On June 6, Milo and Friends Pet Boutique opened its doors to dogs, cats and owners to offer unique toys, leashes, pet food and treats and pet clothing at 1300 First St., Suite 317, in downtown Napa.
Owner Chandler Manasse said everyone is welcome in the pet-friendly, safe environment.
She and her staff, her two younger sisters, Madison Manasse and Kendall Manasse, and her newest staff member, Regina Hancock, clean and disinfect the store throughout the day as they welcome about four customers at a time.
Milo and Friends’ best sellers include plush toys that mimic luxury items, from sushi to a bottle of champagne. Other popular items include CBD for pets, Portland Pet Food Company dog food, and dog- and cat-themed shirts and cups for people.
Milo and Friends is further known for its local and Bay Area-produced goodies, including Benefit Biscuits, a dog treat developed by a Napa entrepreneur, Drool Dog cookies, made in Napa, Soapy Tails dog shampoo bars, made in Sonoma, and P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle and You) dog and cat toys and dog beds, made in San Francisco.
Manasse, who also works as a surgical nurse at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, said she has dreamed of opening her own pet store for years.
“I’ve grown up around animals and always loved them. What really gave me a push was Milo, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He’s the inspiration for the store,” said Manasse.
Manasse said in October 2019 she began thinking about opening a store that would carry the sorts of toys and treats Milo and other local pets would like.
“I commute between Napa and Santa Rosa and have admired Fideaux in St. Helena for years. It’s very well-maintained and welcoming. Now I have been able to bring a pet boutique to Napa, where there are always so many people out walking their dogs,” said Manasse.
Learning from family and friends
Manasse, a fifth-generation Napan, said she first gained an understanding of business from her maternal grandparents, Marian and Herb Rawlins.
“They have a store in Modesto, Abe’s Discount Plumbing Supplies,” said Manasse. “When I was in high school, I would go there every summer and help my grandmother with the bookkeeping.” .
Manasse said her grandparents taught her running a small business is a lot of work. They also said she’d have to weather economic downturns.
Manasse’s friend, Sarah Smith, said the Rawlins’ home, which was in Manteca, was a haven for rescue dogs and cats.
“Her grandma has fostered animals forever. Chandler grew up in a family with dogs in Napa. She has a heart for both (cats and dogs),” said Smith.
After Manasse graduated from Justin-Siena High School in 2012, she attended nursing school at Pacific Union College (PUC) in Angwin.
Manasse graduated from PUC in 2016 and began working at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in 2017. In October 2019, Manasse reached out to Karen Hubbard, a friend in the dog grooming business.
“Chandler and I met when I came up with my mobile dog grooming service to groom her mother’s dog in Green Valley,” said Hubbard. “Soon I was grooming Milo too, and Chandler and I became friends.”
Hubbard, who is the owner of Featherer Pet Grooming, Inc., a Benicia dog grooming salon, grew up in the business.
“My mother, Delores Featherer, opened the store in 1983. I showed Chandler how to get a business license and a seller’s permit. Later, Chandler started coming with me to pet supply open houses in Los Angeles. She’s very interested in getting special products for her own pets and sharing those with others,” said Hubbard.
In January 2020, Manasse sought advice from Michael Basayne, a business advisor at the Napa Sonoma Small Business Development Center.
“Chandler is a bright, energetic, and intuitive entrepreneur...who is passionate about animals and has a solid business acumen,” said Basayne. “Chandler studied her potential clientele, and focused on both tourists and locals who are pet lovers seeking a unique boutique experience.”
Basayne said early on, Manasse saw the importance of diversification between online and retail sales, as well as of embracing social media.
“Retail is not as appealing a business option as it used to be, given cost, online competition, and a challenging survival rate,” said Basayne.
Between fall 2019 and spring 2020, Manasse also consulted Tami Nixon, the owner of Napa’s Makai Swim School, and the mother of her best friend, Madeline Hill.
“I explained to Chandler not to go into starting a business with rose-colored glasses. You have to figure out what you’re going to do if the (brick and mortar) business doesn’t work. I encouraged her to develop a strong online presence,” said Nixon.
Opening in a pandemic
Manasse originally planned to open Milo and Friends’ physical location in March. She delayed this step for several months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It ended up that I opened the online store first,” said Manasse. “It actually worked out well because I was supposed to go on a three-week vacation in mid-March. Instead, I stayed home the whole time putting the inventory online.”
Manasse also used the time to post about the store on social media, partner with other small Napa stores to feature products, and engage customers with an Instagram giveaway.
This is a type of contest that encourages customers to post online about businesses and products, increasing a store’s online traffic and visibility, in exchange for winners receiving a free product.
Manasse also organized the online store by category, such as dog leads or cat bowls.
She created a search engine on the store’s website that allows a customer to search for products by keyword, category, brand, price, name in ascending and descending alphabetical order, and newest arrivals.
By early June, Manasse had rethought how to open the store given new state and local requirements on cleaning and disinfecting, as well as the need for personal protective equipment and social distancing.
“We had a wonderful grand opening, with several customers, all of whom socially distanced, coming into the store a few at a time,” said Manasse. “So far we’ve seen a lot of interest from pets and owners.”
Madison Manasse, a clerk at Milo and Friends, said she enjoys working at the store because it is a fun and friendly place to work.
“Our family has always been really tight-knit and supportive.” Madison said. “We’re about being there for one another, no matter what the goal. Chandler is ambitious, hardworking, and has a bubbly personality. I think the store will succeed because she’s found really good products for the animals. She always wants to help everyone.”
Madeline Hill, Chandler’s best friend, said she thinks Milo and Friends will succeed because it has unique products and helpful customer service.
“It’s a crisp, clean store, where you don’t feel overwhelmed by the offerings. She’s got new and trendy toys. It’s affordable for Napa prices,” said Hill.
Catherine Robertson, a friend of Chandler Manasse, added Milo and Friends also interests specialty shoppers “because it carries raw, organic, and eco-friendly products.”
Chandler Manasse said although opening during a pandemic has not been easy, she is excited to become a part of First Street Napa.
“I really like this community and I want to see all the dogs in my store. I hope we get lots of visitors in these great hotels. I am looking forward to us all having a good, safe summer,” said Manasse.
Milo and Friends Pet Boutique is located at 1300 First St., Suite 317, Napa in the First Street Napa complex. Phone: 707-637-4265, miloandfriendspetboutique.com.
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