By Amanda Kuhnert
Debbie Safran of Burlington was having trouble finding accessories and apparel that would fit her greyhound’s long, lean shape. For nearly a decade she batted around the idea of opening her own store, where she and other pet lovers could find everything for their dogs and cats—even those with unique physiques—under one roof. “Ever since Paw Bella closed in 2009, there hadn’t been a dedicated pet supply store in the downtown corridor, despite Burlington being so incredibly pet friendly,” she said.
In November of 2019, Safran brought her longtime vision to life, opening Houndstooth, a small retail store on Burlington’s College Street. The pandemic hit just a couple of months later. “My original vision for the shop had to be scrapped early on,” she said. “I had to change my priorities and learn e-commerce and social media marketing much sooner than I anticipated.”
She had originally planned to host monthly in-person events to raise funds for local nonprofits and educate pet owners. Instead, she started experimenting with Instagram Live. “We have had a lot of fun with our spring and winter fashion shows on IG Live—it’s an opportunity to showcase some of the wearables and our personalities,” she said. “We also now do a monthly Doggie Yoga on IG Live instead of in-person.”
Recalibrating after a hectic start
While she focused on pivoting her business model to survive the pandemic, other areas were overlooked. “As a new business owner, operating in a pandemic no less, I knew I was making a lot of mistakes—a lot of expensive mistakes I couldn’t really afford,” Safran said. “I didn’t give myself time to sit down and learn how to properly budget or understand how much of what I should purchase—and when. So I was doing a lot of panic buying.”
Safran reached out to Sarah Kearns, an advisor with the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) for help with budgeting and managing inventory. “VtSBDC is helping me figure out what I’m doing right and how I can make subtle improvements that will have a drastic impact on the success of my shop,” she said.
Together, they’re looking for creative ways to move slow-moving inventory. Kearns also connected Safran with an accountant to get trained in Quickbooks so she can more easily track her expenditures and set a more realistic budget.
On Black Friday, Nov. 25, Houndstooth celebrated its third anniversary. For more info: houndstoothvt.com.
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