Following the Rules
The third time it happened Brian Lane notified the police. An angry client, likely drunk, was calling Lane in the middle of the night to curse him out for refusing to schedule a hair appointment during the novel coronavirus-related shutdown. But Lane, who is not a stylist, owns Bingo Pet Salon. And the man in question was calling on behalf of his shaggy dog.
“It was a little disturbing to get those [calls] day after day after day,” Lane admitted. “That was the only one that was really that bad. Most people were understanding. I do know that some people went to places that were still open that weren’t supposed to be. I wasn’t going to tell people no. They’re desperate to get their dogs groomed.”
Lane said at Bingo, they were adamant about following the guidelines as posted.
“I’d have people calling, and we’d be like, ‘We can’t groom your dogs. We can’t do nail trims. We can’t do anything,’” Lane said.
To offer guidance to his desperate clients, Lane shared videos with instructions on how to brush one’s dog and do nail trims at home. Still, he was fielding 20 to 30 calls per day.
Temporarily shutting Bingo’s doors was not the only virus-related woe that afflicted Lane: he contracted the illness himself. Lane thinks his husband, Clinton, caught the virus from the restaurant where he works in Royal Oak during the city’s St. Patrick’s Day bar crawl. But Clinton didn’t exhibit signs of COVID-19, so they concluded he was asymptomatic and then passed it to Lane.
“I felt like I ran a marathon every day for about a week,” said Lane, describing the effect the illness had on him. “My body just ached. I was sore. I was tired. And then I couldn’t lay down, so I was pacing a lot, ‘cause when I laid down, whatever part of my body I was laying on hurt.”
At that point, the hospital refused Lane a test because his fever wasn’t high enough to warrant one. When he did finally receive a test, the results were delayed, then lost. Ultimately, Lane got a clean bill of health.
“Even though I was sore for about a week, a lot of people had it way worse,” Lane acknowledged. “But while I was home, I was telling people, ‘Continue to call me, I’m just sitting home, quarantined.’”
But Lane wasn’t just worried about his own health. He had his business and his staff to take care of. He said the hardest thing for him when Bingo was closed was making sure his groomers got their unemployment payments.
“I told them to relax, enjoy your time off,” Lane said. “Let me worry about the business. Let me worry about this stuff. I felt like I tried to take on as much as I could to relieve that from them.”
Good news for Bingo came in the form of approval for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, a grant from Oakland County and an economic disaster relief loan through the Small Business Association.
As if navigating a business through a pandemic wasn’t stressful enough, Lane had the added challenge of the planned relocation of his Royal Oak shop. Formerly located on 4th St. in downtown Royal Oak, Bingo can now be found at 719 E. 11 Mile Road, several blocks east of the Emagine theater and just west of the Hotel Royal Oak.
Whereas Lane and his groomers had 1,000 square feet to work with in the old space, the new place has more than doubled the staff’s workspace at 2,500 square feet. There’s now a small area for retail, including CBD products for pets. And not only that, Bingo has gained a parking lot, which has become a much-appreciated amenity for owners of teacup Yorkies and bullmastiffs alike — not to mention cats, which Bingo also grooms.
“We were supposed to be moved prior to the shutdown but the city couldn’t do their inspections, so we finally moved in here July 1,” Lane explained. “So, that was hard and stressful. Our industry is kind of a little more recession-proof. Anything pet-related. People love their pets. They’ve done studies. People will skip getting their own hair cut to get their dog’s hair cut ‘cause they don’t want to be around their stinky, smelly dog. So we’re in a good industry that can bounce back.”
When Bingo finally did reopen, the demand to book appointments was overwhelming. For a week Lane received 400 to 500 calls per day from their 6,000-plus clients.
“We told people we’re not judging anyone on the condition of your dogs when they come in, ‘cause we know everyone was in the same situation. We call it the COVID shave-downs or the corona shave-downs, where everyone came in, and it was just like, yeah, everyone’s getting shaved. We don’t have time to spend three hours brushing out a matted dog, unfortunately, ‘cause of the amount of dogs we were taking in.”
Just as Lane doesn’t judge clients by the condition of their pets, he doesn’t judge them by their personal circumstances either. In fact, he’s shown compassion for his customers’ hardships.
“I had some clients who came in and were like, ‘I lost my job and I can’t pay much.’ So there were times when I was like, ‘Well, what can you afford?’” he said. “If you don’t have empathy for people, you suck.”
It’s clear that under Lane and head groomer Helen Quinn’s leadership, Bingo is a business with a conscience. Further proof of that is Bingo Cares, Lane’s nonprofit that offers free grooming for rescue organizations and shelters, which increases the likelihood that the homeless animals will be adopted, as long as the agency is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Those services are provided by Bingo Institute of Grooming, a school for groomers that Lane opened with Jessica Conway five years ago.
Yet Bingo sets an example that goes beyond good stewardship of animals. Evidenced by him and his staff wearing black T-shirts with slogans like “Black Lives Matter,” “Trans Lives Matter” and “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” Lane doesn’t shy away from carrying a pro-social justice message.
“I’m a huge proponent in social [justice] matters,” Lane said. “And I would absolutely be willing to tell any person who came in here who was like, ‘I don’t support that,’ to be like, ‘Fine, turn around and leave.’ Because a big problem of what I see in where we are as a country is too many people are like, ‘Well, I don’t want to talk about that; it’s uncomfortable.’ Change is uncomfortable,” Lane said. “Change needs to be uncomfortable. And uncomfortable conversations need to happen for … meaningful change to happen.”
Lane said having a platform like social media with so many followers has enabled the business to take a stand and set an example. That was on display when Quinn arrived one morning in tears after the murder of George Floyd and Lane wanted to do something.
“I bought those shirts for them,” Lane said. “’Trans Lives Matter,’ ‘Love is Love,’ ‘Science is Not a Liberal Conspiracy,’ ‘Black Lives Matter.’”
Lane told his employees that along with their Bingo logo scrubs, the new T-shirts were now among their uniform choices.
“Something needs to be done and something needs to be said and people need to listen, and the more places they see things the more that I think there’s an opportunity for change to happen,” Lane said. “People just shut up and don’t say anything.”
The photo of Bingo’s staff received mostly positive feedback on social media.
“I’ve always said that any person that feels uncomfortable, this is a safe place to come,” Lane said. “If someone were walking by and they felt like they were being accosted by somebody because they were a woman or they were gay or trans or Black or Muslim, you can come into my shop and it’s a safe place to be. I don’t tolerate intolerance in here.”
Learn more about Bingo Pet Salon online at bingopetsalon.com or by calling 248-544-7424. The shop is located at 719 E. 11 Mile Road in Royal Oak.