Entrepreneur diaries: Liz Blondy on bringing employees back and supporting other businesses

This is part of an ongoing series where Model D talks with local entrepreneurs as the navigate the local business landscape in the wake of the novel coronavirus. 

As I mentioned last time, I’m a numbers person who has always been focused on growth. And right now the numbers are giving me a lot of anxiety.

Our numbers are nowhere close to where they usually are. It's been heartbreaking to look at our weekly scorecard and look at our numbers and just see them down so far.


For the year, we’re down over 75% where I expected to be at this time. And I won’t be able to make up much ground in 2020 because it’s not like I can force large downtown employers to bring everyone back to the office. I cannot force Detroiters to go on vacation! Our facility on Cass is built for 200 dogs and we are nowhere near capacity (about 30% of our regular occupancy).


I recently surveyed my customers. When it comes to overnight boarding, 25% of customers say they will; 32% are uncertain and 41% said no. Right now for boarding we are down over 90%. We’re the equivalent of a hotel; we have 200 rooms and people just told me they’re not going to come stay at my hotel this summer.


That’s frightening.


However, on a more positive note, 75% of my customers said that they will still continue to use day care even if they work from home. So that’s encouraging even though we’re not there yet.


While we have been open this whole time, serving essential workers and first responders, we reopened for everyone on May 26 and resumed grooming three days later. The best part of the process has been seeing customers that we haven’t seen for so long, just hearing the joy in the customers’ voices when they walk through the door. And seeing the joy among my employees when they meet new dogs. A lot of people got pets during quarantine, and we recently welcomed a new puppy named Tofu, among several other dogs.


And while only a fraction of the business has returned, our grooming is back 100% and we have over 400 dogs on our waitlist. People truly value our service and it’s a nice little affirmation that I usually get from our profit and loss statements.


Another positive side to reopening to the general public is seeing my work family again. We’ve brought back about a third of the staff between the Detroit and Ferndale locations, with about 35 people working right now.


Even though my staff is at about 30% of what it usually is, in what’s probably one of the biggest signs of returning to some sense of normalcy, I’ve resumed my habit of trolling Facebook for employees.


While I’m happy the work family is reuniting, the biggest challenge has been bringing employees back safely. One thing that’s been really surprising is the somewhat cavalier attitude that many people have returning to post … whatever we calling it. If it was the before times and during COVID I don't even know what this weird bizarro place that we're in right now is called, but some people don't seem super worried about it, which is kind of weird. I think as Americans, as humans, we have this mindset of “let's just get past that.” And I don't think that we can just move past this. We still really need to pay attention to things like wearing our masks, hand washing, 6-foot distancing and all of that. As an employer, it’s making sure that every employee in my space is conscious of that. It's part of my responsibility to protect them. And that also means protecting them from each other.


As we navigate this new normal, one thing that has been lost is the cute, personal touch. When we had new customers, we would greet them, shake their hands, and welcome their dog to our family. We’d give paper report cards. Now we have a strict protocol of people entering and exiting the building and the paper report cards have been replaced with digital ones. We've had to take away some of the cute factor. And I think that that is what people really, some people really enjoy about the whole kind of like dog daycare experience.


But at the end of the day, the customers’ support makes me feel really good about this business. It makes me feel that they are grateful for what my team has built. And it does make me feel more secure about the future, like, maybe everything isn't going to fall apart. Or it's going fall apart but the landing won't be that hard and the climb up won't be that steep.


But to be honest what’s really causing me a lot of anxiety is the fact that we are dealing with two crises. I can handle one bad situation at a time. Now I'm still a little bit fearful for me and all my loved ones and everyone’s health because of the coronavirus. I'm incredibly fearful for my business and the impact of the pandemic. And now the fact that we as a country are still horribly racist makes me sick. It’s actually kind of horrifying the state we’re in. Just recently I sat in my friend’s yard (6 feet away of course) and we watched helicopters fly above us all night.


But you can definitely feel that big changes are happening and it would be a shame if nothing positive came out of the pandemic and the killings of Black men and women.


Canine to Five has a platform of sorts. And we can be vague and say we support Black lives, or we can be a little bit more action-oriented and say to our customers and followers: “Hello, here is a business in your neighborhood that is Black-owned. Now go make a difference with your dollars, not with your Facebook post.” That’s how I see it. Canine to Five has always been an extension of me, and I’ve always been a proponent of other small businesses, particularly women-owned. So every day for the month of June, I’m highlighting a new Black-owned business.


We have to do what we can to showcase and support other small Black-owned businesses. If there’s one thing that this crisis has shown, it’s how this community rallies around each other.


It may sound weird, but I love my business more than ever in 2020. And interestingly enough, I love Detroit more than I have in probably 10 years, because of the way that I saw small business owners reaching out to each other and caring for each other, and continue to see them caring for each other. Seeing the solidarity and seeing people's commitment to not letting Detroit fall apart is truly lovely.


As told to Dorothy Hernandez


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