Melissa Mitchner and a dog
Running a business

Melissa Mitchner is showing up every day for her furry clients

In honor of Black History Month, QuickBooks is spotlighting Black-owned businesses, their stories of courage, and celebrating their success. Find more resources for Black business owners here.

Name: Melissa Mitchner

Location: New York, NY

Business: The Bark Shoppe

Melissa Mitchner and her company logo

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started? 

I always say I stumbled into the pet care industry. I like solving problems and was inspired by a reality tv show. I emptied my savings ten years ago and within 90 days opened my flagship brick-and-mortar location. I haven't looked back since!

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year? 

Have a plan of execution and to know your numbers. Planning, budgeting, and expenses are very important and will hold you accountable as you learn to grow.

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Being adaptable will ultimately become your superpower.

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner? 

There have been so many surprises over the years. I think the biggest one is that everyday is completely different. There is no typical day or routine! Being adaptable will ultimately become your superpower.

How does running your own business make you feel? 

Being able to take a risk is a luxury and something that I don’t take for granted. I started my business while living in the projects in the South Bronx. Running my company has been the greatest and most challenging experience that I have had in my career. It's not easy, and I think people glamorize entrepreneurship. You have to choose this work every day but it's an amazing feeling to bring your ideas to life and solve problems. People cannot aspire to be what they don’t see and I hope that I inspire future leaders or that person sitting on the edge of taking a risk to jump in! Nothing will ever go as planned and that’s okay. 

Dog before and after

Photo Credit: Instagram/@thebarkshoppe

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome? 

Having a business often feels simple yet so complex. There have been many challenges but the biggest challenge is innovating. Over the years I have added new business models but I did not account for the adoption rate. When you have an idea, sometimes we overlook how long it might take to go to market. 

What is your best advice to other small business owners for hiring and retaining staff?   

Your first 10 hires are the most important, find the best people for the role as opposed to just filling a headcount.

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What advice would you give to other Black business owners just starting out? 

Entrepreneurship can feel very lonely. Find and build a network of other entrepreneurs that you can be vulnerable with. As entrepreneurs we all go through similar experiences at different stages in the company. It always feels better when you know you are not trying to accomplish your goals alone. 

How do you engage with the community?

Community is the centerpiece of my company. Prior to having a marketing team or an awning I had my community. It is important for me to not only give back but make an impact in my community and continue to build community wherever I am. 

What is a moment in your small business career where you had to be courageous? What happened?

Starting my company was the most courageous thing I did! People thought I was insane—I went into an industry I knew nothing about—but here we are ten years later and I am still taking risks. I am not afraid of failing forward. When you fail, that's when you learn the most. There is something to be said about someone who can not only learn but try again. 

Bark facts from the bark shoppe

Photo Credit: Instagram/@thebarkshoppe

What are your proudest moments? 

I think my proudest moment was having a billboard in Times Square sponsored by Diddy and Ciroc. Growing up in New York, I always wondered what people did to get up there. It turns out, you just have to be yourself! And I am not looking to be anyone else. 

What are the next big plans you have for your business? 

I am excited to open more locations, and impact and serve more communities. 

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going?

I think about all the people that have come before me and all the people that will come after me. I know that my dreams are possible because of the great people that came before me. Because I never quit, the next generation of leaders know it's possible. I also cannot imagine not bringing my ideas to life. I think my true mission is to leave things better than I found them. And sprinkle joy along the way. 

Before and after from the bark shoppe

Photo Credit: Instagram/@thebarkshoppe

How do you maintain a work/life balance as a small business owner? 

What is that? [Laughs] I will say I have been more intentional in living within my boundaries and prioritizing my well-being. I cannot be my best when I am not feeling my best. I started very young and I had a lot of FOMO when my friends were hanging out and I was building my company. So I am very intentional in spending time with family and friends because they recharge me. It's actually on my calendar! 

What’s your “power song” and why? 

I actually have a whole “Inspo Playlist”. This is so hard. I play “Eye of the Tiger” every day but it can easily be something by Coldplay, Jay-Z , Beyoncé, with even a little classical music twist. I am all about the vibes I wake up knowing that I can take on anything. 

To learn more about The Bark Shoppe and support the business, visit their website or check out their adventures on Instagram.

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