February 4, 2023
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Dog groomer moves basement business into full-service salon in Yalesville  

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WALLINGFORD — What started as a business in her basement in the Fairfield area grew into a full grooming service for Harmarie Lebrón.

The 32-year-old recently opened The Dog Den Grooming Spa at 200 Church St. in Wallingford.

After losing her retail job, Lebrón wanted to find a less costly way to groom her cocker spaniel, Luna. She invested in some professional grooming equipment and began grooming the dog herself. 

“It’s one of those things that it was just cost effective to learn how to groom your own dog versus the struggle of going every three weeks to get her done because she had a very thick coat,” Lebrón added.

Luna is now running a professional grooming business, .

“The idea kind of just stemmed from my general love of animals. I’ve always had a dog growing up and I wanted it to be a place where I would want to take my dog,” Lebrón said. “I experienced grooming on different levels from different other shops, nothing against anyone, everyone does everything the way that it works for them. But for me, it was more like I want it to feel like home but I’m also from New York originally so I want that modern, sleek, high-end vibe.”

Building her clientele

Lebrón started building her client base by hanging out in a park or going on walks with her dog. People started to take notice of Lebron’s grooming abilities. 

“People would ask ‘who is grooming your dog?,’ ‘where do I take her? she looks amazing,’” Lebrón explained. “And I started building a clientele that way and then it spread from word of mouth. It got to the point where grooming at your house, even though it was nice and still had the cozy feel, was just not big enough.”

Before opening her business, Lebrón, who served in the Army for four years, got a job working at a grooming salon using the experience she got from working on her own dog. From that experience, she started to take notice of things she wanted to do differently. 

“I said ‘you know what? I don’t want to work for anybody else,’” Lebrón said. “I’d rather do this for myself. And I started seeing a lot of things that I would want to do differently and it’s a little hard because when you don’t own the business, you may have a certain amount of say as to how things get done, but it’ll never be the way that you would do it yourself.”

Opening a storefront

After grooming for a while she noticed that it wasn’t fair to her clients or their pets to groom their animals in a tiny room in her home, so she opted to get a storefront. 

Lebrón got a storefront in the 200 Church Street plaza in the Yalesville section of Wallingford. The location she chose has big windows, which was attractive to Lebrón since it would allow for more transparency with her clients.

“What I love about it is that when I first saw it, all these walls were built already, there were windows all over the place in every room and I love that because it’s a trust thing,” Lebrón said. “I want the client to be able to trust me and the dog to be able to trust me. And the fact that you can walk in and you can see where the dog is getting groomed and you can walk down the little hallway and see the bathing areas. That was important to me too.”

Lebrón enlisted the help of her boyfriend and his dad and the three renovated the space on their own. From the floors, tubs, plumbing, logo and paintings of her cocker spaniel that decorate the walls, everything was built to make Lebrón’s dream come true. 

Lebrón opened her storefront to the public in October and is now fully booked every Saturday for the next month and a half. 

A groomer like no other

She said the one of the biggest things people like about her business is not only the quality haircuts and mud baths but also the fact that she is a genuine person who takes the time before each session to connect with each of her furry clients. 

“In this industry, having conversations is extremely important,” said Lebrón, who has Italian and Puerto Rican roots and speaks Spanish as well as English. “One, the person’s coming in with their dog. Their dog doesn’t know you. They’re getting a sense of how you interact with their owner and with them. So establishing a base where you guys are in good standing and just happy to kind of talk with each other, sounds weird, but on a chemical level, of course, it releases pheromones. Dogs pick up on all of that.”

Shannon St. Hilaire of Wallingford decided to try taking her German shepherd, Spirit, to be groomed by Lebrón after a few recommendations from her friends. She described her experience with The Dog Den as “awesome.”

She also appreciates that its a female-owned business and that Lebrón is a military veteran.

“She, you know, got me in right away,” St. Hilaire said. “Spirit was the only dog there so it was very comforting for him. He did great with her. He had some bad grooming experiences before which is why I won’t take him very often… And she’s a veteran and it’s a woman-owned business. So we try to support where we can.”

Lebrón also prides herself on not having any crates, allowing the dogs getting groomed to roam.

“So if the dog comes in, and I’m with another dog, he’ll hang out in the same room as me so I can keep an eye on him. I never have them unsupervised together, ” she explained.

Giving back to the community

Lebrón also formed a partnership with Wallingford Animal Shelter on 5 Pent Road.

 The shelter typically calls Lebron when any of their shelter dogs need to get groomed. 

“The shelter dogs, they come in here and they’re just so happy just to not be in their crate and run around,” Lebrón said. “You see them when they come in and they look crazy. And then you get them groomed and it’s like a whole different dog that’s leaving and the dog feels better.”

Lebrón said that as her business grows, she hopes to continue giving back to the community. She also hopes to take her business to the “next level” by hiring a team of people who are trained and treat dogs the way that they’are supposed to and also potentially open a second location in the community.





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