Lashonda Geffrard said she wants to make her business the “Chick-fil-A for dog grooming” — the place you know you can go for great service, the place that gives back to the community, the place that is on every corner with a line out the door and the place that values the families and the community in which they live.
Geffrard has big goals, and even bigger dreams, but she has never been one to back down from a challenge.
She and her husband, Josue, are the owners of the Orlando area’s only brick-and-mortar black-owned dog-grooming business, The Paw Shop in Ocoee.
It was started in 2015, and the owners already have built quite a reputation.
Lashonda Geffrard grew up in Pine Hills, which is why she says community involvement is so important to her. The area is, and always will be, her home.
In her younger years, she said, she never felt like she fit in.
Her parents were never fans of animals, but that didn’t stop her from feeding strays and trying to bring them home. She always wanted a dog and felt a natural connection with animals.
“I had this ability to instantly bond with almost any animal, and that created an open conversation and a bond with even the most stubborn owners,” Geffrard said. “I remember my cousins would always make fun of me for playing with dogs, and it was never really acceptable to follow that as a career choice.”
Now, as an adult, she thanks her parents for their opinion because it helped her to grow her passion and fight even harder to work with dogs, she said.
In 11th grade, her family moved to Clermont, where she said she was one of the only black girls in a predominantly white school.
“I had a hard time trying to find myself because I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere,” Geffrard said.
Now, the owner is using the gifts that make her different to create an impact.
The family-owned business strives to provide quality salon products and services that pets and their owners will love. The salon staff and stylist are experienced professionals who are passionate about making pets look and feel their best.
“Our belief is that happier pets make happier families and it's important that your pet has a comfortable and stress-free grooming experience,” Geffrard said.
After high school graduation, the owner said, she wanted to pursue veterinary medicine. When that fell through, she attended and graduated from the former Florida Institute of Animal Arts, and she said it was the best career decision she ever made.
She has now been professionally grooming for 15 years.
PAWS OF HOPE
Another unique aspect about The Paw Shop is its setup.
Unlike some grooming shops where all work is done behind closed doors, the stylists work in an open salon, where anyone can drop off their pet and watch the entire experience from start to finish.
“We have nothing to hide, and we want to make sure we are fulfilling our customers’ wishes to the best of our abilities,” Geffrard said. “These are their babies, and they are entrusting us to take care and love them like they’re our own.”
However, the services offered by Geffrard and her team go way beyond the walls of the shop.
In 2017, the owner said she noticed a call for help from people taking care of their pets.
Many dogs brought through the doors were unvaccinated, missing collars and tags, and not properly groomed.
That's when she created her nonprofit, Paws of Hope.
The program provides free pet-related resources to seniors, families and deserving individuals through free pet food, supplies, medical care and vet bill assistance year-round.
“Seniors and low-income families shouldn’t have to choose between giving up their pet or possibly facing more financial hardship if their animal ever needed urgent medical attention,” Geffrard said. “People have a lot of love to give, and sometimes they don't have the ability to get the extra stuff.”
The owner also attends local schools to talk about pet ownership, responsibility and education. She explained that each dog is different and needs its own unique resources.
Last year, Geffrard decided she wanted to expand those resources and learn from other black owners in the pet industry. She said she searched but couldn’t find any information online.
CREATING A NETWORK
The owner then started her next big step, the Black Owned Pet Business Network, a non-profit organization committed to growing black-owned businesses and leaders in the pet-care industry.
“African-Americans are very underrepresented in the pet-care industry,” Geffrard said. “Very rarely will you see someone of color working as a pet professional, but there is a need and a love in the black community for animals.”
The network serves as a home for both new and veteran pet professionals to share their stories and experiences.
The owner said she currently is working on obtaining small-business grants to be able to gift other black-owned pet businesses with resources and provide scholarships for students.
On top of all these accomplishments, Geffrard also recently joined Pet Boss Nation, a business development group for pet professionals and pet businesses around the world.
That’s when Geffrard met founder Candance D’Agnolo.
D’Agnolo had recently launched her own podcast “Boss Your Business” and was looking to diversify and create open conversation for her fellow members.
Geffrard has already been featured multiple times and even talked through a whole episode with D’Agnolo about diversity in the pet industry.
The podcast has since inspired Geffrard to create her own podcast centered around Paws of Hope where people can share their stories about how their pets have impacted their lives. She is hoping to launch the new podcast this summer.
“We all have excuses and things that happen, but it's always humbling to be reminded in the most gentle way that some people have it worse, and even those people that have it worse, they're doing everything they can to make it better,” she said.
The owner said as much as it seems all she does is work, it has never felt like work to her.
As much as she loves pets, she shares the same passion for people and is able to combine both of those together in her work.
She credits a large part of this to her co-workers and team — people she refers to as her family.
Her husband, Naomi Rembert, Tierra Adams and Kennith Jones make up the small but resilient staff. She also has three children who share the same love for the shop, despite two of them being allergic to dogs.
“We’re not all blood related, but we are family,” Geffrard said. “I focus intentionally on creating an environment where everyone is comfortable, and I think that translates well into the quality of work we provide and the customers who we serve as part of that family.”
The Paw Shop team already has plans to expand and offer their services to even more underserved individuals.
The shop’s mobile unit will dispatch in the next few weeks for the owners who don’t have the ability to leave their houses or who have dogs that need individualized care.
Geffrard said she hopes in the future to open more locations and possibly explore franchising.
The owner said although she always knew she would make it, the experience has been surreal.
“It means so much to me that I have been given the opportunity to pursue this passion by my family, friends and community,” Geffrard said. “I was so ashamed of my gift for so long because I didn’t feel like it was acceptable, but Christ has put me in a position to do something that's never been done before. My true heart's desire is to impact people in a different way, and now I get to help a new demographic of people that may have otherwise been overlooked.”