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Ashley Smiley in her new Arts District shop. (Courtesy Dog House Cat)
When the owners of Fido Park Avenue announced they’d be retiring and closing up shop, Ashley Smiley had a choice to make.
After working for the pet supply store’s Short Pump location for about a year and a half, Smiley thought to herself: “It’s now or never.”
Several months later, Smiley launched Dog House Cat, a pet supply shop at 5 W. Broad St. in the Arts District. After a soft opening last month, she celebrated a grand opening at the beginning of August.
Smiley worked with animal rescues and daycares long ago, but she hasn’t always been in the animal industry. She worked in marketing and when she got laid off during the pandemic, she turned to her local pet supply shop, Fido Park Avenue.
“It wasn’t just a retail job,” Smiley said. “I was thinking, ‘OK, it’s a creative job, I get to have these consultative conversations with people and problem-solve,’ and that was really rewarding. I was thinking, ‘OK, maybe I can do this on my own.’”
She made the LLC and the domain name in August 2021, then sat on it until last December, when the Fido Park Avenue owners announced their retirement. That’s when she took the leap.
Her new store’s name, Dog House Cat, is inspired by the “Jeopardy!” before-and-after category: “Dog House, House Cat,” Smiley said.
“I think it’s hilarious … I’m sticking with it,” she said. “I think it fits my personality, and it really is kind of the ethos of being a pet parent or pet guardian in 2023, finding ways to integrate an animal into your home that is comfortable for everyone.”
Fido Park Avenue shuttered its Short Pump location in February and its Stony Point Fashion Park spot last month.
Smiley said she’s adapting Dog House Cat to fit the space at 5 W. Broad St., where local furniture and home decoration store 68 Home closed earlier this year.
The shop looks out on Broad Street and is next door to Tarrant’s Cafe (Charlotte Matherly photo)
Collars, leashes, harnesses, toys, pet food, treats and more line the boutique’s storefront, with stacks of beds and scratching posts arranged across the floor. A curtain separates the retail space from the back of the store, where she’s installing a self-service wash station for customers to bathe their pets.
“I had a vision of what I wanted to see in a pet store because I look at cities like New York and LA and they have all these really cool modern pet stores,” Smiley said, “and Richmond can handle a store that’s got interesting products and looks a little bit different, that doesn’t look like a grocery store.”
She sells some pricier name brands like Ruffwear that she said give her shop more credibility, which can then boost sales of the independent and smaller brands she’s got in stock.
Collars, leashes and harnesses run anywhere between $15-$50, and the self-service wash will be around $20. It’ll include professional-grade shampoos and other products used by groomers and run $20-$30 cheaper than taking the pet to a groomer, Smiley said.
She also sells Martingale collars, made specifically for Greyhounds – as a Greyhound owner herself, Smiley said those are often difficult to find.
Although she’s noticed many downtown Richmond residents have dogs, she also makes sure to have cat collars, toys and supplies for the city’s cat lovers.
“There’s cat people sprinkled in all over, too, and the cat people have been my favorite customers because I think they’re excited when they’re like, ‘Yes! Cat stuff!’ For too long cats have been ignored,” Smiley said, laughing.
Smiley got a $30,000 personal loan to open the pet store, one she said she’s trying to stretch to build up inventory and cover other startup expenses.
Her biggest frustration, she said, has been a lack of free and available parking for herself and her customers near her store. Smiley said while she understands city parking can be a struggle everywhere, she and other business owners in the area sometimes have to pay parking tickets.
“It doesn’t bode well for long-term health because if people feel like their city’s not taking care of them, they will pack up and leave,” Smiley said.
Most of Dog House Cat’s customers come from foot traffic, Smiley said, and she’s received positive feedback from Richmonders so far.
“When people are excited, it makes me feel, you know, that kind of validation,” Smiley said. “It’s like, ‘OK, I’m not just living in a fantasy world that this is a good idea.’ … This is something that people want and people see value in.”
Charlotte Matherly is the 2023 BizSense summer reporter. She’s a graduate of the journalism program at JMU. Please send news tips to [email protected].
Makes sense to have a pet store close to so many of the apartment complexes popping up downtown. Best of luck, Ashley!
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