SAUK RAPIDS -- It's the year 2020, filled with distance learning, grocery delivery, face masks and all forms of socially-distanced activities structured to stem the spread of COVID-19.

With this in mind, it's no surprise that the St. Cloud area’s only mobile dog grooming business is staying very busy.

Wags on Wheels, headquartered in Sauk Rapids, is the brainchild of owner/groomer Raylene Johnson. Johnson’s lifelong love of dogs, background in cosmetology, and desire for a major career change inspired the 2017 launch of Wags on Wheels, a fully-loaded dog grooming trailer.

“Before I went to cosmetology school, I actually thought about being a dog groomer,” she said. “But I went into cosmetology. I loved some of it, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Then, I had an office job, and I hated it. Finally, I looked at my husband and said, ‘I have got to figure out something."

"And that’s when my mom was like, ‘well what about dog grooming? And I said, yeah, I could venture down that road," she added.

The idea for a dog grooming trailer was inspired by a similar business in Johnson’s hometown of Hibbing. Johnson says she shadowed the Hibbing business owner, a family friend, before launching Wags on Wheels.

These days, Johnson grooms between 6-8 dogs per day located within a 15-mile radius of St. Cloud. The trailer, which she pulls behind an SUV, is generator-powered, climate-controlled, and includes a bathtub, electric grooming table and blow dryer. Johnson typically works Monday through Thursday, taking the remaining three days off to be with her infant son.

Wags on Wheels trailer
Wags on Wheels trailer

“I used to do weekends if it was absolutely necessary, but now that I have my son, I want to be home with him,” she said.

Like all dog groomers, Johnson faced hardship during Minnesota's stay at home order in May. Wags on Wheels closed for several weeks, and Johnson’s one-woman business was ineligible for a PPP loan.

“Luckily, we had (money) saved up for my maternity leave,” she said. “But it was tough.”

Johnson says she spent the shutdown fielding calls from dog owners seeking advice on how to groom their dogs at home.

“I had people reaching out who weren’t even my clients, asking me questions like, ‘how can I keep my dog’s coat from becoming matted during COVID?’” she said. “I was always more than willing to help them, and tell them what kinds of brushes or products to get. I’m all about education.”

Now that she’s returned to her usual grooming schedule, business is booming; Johnson says she gets around 4-5 calls each day from potential new clients. Each dog’s grooming schedule depends on their individual needs, she says.

“Most of my clients are probably on a 6 to 8 week schedule,” Johnson said. “I have some 12-weekers. Then I have some seasonal clients – people who just want a de-shed in the spring or fall. So, it all depends on the breed and the owner.”

For the most part, Johnson says the pandemic hasn’t caused her to lose clients.

“There were a couple who said, because of COVID, they didn’t want me coming,” she said. “Which is fine - I knew that would happen.”

So, what’s Johnson’s favorite part about owning Wags on Wheels? The relationships, she says.

“I really get to spend that one-on-one time with the dogs,” Johnson said. “I get to know the owners better than you would in a normal grooming salon. I get to meet their families, and see how they live. Of course, being my own boss and making my own hours is a bonus.”

“But I love really getting to know the puppies,” she added.

To learn more about Wags on Wheels, visit their website or Facebook page.

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