Most of us probably can’t imagine working with our parents. But for Bill and Andrea Gray, it’s working out alright so far.
Last year, Bill and Andrea opened a pair of Scenthound stores in Dunwoody and in Buckhead near Chastain Park. They plan to open a third store of the wellness-focused dog care franchise in Tucker this month. Bill, who worked at The Coca-Cola Co. prior to opening the stores, said the two plan to open 20 more stores by the end of the decade.
While the mother and son have always been close, this step into business together was a new direction for their relationship.
“When you work for your mom, your mom is your boss,” Bill said. “It adds a lot of new dimensions.”
Bill, who is originally from Philadelphia, moved to Atlanta in 2005. After leaving Coca-Cola, he wanted to run his own business and felt himself drawn to Scenthound, having started his career as an intern at Friskies PetCare Co.
“Scenthound is really tackling the health and wellness space for dogs,” he said. “We are an innovative approach to dog grooming. I would say that we are a health, hygiene and wellness center for dogs.”
Bill said Scenthound aims to provide dog owners with a monthly regiment that keeps five core areas healthy and hygienic: skin, coat, ears, nails, and teeth.
“People have come to assume that I only need to take my dog to the groomer if they need a haircut, or if they’re really stinky and filthy, and I don’t feel like bathing them,” he said. “But there are so many other areas of dog’s hygiene that get missed.”
Bill said his mother, Andrea, got on board almost immediately, bringing years of experience from the technology company IBM in the fields of sales, human resources, and more. Andrea said the concept of her interested her, but she was also interested in the idea of a business that could give back to the community and offer upward mobility for its workers.
“You could have upward mobility within your individual businesses,” she said. “So we could train people to not just be bathers – we could train them to be groomers, we could train them to be managers, frontline people – with us, and in the future they could take the skill set some place else.”
Andrea’s late husband, William H. Gray III, was a minister as well as a member of the US House of Representatives for Pennsylvania, and she said giving back has always been important to the family.
“It was always about being able to give back,” she said. “The price you pay for being on this Earth… is to be able to help others.”
Andrea lives in Florida, but Bill said the two talk nearly everyday – not just to catch up as mothers and sons do, but to talk about business. Bill said it’s interesting working with someone who knows her strengths so well, oftentimes better than he does.
“She actually knows what my strengths are, what my opportunity areas are,” he said. “So she coaches me a lot. Ella she’s probably the best coach I’ve had as a boss, because she knows how to frame stuff to help me understand where the blind spot might be, or to help me understand how to approach something that I naturally might miss.
Andrea said that the two are able to keep the personal aspects of their relationship separate from work. Bill agreed, but admitted that the new aspect of their relationship does bring some challenges.
“You do get into some of those moments where you’ve got a difference of opinion – and it is your mom,” he said. “So you can’t have those full-on, full-throated, knock-down drag out debates that you might have with another colleague.”
Both Andrea and Bill said they’ve learned new things about each other from this new development in their relationship. Andrea said she thinks their relationship has become stronger since they began working together.
“He is very, very diligent,” she said. “I always knew he was one of those kids who dotted his i’s and crossed his t’s from him, but he’s even more efficient with that than I ever realized before.”
Bill said that while he always knew Andrea had a keen mind for business, this venture is the first time he’s really gotten to see it in action.
“I always knew she had points of view on things, but she usually wasn’t that expressive all the time about her point of view. Now, I feel a lot of her point of view of her, ”he said. “I had never seen this side of her. She had always been a mom, not an executive.”