers with their business. They attend downtown markets, selling about $1,000 to $2,000 in treats and toys in a single day. They hosted the first POPP Pup Parade with Costume Contest in 2021, and it has turned into an annual event. Wag Heaven also hosts dog washes and toy drives for Ride on Center for Kids Horse Therapy, Palace Theater, Playful Child Foundation, Pet Partners, Sun City Pet Club and Georgetown High School. Volunteers wash dogs for $20. Yang Bernhard says, “Every cent goes to charities.” Or when the store gets toys for $1 that sell for $5, the chosen charity gets $4 from every sale.

The events are all meaningful. It helps that both worked in entertainment — Yang Bernhard as an actor and producer, Manley in editing. For example, they made memorial cards for people to carry during the parade and read aloud the names of 75 pets killed in a nearby boarding facility fire.

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Both bring experience in the nonprofit sector, too, and have zero qualms about asking for financial or other support. When the town initially deemed Wag Heaven’s idea for a large mural on its downtown location as promotional signage, “We said, ‘Well, that’s not what we’re looking for,’ so we went back and forth with the city a little bit, then the Arts & Culture Board found a grant that would involve veteran artists,” Yang Bernhard explains.

The chosen submission features a memorial to Nemo, a war dog and Purple Heart recipient who retired to a military base in Texas, as well as images of other types of working dogs. Artists J. Muzacz and Jay Rivera sketched the mural, and community members helped paint it.

At a pet food drive after, a man asked, “Is that Nemo?” Told yes, he teared up and shared that he’d flown Nemo home from Vietnam. Manley says. “If we’d stopped the first time when they said, ‘You can’t have that,’ this moment wouldn’t have happened.”

Wag Heaven also gives free and discounted food to the Williamson County Sheriff K-9 Unit, thanks to support from Victor and Instinct brands, and free baths. Koda, the Georgetown Fire Department Dog, also gets food from Lotus and other supplies.

Bigger, Better Together

Another important collaboration started with Yang Bernhard and Manley lunching at a cafe run by Brookwood in Georgetown (BIG), an organization supporting independent living for adults with special needs. The issue remains close to their hearts since Manley’s brother is on the autism spectrum.

They learned about pies, fudge, pet treats and other pet products that BIG citizens make. In addition to selling those products at Wag Heaven — even the ones not for pets — the couple is helping to secure distribution through Alamo Pet Experts.

Wag Heaven provides work experience to high school students with special needs, as well. The students put together treats and coupon bags that other local businesses, from banks to restaurants, hand out via their drive-thrus. “How cool is this town?” Yang Bernhard asks. “I think it’s because they know our hearts. They help us promote ourselves. It’s completely amazing.” Those coupons typically feature a dollar amount off product purchases or a free self-serve dog wash.

Generosity and collaboration matter to the couple so much that brands or distributors not supporting local efforts, such as by providing free pet food for those in need, don’t get space on their store’s shelves. Yang Bernhard jokingly calls himself a bully, but he says, “I think our community work is so much more important than the dollars.” They’ve hosted five such giveaways of two to three pallets of pet food each.

Wag Heaven launchedin Georgetown in the Williamsburg Village area.

Wag Heaven launched in Georgetown in the Williamsburg Village area.

Results So Far

Wag Heaven opened in the Williamsburg Village area of Georgetown in late 2019, just months before pandemic shutdowns. The small city has just 75,000 residents, and the couple saw that older pet parents in the Sun City Retirement Community preferred to shop in midtown Georgetown. They opened the second Wag Heaven downtown, turning a run-down auto dealership into a bright and spacious pet-supply store.

“Many residents don’t like to cross Highway 35, so it’s two separate audiences,” Yang Bernhard explains.

Growth has been steady for the business. Annual revenue increased 66% from 2020 with one store most of that year to 2021 with two. Wag Heaven enjoyed another 19% increase in revenue in 2022 up to more than $800,000, with 53% from the downtown store and 47% from the Williamsburg Village store. About 5% of retail sales get made on the store’s well designed website, with staff doing eight to 12 deliveries each week.

Rather than grow into Austin, about 45 minutes south and where other local pet stores serve customers well, Manley says, “If we are to expand, we feel we should be looking in areas such as Temple, Jarrell and Waco. “There is plenty of area north of Austin that can be developed, where we don’t need 100,000 people or more to keep a store alive.”

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Higher expectations are a challenge of being such a valuable resource in a smaller community. That’s why they empower all staff to solve any customer service glitches themselves, including refunds, exchanges, and even discounts and free products to help pets transition to new foods. “We also have a very liberal return policy,” Manley says.

Want to use Wag Heaven’s success as a template for success? “Concentrate on your heart and your gut,” Yang Bernhard advises, with Manley adding, “Who do you want to help when something comes along? Then try to figure out what you can do that aligns with your mission.”

Five Cool Things About Wag Heaven

1. PREQUEL. From 2007 to 2016, Yang Bernhard and Manley owned TailsSpin, a pet-supply store with three locations in Savannah, GA. After deciding to move to care for Manley’s ailing father, and help his mother and brother, they sold the business to Bentley’s Pet Stuff in 15 minutes at SuperZoo.

2. HAPPY HOUR. Monday through Friday from 2 to 5 p.m., self-serve baths cost just $10 (regular price is $14). About 10-15% of the store’s bath income comes from happy hour.

3. PRICELESS. Mastercard featured Wag Heaven in a national print ad campaign. The ad said, because “their business is much more than the goods they sell” and highlighted the store’s partnership with local animal shelters to offer free pet food to those fostering dogs and cats during the pandemic.

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4. MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL. A local doctor offers affordable primary care via membership. The couple appreciates the commitment to service, so they pay the monthly fees for full-time staff, among other benefits, as another way to support their team and another business owner in the community.

5. EXTRA EXTRA. Every week, Wag Heaven sponsors a column in the Williamson County Sun that features adoptable dogs at local shelters. They also write about pet care for the paper and other publications.

PHOTO GALLERY (3 IMAGES)

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