Julian Fabian, co-owner of Dogroom Saigon, discusses responsible pet care, customized accessories and international-standard grooming

Julian Fabian, co-owner of Dogroom Saigon

What inspired you and your business partner, Hai Ngoc Le, to open Dogroom Saigon?

We opened Dogroom Saigon (8 Tan Vinh, D4, 090 821 7371) simply because we were not content with the quality of grooming and provisions available in HCMC for our own dogs. We felt that with the right training and sourcing of quality accessories and foods we could cater properly for our own dogs’ needs without having to go abroad to buy things or accept expensive and indifferent grooming at best. We believe that we have truly raised the bar in the quality, price and range of dog products we provide. Our collection of handcrafted of collars, leashes, beds and, most recently, sofas came simply from Hai’s creativity and skills rather than the need to fill the gap in the market or to make us unique. Our homestay is on a small scale and is thereby a personalized and compassionate service for small and friendly indoor dogs only as we do not walk dogs. Our guests must be healthy, and they are treated as if they’re part of our pack of ten dogs.

Hai is a certified groomer and was trained at the prestigious Starwood Arts of Grooming in Bangkok; describe the training process he went through.

Although his grooming ability was on a par with the existing grooming shops in HCMC, Hai wasn’t satisfied with his knowledge and skill level, so last year he decided to totally retrain at a vital part of the training course in this part of the world—Starwood Arts of Grooming Bangkok. I believe that we are the only professional dog-groomers certified by The Royal Thailand Ministry of Education as a result of his training at the highly prestigious Starwood Arts of Grooming in Bangkok.

Initially, after a lot of research in grooming school options in Hanoi, HCMC, Hong Kong and Thailand, Hai chose Bangkok. Hai was informed that he must forget all his previous training and to start absolutely from scratch again following a training course which began with learning, again, how to wash dogs, clip nails, clean ears, etc. He had to successfully do this for a large number of dogs prior to moving on to the actual grooming school. A vital part of the grooming school was to successfully groom a range of breeds in various styles, attend tutorials and practicals on the anatomy of breeds and the correct cutting lines. This process took about five months for Hai to complete and he is now a skilled, international-standard dog-groomer. However, he does believe in continuous professional development and he intends to gain further training in the art of creative coloring later in the year. We now offer our own grooming school based on ‘methodology’ from Starwood Arts of Grooming.

Tell us about your customized dog beds and accessories.

Our handcrafted, one-of-a-kind beds and sofas are inspired by Hai’s creativity rather than a desire to be unique. We have had interest from a number of companies in Europe, but at this stage we are concentrating on the domestic market clienteles who wish to pamper their pooches. Customers range from all types of people, both Vietnamese and expats. We also sell them wholesale, along with our collars and leashes, to other pet stores in HCMC. We can make them to the specifications and designs of our customers, as well. However, Hai only makes them when he has the time, so it is very much a small-scale domestic industry at the moment.

There will be critics who say that these luxury dog accessories are frivolous and wasteful, especially in a developing country like Vietnam, and that they’re animals not children. How do you respond to that?

Many would agree that Vietnam is a difficult and sometimes dangerous place for our pets. Sadly, we’ve had one of our dogs kidnapped and ransomed two years ago. As in all countries, there is a dire need for education on pet care, especially at a time when the immense joy of dog ownership is increasingly being realized by an increasingly diverse range of people in Vietnam. Our unique beds, sofas, collars and leashes are sold at remarkably competitive prices and as such cannot be considered frivolous. Frivolity is not necessarily a vice but a pleasure for both pet-owners and their pampered pooches. We do not judge customers for wanting what they consider to be the best for their dogs and as individuals we can draw the lines on how far we wish to go.

Many of the clothes we provide for dogs tend to be bought to give warmth to shaved dogs and the pet clothes we sell are especially designed for dogs. Hai has very recently started to design and produce his own range. We prefer to make judgement on those who neglect their dogs and harm dogs in any way. Again, education is the key to raising awareness on the needs of dogs and on responsible ownership.

The key point is that the dog is being loved and well looked after. Anything that raises the level of care for our dogs is a good thing, even if it might seem decadent to some. We cater to a wide range of consumers in a responsible and professional way, in a society in which there is a need for greater social welfare for all.

Have you observed any changes in attitude and perception towards dogs in Vietnam?

I have been in and out of Ho Chi Minh City since 2007 and have seen a positive change in attitude to dog-ownership. As  people have increased their disposable income, more and more people are becoming dog-owners. However, it is not for us to judge on the suitability of certain breeds for the climate or home. All we can do is play a role in educating new owners on the dogs’ needs as well as their short and long term needs. We will not sell a dog to someone who clearly has not thought through the decision to own a dog. Obviously, there is a great deal to be done to improve the lives of so many dogs in Vietnam where many generations chain them up as guard dogs for the dog’s entire life. I sincerely hope that we, at Dogroom Saigon, are educating responsible ownership and providing a caring service that in turn is raising the standard in the provision for our dogs.

Images by Ngoc Tran