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A lawyer aims to build 'the Starbucks of the pet grooming industry'

Founder and CEO of Lucky Paws Pet Grooming Gerard Marrone explains why he decided to take the leap from law to owning his own pet spas.  Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman

Since the pandemic’s start, Gerard Marrone has pursued an accelerated course of pet spa acquisitions with a greater goal in mind: to become the Starbucks of the pet grooming industry.

From April to December, Marrone, an attorney whose law firm was shuttered because COVID closed the courts, purchased seven pet spas and owns locations in Port Washington, Wantagh and Howard Beach, Queens, which were closed at the time he bought them but have since reopened; a New Hyde Park store; and shops in Huntington, Syosset and Bethpage.

Depending on its locale and 2020 volume, Marrone paid between $50,000 and $150,000 for the stores, though prices for the three closed operations were based on their locales and 2019 gross revenues.

Currently, his firm grooms 6,000 dogs monthly, and since April 2020, it has generated about $1.5 million in revenue, he said.

Within the pet market, grooming, training and other nonmedical services represented a $10.3 billion market last year, according to industry research, and is expected to expand due, in part, to the upswing in pet adoptions.

Marrone’s operation employs 50 full- and part-time workers, including groomers and bathers. He has two partners: Seann Sackett, a groomer and the former owner of two locations that Marrone purchased; and Dr. Steven Weinstein, a veterinarian, who joined Marrone two years ago in acquiring an animal hospital in Astoria that is now called Dr. Pet MD.

Dr. Weinstein serves as chairman, Marrone is founder and CEO and Sackett is COO of Universal Pet Holdings LLC, the mini-conglomerate’s umbrella company; its subsidiaries are Dr. Pet MD and Lucky Pet Grooming Inc., which encompasses the stores. Plans are underway to recast the grooming locations as Lucky Paws Pet Grooming.

And in the spring, Marrone plans to launch Long Island Grooming Academy to train groomers. Tuition will run $5,000 for 300 hours of onsite learning, with financial aid available, he said.

Newsday spoke to Marrone about his pet grooming chain and his long-range business plans.

Why did you enter the pet grooming businesses?

I love animals and believe we have a duty to protect them. When pets aren’t groomed for a while, their fur gets matted, and it’s very painful for them to have their matted hair combed and cut. I also saw an opportunity, given my experience with the pet hospital, and seeing businesses closed.

What was your rationale for acquiring stores during the pandemic?

I knew eventually New York would come out of this on the other side and that we would have better days. And that’s been my philosophy.

How did you finance your buying spree?

I used personal savings, including refinancing my home, and the sellers hold the note for the balance of the payments.

How are the stores faring?

Since the second wave of the pandemic hit, which was a challenge, we’ve rebounded and are doing well. We’re now entering our busy season, and there are actually two-week waiting lists.

What measures do you take to protect workers from COVID?

We’re following CDC guidelines, requiring customers to wear a mask, providing hand sanitizers everywhere and marking the floor so people remain six feet apart. At the end of the day, everything is sanitized.

What’s your marketing approach?

Besides a website for all locations, we’re using social media and text messaging to existing clients.

What’s your long-term business plan?

My vision is to be the Starbucks of the pet grooming industry, with at least 25 stores. But they’ll still retain that boutique neighborhood feel. It’s a model I’ll never change. I’m planning a private placement and offering a total of 20% of the company to private investors to grow the business. And I’m starting Lucky Paws Pet Rescue, which rescues abandoned, abused and other unwanted pets, [and] will pay for their care and give them to foster families until they are ultimately adopted.

Do you have a pet?

Our dog, Tito, died about 18 months ago. He was a rescue mini pit bull, and we’ll pick up a new dog through the rescue.

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