Story and photos by Stephen Dawkins
Elizabeth LaRocca discovered her love for grooming dogs as a young owner of a poodle. Her love has grown into a life-long passion—and a career.
A Verbena native, LaRocca got her start with an apprenticeship under a local groomer. The arrangement turned into a job, co-owning a shop and eventually a business of her own.
“When you do dog grooming, you go slow with it,” LaRocca said about the amount to learn to become proficient.
LaRocca and her husband David began working toward opening Bark and Bath Pet Grooming in Jemison in spring 2015.
A property owned by Elizabeth LaRocca’s father was converted into the pet grooming business, which opened Dec. 3, 2015.
State-of-the-art equipment was installed, fresh paint was applied, and a fenced-in back yard was created for the furry friends who visit.
“We had to put a lot of work into it, but it was definitely worth it,” David LaRocca said.
Safety precautions were taken when remodeling the house. There are locking metal gates in the grooming area and at the main entrance and employee-only entrance.
“We took a lot of thought when getting everything ready,” Elizabeth LaRocca said.
Still, the couple had no idea if they’d succeed with the business.
About a week before the grooming shop was set to open, a Facebook page was created and received about 100 “likes” on the first day.
“That gave us an idea about how busy we would be,” LaRocca said.
Another groomer was hired based on the Facebook response, but the employees were still overwhelmed on the first day of being open.
David LaRocca had to come in to help answer the phone even though, by his own admission, he knows little about pet grooming.
Elizabeth LaRocca said she planned to be able to run the business and take care of the couple’s months old child (their fourth child, with the oldest a 14-year-old) at the same time.
“I thought I would groom a dog every now and then, play with the baby a little while…no,” she said.
Of course, she’s not turning down the business, even if she requires a little help with the baby.
“It’s been a blessing all the way around,” David LaRocca said.
After that hectic opening, employees now have the process down pat. In addition to north Chilton County, customers have come from Clanton, Calera and Montevallo. Local veterinarians have also recommended Bark and Bath, which Elizabeth LaRocca said she’s grateful for.
When a dog is dropped off, a card is filled out with the owner’s name and pet’s name, along with instructions and preferences about the services to be performed.
The bath comes first, so that any dirt can be removed and the hair can be fluffed prior to the grooming.
A commercial tub is used for bathing, so that even dogs who don’t normally like baths can be washed with ease. The tub features a floor that drains water away from the dog’s feet.
LaRocca’s experience with handling dogs also helps. Husband David said he jokingly calls his wife the dog whisperer because of her ability to handle almost any dog.
“She has a knack for being able to calm dogs down,” David LaRocca said.
Even for someone with Elizabeth LaRocca’s knowledge, the job comes with its risks. She’s been scratched and bitten more times than she cares to count.
The groomers book 8-10 appointments per day, and they try to have pets back to their owners in 2-2.5 hours.
A $35 (for dogs up to 35 pounds) full groom includes a hair cut, shampoo with massage, glands expressed, conditioner, blow dry, teeth brushed, hair removed from inside ears, ears cleansed, nails trimmed and ground smooth, brushing and minor dematting, foot pads shaved, tummy shaved, potty patches shaved, nail polish and a bow or bandana.
A “tidy groom,” which includes fewer services, is also available, as are a la carte services.
But LaRocca believes it’s her ability to build relationships that is crucial to building the business. She takes time to talk to her customers and get to know them and their pets.
“How you treat people makes a difference,” she said.
Bark and Bath Pet Grooming is located at 26410 U.S. Hwy. 31 in Jemison. They can be reached at (205) 688-5555, or visit the “Bark and Bath Pet Grooming” Facebook page.
Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.