Desh Rain: ‘True Entrepreneurs Never Fail’
On the first day of the Applehead City Pet’s holiday pop-up shop in Crafts and Vines in Mainstrasse, we met up with the business’s creator, Desh Rain. We learned a little more about the woman behind this holistic, vegan dog brand that is all over Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.
First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself and how Applehead City Pet got started.
Applehead got started because I went on a road trip about 10 years ago, and I was trying to find myself. I didn’t even realize that’s what I was doing, and I ended up staying in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Anyway, I was staying there and basically living off the land; I had just enough money for gas while I was sofa surfing, sleeping in parks, and working for food.
When it was time to have a job because I decided I was going to live there, I was volunteering one morning, and I was going to go set up a park with some friends I had met in the area. You have to remember this was like 10 years ago, so I didn’t have a GPS, so I was following a friend. I ended up following the wrong vehicle, and I got lost. My car, at the time, didn’t have any AC in it, and I’m in like 90 degree weather. I got so angry and crazy. I stopped and was basically yelling at the universe (or God), “I know there is a reason, but why?!”
I pulled up and parked right in front of a boutique, and I got a coffee and walked in. It just happened to be a pet boutique, and I kid you not, it was spiritual. The second I walked in the door, my entire body changed. My heart rate went down. It felt like peace. I walked up to the counter and asked, “Do you need any help?” She said, “Can you come in Wednesday?” And that was it. Our bond was created.
So that was how I got into the pet world, and years later when I was ready to move back home, I knew that was what I was going to do. I came up here and started Applehead. Later, while we were working together, I asked, “Why did you hire me without an application or anything?” She’s a southern woman, and southern women pray, but they don’t pray for themselves. This was the first time she said she had ever prayed for herself, and she prayed for help in her store because she realized she couldn’t do it by herself anymore. Every single thing that had happened that morning literally led me there – I even followed the wrong car. I had been on a road trip, and it didn’t seem like this was supposed to be happening, but I was trying not to be angry because things are supposed to happen for whatever reason. For us to find out later that that same morning she had prayed for me was just amazing.
Is this where you learned about the pet care industry?
She taught me. I had my dog – my oldest dog is 14, so obviously I am a pet lover. As for this industry, she taught me most of what I know. I always knew I was an entrepreneur, but in my day and age, it wasn't the popular thing to talk about. It was the thing you called a person lying on someone’s couch and not paying bills. So I thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn't happy with whatever I was doing. I worked 30 jobs and even got fired from two of them because I was constantly doing more, trying to be better and more efficient. It was a problem until this store. Then when I got to this store I would go to do something, and she would let me do it because she realized I was good at it.
It’s funny because when I go down to see her, she thinks she took advantage of me. She says she was so overwhelmed when I came in that she let me do anything I offered. For me, this was the first time someone let me do what I was good at. I was merchandising the whole store. Eventually I was telling her what to order and what not to order. We obviously needed each other, and she helped me realize there wasn’t anything wrong with me.
I am just a creator, and I needed an outlet for it. That’s not what we are taught in school. I even went to business school, but no one talks about the emotional part of it.
So, yes, I learned most of the industry from her, but I am kind of a geek when it comes to learning and understanding. When I was 14 years old, I started reading and researching food healing, for humans. I started using that instead of taking medicines, like when I was sick in college, so it was kind of an easy transition to go into the holistic part of the pet world.
Do you have a woman who has been especially influential for you?
Definitely Cindy, from Tennessee. I didn’t grow up with an active mother and father. I know it was very business related, but Cindy was the first real mother figure I ever had – she just took over that role. Like I said, I ended up there because I was on a road trip. All I had was a duffle bag of belongings, so when it got cold and I came in wearing flip flops, I would come in the next day to find boots. Another day I came in and there was a coat. I never asked for anything, I was totally fine. She just did it. For example, I had a roommate, and I got a call from them while I was at work, in the middle of the month, to say they’d just moved out without notice. My first reaction was to freak out. I had two weeks to get rent and to pay the rest of the bills. As soon as I turned around, she could see it on my face. She just did a little laugh and said to me,
“Oh, please. You’ve been through worse.” I was shocked and mad she wasn’t just telling me how bad my life was in that moment. (Every other adult in my life had always been gloom and doom.) I never really had the support, and that was the first time I realized that was what a mom was like.
The next day, I printed business cards to be a pet sitter. I had rent money in two weeks. That was when I started my first business. I had that for two and a half years in Tennessee. I actually signed out of my lease four months before I moved back to Cincinnati and just stayed at other people’s houses and got paid for it. It was really awesome.
Someone else has accidentally taken over that same role here – Julie Bauke. I call Cindy my Tennessee mom and Julie my business mom. She is super supportive of my business goals and has personal words of wisdom – which, for me, helps in business.
You’ve been in the Cincinnati area with Applehead City for four years then?
I first named it Applehead Boutique, and I went to Bad Girl Ventures [now Aviatra Accelerators] in 2013. In the fall, I was a finalist and rebranded.
I actually moved back here in 2012, and I was sitting at the Banks trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. When I moved back, it was for my family. I didn’t really think I would have a career here. I thought I was going to move to New York. So this dog walks by, and it really opened my eyes. In that moment, I knew I was going to open a store here. (That is still the plan!) Right now I do everything online, out of my house, and at pop-ups. We’re somewhere every weekend. It’s awesome. We recently did the Duke Energy Center event, which was huge! After that event, everything else feels so little. I remember when the O.F.F. Market used to be big to me… [laughs]
Tell me about the growth of your business.
In the beginning, I didn’t even think I was going to have product. I thought we’d open a store, groom dogs, and sell products that other people make. But when I went back to [Bad Girl] Ventures, they said I had to get out in front of people. As a finalist, you have to set up at events like that because you’re competing for $20K. Since I’ve always been an artist, I started with beautiful wooden dog beds that sold for $300 to $400 a pop, but it was really hard to find carpenters to actually replicate my design. But the idea was just to show pet products to show we would be a store. I also made some treats that I gave away for free. People kept coming back for the treats because their pets loved them, so I figured I should put a price tag on them. I designed a label and stuck it on. That’s kind of how all of our products happen. Even our pet care products are just what we use in the groomery. People started calling to find out what we put on their dogs, so I bottled it up.
I didn’t expect to be a brand. I just wanted to have a store. That’s all I thought was going to happen, and all of a sudden we have this brand that people like, and they keep coming back for it. It’s really neat and really weird. Now when we open a store, it’s going to be our stuff. We will still sell other people’s stuff, but we actually have our own brand.
Do you have any immediate plans for a storefront?
I do. We don’t have a space yet. Something a lot of people don’t know is that I signed a lease last year for a space in downtown Cincinnati. [Keep reading for more on that story.] So we just focused on our events for the year, and I said I would start again next year. In January, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll look for a space again.
What should people know about Applehead City Pet if they’ve never heard of you or your brand before?
I think the biggest thing is that people appreciate that we work slower when we groom. It isn’t about what you [the owner] want; it’s about what the dog needs. Grooming isn’t about the money and how many dogs we can get in each day. I’ve hired groomers that said they weren’t allowed to say no. If someone called to get a dog in, the others had to be rushed. Most of the time when people come to a boutique is when there’s been trauma. We’re called a conscious groomery. (Mindful pet parenting is what you will see on our website.) It’s because all of the choices and movements we make are based on what the dogs need. It’s energy. I do Reiki with the dogs.
Also, everything we have and use is homemade. We aren’t going to use a product without knowing the sources. We’re a vegan pet store because it is what is best for the animals and the environment. Everything else we do [in the world] is doing harm enough.
We’re actually known for taking aggressive and “problem” dogs. Cindy taught me how; years later I just put a name on it. Even back then we were taking the problem dogs, which we like to call trauma dogs. Now I just sit and my dog lays in my lap for me to clip his nails and brush his teeth. It is the same with me and other dogs. We have dogs that used to be terrified of baths, and now I can just tell to come into the bath and they follow. I introduce the tub to the dogs before I pick them up. I give them the choice because they have just as much of a right to know as a kid.
What’s some advice that you’d like to give other entrepreneurs?
Someone recently reached out to me from Anderson High School to talk to the Future Leaders of America. As soon as I got there, I realized I didn’t really prepare because it was a high school, and I didn’t know what to expect or what they wanted. What I said to them was that there is a difference between a business owner and entrepreneur.
An entrepreneur is someone who has to create, does something new, and takes risks. A business owner may also be an entrepreneur, but a business owner could just be someone who does what an entrepreneur already did.
Here’s some advice for entrepreneurs looking into brick and mortars: Go to the Clerk of Courts and look at the landlord in the court records. Mine had pages and pages of lawsuits against him. Because I was very correct, it was easy to get out of the lease. I have an amazing attorney. That is one thing nobody told me: Contracts are only as good as the person who signs.
Through that, I learned I was enough. You can do everything right and things can still go wrong; money can still be lost. True entrepreneurs never fail. They have too much creativity, love, and ability to problem solve to fail. I guess that's when you really know you're not just another business owner, but a true entrepreneur. Through all of that, I had realized I let the things most important to me to be set aside until my goals were reached. I lost balance and the peaceful joys that made me who I was. That loss allowed me to know I did all that I could and made all the correct decisions and still didn't hit my "goal,” so there was no more room for setting life aside. I brought back the balance into my life and allowed my business and my other joys to interweave. I’m glad Applehead went through the trials it has. It makes it living, breathing, like me. It made it stronger and set the foundation deeper with greater intention.
Julie said to me once that you only see successful people when they’re at the top of their mountain. That’s something I remind myself of regularly. There are so many steps and falls on the way up.
One last bit of advice for those just getting started?
Make a graph that kind of looks like tic-tac-toe. You have nine cubes to fill with any professionals that you might need for your business. For example, I need an attorney, someone for the website, a brander, an accountant, and investors. Fill the boxes with names of people you may already know. Then you basically do business dating. Just keep meeting with them and talking about your business. Find a relationship, and ask them if they’re willing to be a part of your advisory board. Eventually, the people who stick with you in the long run, those are the people you hire. They're the people who know you in and out of your business.