Should the best quality natural products and care be restricted to humans? For Lisa Rea, the answer is an equally natural 'no' - her new Absolutely Barking parlour aims to offer the best of everything to the discerning dog owners and their pampered canines.
Absolutely Barking started trading from its central Newtownabbey shop unit in the Throne View Centre at the beginning of April and is justifying Lisa's belief that this is a business that can grow into something substantial. "I have been grooming for about eight years and working with animals for 11 years," said Lisa, "working both in a kennel environment and also in a grooming salon environment."
But it is the personal care and natural products that mark her new business out as unique, she suggests. "My salon is slightly different," Lisa said. "It is based around animals' needs, as well as those of owners."
Dog owners usually want to see what is happening to their dogs when they are being groomed, but salons often keep the owners out of the picture. Not at Absolutely Barking. Owners can see what is happening and be reassured about the quality of the care - providing that this does not cause the animals to be distracted and upset. "I make it clear that the animal comes first and its safety comes first," said Lisa. "So I may have to ask people to leave if the animal gets edgy."
But the use of high quality, natural products is what particularly marks out Absolutely Barking as unique. "I believe the products we use are equally as important as the treatments we offer," said Lisa. "What goes on our pets' skin is just as important as what goes on our own, which is why we have decided to use the range 'Betty and Butch'. We are very excited to be using this product range and are the first salon in Ireland to be granted a contract, showing a belief in us from the owners who distribute the products globally."
Treatments on offer include lavender baths, massage and facials, as well as the more traditional nail clipping, coat trimming, teeth cleaning and fluffy drying. Pedigrees being prepared for shows will be a key target market.
"It's going really well because I am using natural products and that's had a good response," she said.
"I also have a small stock of natural dog foods - the Healthy Paws range. A lot of my stock is not readily available in Northern Ireland - it is not available in pet shops."
In addition, the business is selling dog clothing - itself a growing product market which is predicted to generate £35m across the whole of the UK by 2015. Another sideline is a 'dog design' service, allowing owners to have their dogs spray painted, with some pets already sporting zebra stripes and colourful Mohican looks.
For Lisa, the concept of her one-person business fits together perfectly - owners who want their pets to have good skin and good coats should realise that their dogs need to eat healthily, which means naturally. She believes that a lot of owners fully understand this. "We always, always, say that the natural way is the best way," said Lisa.
While the move into self-employment is positive, it took a family bereavement to stimulate Lisa into taking the step. Her grandparents died last year, leaving her the cash to start her own business. From these sad events fulfilment is emerging for Lisa - and perhaps unspoken joy for spoiled dogs.