The pandemic tried to take a bite out of Northern Hound Supply, but the year-old Fort Smith business is relatively unscathed amid the dog days of Covid.
Anna Gervais launched Northern Hound Supply on Nov. 28, 2019, primarily as a grooming service. She added a store for pet food and other items. Her partner Robin Wachter helped her start the company.
“It was already scary enough opening the store not knowing it would work out and then adding Covid made it harder, but we made it through,” she said.
The business experienced a little over four months of pre-pandemic operations before Gervais partially closed it in April when the Covid lockdown took effect.
Even though health authorities classified Northern Hound as an essential service, Gervais decided to close the shop anyway and shifted to deliveries of retail items.
She kept busy with deliveries in April, and the demand for grooming was consistently high, being the only such service in Fort Smith.
She reopened the store in May to an accelerated routine of cleaning and “constantly wiping everything down.”
“We’re still doing that, of course. It was a change of pace and not what I expected in my first year,” Gervais admitted.
The grooming side expanded and became “crazy busy” in the summer. Growth during the pandemic made sense considering that dog owners can drop off their pets at the shop while making minimal contact with Gervais.
“We try to use our own leashes so we aren’t touching things from other peoples’ households,” she explained.
Gervais has noticed an unintended but beneficial effect of the pandemic as well: people are doing a better job of maintaining their dogs while they spend more time at home.
“Dogs are cleaner when they come in for grooming. And people are walking their dogs more too. It makes my job easier if they’re cleaner,” she said.
Business carried on as usual in November, even when five Covid cases were confirmed in the South Slave town that month.
Despite Gervais’ success thus far, she said the hardest thing about the last 10 months has been higher expenses for shipping pet supplies.
She had planned to travel south each month to buy inventory herself, but travel restrictions and the two-week quarantine rule made that impractical. Paying to have products shipped to Fort Smith from her suppliers in Surrey, B.C., and Calgary has added up.
The pandemic has also forced her to delay plans to open a boarding kennel for when people go on vacations. Due to Covid, people haven’t been travelling.
Still, Gervais hopes to open the kennel in January and she evinces few anxieties about the winter ahead.
“My customers have been absolutely amazing in supporting me. They still come here for all their little things like dishes and leashes and collars,” she said. “I couldn’t be more thankful. I love what I do and I’m very happy to be here for a full year even though it’s been with Covid.”