Hilo resident Charlie Rapoza has worked in construction since the 1980s. During the recent recession, when the industry slowed, and after sitting idle for about two years, the general contractor let his nine experienced workers go. Like them, Rapoza started looking for other opportunities.
Through his research, Rapoza discovered that not even a struggling economy can come between a man and his best friend. Market studies revealed the public was not skimping much when it came to taking care of their pets and pet-related businesses were among the top trending start-ups.
Tight on funds, Rapoza took a risk, selling his construction equipment and opening Happy Tails To You, a grooming salon in Waimea.
Cyndi Elkins, a professional groomer of 30 years and former Petco salon manager, is Happy Tails To You’s main groomer. Laurel Rudy is her assistant. Besides running the business, Rapoza usually does the bathing.
Rapoza loves animals. He has owned horses and dogs his entire life. Inside his salon, customers are often greeted by his Jack Russell terrier Bella, who is featured on the company’s logo with Elkins’ poodle Oakley. Above the counter are two photos. One shows Rapoza’s grandfather, a Keaau train conductor, posing with two dogs; the other is of a 20-something Rapoza with his dogs, Joe and Spotty.
Rapoza said Happy Tails To You fulfils a need because there are no groomers in North Hawaii. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive, which is why Rapoza recently moved his business from Mana Road, near Veterinary Associates Inc., to a bigger space on Puu Huluhulu Road, next to Aina Hou Animal Hospital.
Rapoza renovated the facility himself. He appreciates its close proximity to highly knowledgeable veterinarians, should any problems arise or if sedation is needed.
Elkins said Happy Tails To You does not sedate its four-legged clients, but it does require dogs or cats known to bite or nip to be muzzled. Grooming has health, emotional and physical benefits, she said. Sometimes she finds hidden problems, including sores, abrasions, lumps and bumps.
Services are offered by appointment only. Happy Tails To You typically grooms about five pets per day, Rapoza said.
The pooch pampering includes a bath, toe nail clipping, checking of ears and anal glands, and a haircut. The service costs $55 for a small dog, $65 for a medium dog and $75 for a large dog. Cat costs run about $45 for a bath and $85 for a bath and haircut. Prices reflect a regular grooming every six to eight weeks and may be more, depending on the overall size and the amount of hair involved, Elkins said.
Happy Tails To You does not charge extra for grooming products, such as whitening or hypoallergenic shampoos, she said. Animals also get a bow or bandanna for that special touch, as well as a treat for good behavior, she added.
Happy Tails To You grooms animals at the Hawaii Island Humane Society for free. It’s a way to give back to the community, but also to help restore these animals’ lives by removing matted fur, odors or harmful substances. This extra attention helps the animals feel better and know someone cares about them, Elkins said.
The best part of the business, Rapoza said, has been seeing all the smiles and happy tails.
Rapoza plans to eventually open a pet boarding operation. His advice to potential entrepreneurs and those in career transition was to be open-minded, find opportunities that use your skills, ask for help and go for it. “You have to try if you want to find out if it will work,” he added.
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