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Winter Park Pet Salon Trades High Volume for Personal Attention

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After a decade working at some of the region’s largest pet grooming salons, Jess Thomas learned that overlapping appointments and multiple stations may be good for business, but not for the animals. Her antidote is Pawsitive Evolution Grooming LLC, a pet-focused spa, located at 1201 Lewis Dr., Suite 6.

Thomas, now 28, discovered her passion for pet grooming at 18. “When I first got out of high school, I kind of just fell into grooming,” she recalls. “I was at an extremely high-volume salon, and while I loved getting to be with the animals, the pace of the business meant I couldn’t give pets the proper attention.”

She refers to herself as a “pretty anxious person,” and found the chaotic environment to be challenging – and even more so for the animals. “People are shouting, dogs are barking, and that’s just not a healthy environment for anyone – people or pets.”

Jess Thomas treats each Pawsitive Evolution client with the same level of care and attention.
Limiting the number of daily appointments is part of providing a comfortable environment.

She then moved to another salon, only to find more of the same. “It was a very toxic environment, and I still wasn’t able to focus on taking my time with animals that needed extra care.” Despite the challenging environment, Thomas persevered for four years, building a dedicated clientele along the way. “But when I finally left, I wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye. Being with those dogs, cats, and clients for four years, I really developed a bond –– and not being able to say goodbye or even thank you was heartbreaking.”

Thomas would bounce from one salon to another for the next five years, encountering similar situations and eventually walking away. She never looked back, except to use the experiences as an example of what not to do.

Thomas, and groomer-in-training Raye Cunningham, also listen to music via earbuds to keep the salon atmosphere quiet and stress-free.

She founded Pawsitive Evolution as a response to uncomfortable environments, but also to create a safe space for her own rescue poodle. “I believe I was his third home, and so he came to me a pretty anxious pup,” Thomas remembers. “And there weren’t many good places for him to be, so I set out to create a space that would be comfortable for me, comfortable for the animals, and comfortable for my employees.”

Extra attention means grooming may take a little longer than at other salons, and pet owners are encouraged to ask questions about the care and well-being of their animals.

Along with groomer-in-training Raye Cunningham, Thomas created a calming environment for dogs, cats, and their owners by keeping a low volume (both in terms of appointments and decibel levels) and minimizing the time animals spend in kennels. “Raye and I wear headphones all day, so the animals aren’t bothered by our music,” Thomas says, “and we try not to kennel unless we have too many animals in the salon at once, just for their safety.”

Thomas also makes time to consult with owners caring for anxious pets. “Grooming is not supposed to be a scary experience, and I’m focused on creating a positive experience long after pets and owners leave the salon,” she said. This nurturing approach can mean a longer appointment, two or more hours according to the salon’s website, which Thomas admits is “not every owner’s cup of tea.” But the results speak for themselves, as Thomas has numerous stories of anxious animals opening up and calming down with each visit.

Groomer-in-training Raye Cunningham is as dedicated to the same level of attention and consideration as Thomas.

Her approach may cut down on potential business, but she says it’s worth the cost. “I don’t need every client in the world, I just want the clients that do come in to be happy, as well as their animals,” said Thomas. “I’m not going to be fast; I’m not going to be cheap, but you’re going to have a much better experience –– and also hopefully an animal that’s not terrified to visit the groomer.”

Dog grooming services range from $42 for a small breed to $178+ for large dogs. Services for cats range from $65 to $157. See the Pawsitive Evolution website for more information.

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