For Angela Mukirae-Kihenjo, 33, pets make the world go round. PHOTO| COURTESY

In Summary

  • She started by grooming her neighbours’ dogs in her veranda for free.
  • But some months down the line, the business is thriving.

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For Angela Mukirae-Kihenjo, 33, pets make the world go round.

“I’ve had a cat for eight years. Her name is Tasha. Tasha is a Maine Coon breed, she’s colour ginger. She’s a family member,” says Angela.

Besides owning a pet, Angela earns a living from pets. She is the owner of Pets Paradise, a pet grooming and boarding company located in Kongoni Road, Karen. It sits on a quarter acre.

Angela opened shop in January last year. “The services we offer for pets are grooming, boarding facilities and playgroup,” she says, adding: “We also sell dog accessories like organic herbal soap and dog food. Two other services we’ll introduce are dog walking and dog hikes.”

On the day we meet, there are four dogs on site: Bolt and Sugar are permanent residents; Duke and Sport are boarders who would be checking out in a few days. “Sugar is the only female. All of them are mixed breeds. Bolt is a mix of German Sheppard and Golden retriever. There are more than 240 dog breeds but most of the dogs in Kenya are mixed breeds, very few are pure,” says Angela.

Besides running the business with her husband Rodney, Angela gets assistance from her team of three: Kyalo, Martin and Juma. They handle the dogs, and take turns watch over the dogs at night.

So, how did she start the business?

Angela, who holds a bachelors degree in Finance from Catholic University, stumbled into the idea of grooming pets in 2010. But before that, she had been in formal employment.

She graduated in October 2007 and started her career in July 2008. For the next eight years, Angela worked for a string of non-profit organisations. She did not stay in any one of the jobs for more than three years because she wanted her career to grow. Her last job was a project finance manager. “The most important thing I learned from that job was how to manage people,” she says.

Angela always had a side-hustle running: “I did network marketing, imported and sold women’s bags and shoes,” she says.

“I stumbled into the idea of grooming pets in 2010. I already had Tasha, my cat, at that time. I researched on the viability of the business and got a school in Switzerland that offered an online diploma in pet grooming. The course was to run for one year. It cost Sh124, 000.”

Angela shelved the idea until 2014, when she pulled some cash from her savings and enrolled for her coursework. She was already sniffing the industry. “There were three other such businesses in Kenya but they were offering mobile grooming.”

“In October 2015, I bought grooming equipment from Amazon – grooming table, brushes, nail clippers and trimmers. It cost me Sh15,000. After shipping in the equipment, I knew there was no turning back,”

She says she started by grooming her neighbours’ dogs in her veranda for free over the weekends. “I did it for three months. I stopped when my house got infested with fleas from one of the dogs. Rodney and I had to move out for two days for the house to be fumigated,” she chuckles.

Shutting down the grooming-at-home option set the wheels in motion. “Some of my friends told me to do the grooming as a hobby but I knew that for my business to be successful, I had to run it full time.”

Angela registered her business in January 2016. She continued to offer mobile grooming but at a charge. She and Rodney scouted for a location. “We were looking for a place that has space, allowed dogs and wasn’t in a commercial area. We got it in March. It was the same month I left my job.”

Angela got her first boarding client that June; “Charge per night is between Sh800 and Sh1,500.” She got several others when she advertised on her Facebook page. Most of her clients were repeat and Kenyans.

“Grooming is necessary for pets,” Angela says with emphasis. “Some owners see it as a treat but it’s more than that – grooming is for cosmetic and hygienic purposes.”

She explains: “Grooming a dog involves giving him a warm bath, manicure and pedicure, ear and eye cleaning, nail trimming, carding and coat clipping. It can take two to four hours; it depends on the coat type and the size of the dog. We charge between Sh3,500 and Sh5,000.”

Angela adds: “There are seven types of coats for dogs: Smooth, short, double, long silky, harsh wiry, curly woolly and corded. You can also get a hybrid of these. The coat types I’ve groomed most are short and double coats. Some dogs need grooming only twice a year, others need them quarterly. Again, it all depends on the coat type.”

When she launched her business, Angela only wanted to groom pets and board them. “Once I was in it full time, I expanded our services to include playgroups on the weekends. We had 15 dogs last Easter.”

“As a business person you don’t need to have the full picture to start,” she advises.

As experience got her hands dirty, Angela learned a lot about the subtleties of the pets business. “I learned the importance of having a qualified vet on speed dial,” she says as she lists them one-by-one. “Why it’s important that my clients sign a General Release Liability contract before leaving their dog’s here. Why I must see the dog’s vaccination card and why my staff must have experience with handling dogs. Dog handlers in Kenya don’t have any formal training,” she says.

How does it feel about her first year in business? “It feels like it’s only my weaknesses that have been highlighted. I’ve learned how to be a better decision-maker, talk naturally in crowds and be more aggressive with my marketing. My long-term plan is to run a grooming school,” she concludes.