Pet Age recently spoke with Ashley Harris-Carestia, a professional model who also is the owner of Bark Fifth Avenue in Buckhead, Georgia, on her decision to open a specialized pet store.
Q: What made you go from studying pre-law and political science in college to selling high-end fashion products in Georgia?
A: My career path has taken several turns. I first began studying pre-law (political science with a concentration in legal studies), but two years in, decided that nutrition and exercise science was more suitable. I have been a fashion model since age 4 and am currently signed with Click Models. I continue to model while running my retail business. The combination of the two careers makes me feel very satisfied and happy.
Q: When did you realize the humanization of pets could create a need for a store like Bark Fifth Avenue?
A: Based on the trends in the pet industry, 65 percent of households in the U.S. have at least one pet. Since I was little, I have considered my pets to be part of my family, so I feel like I always knew that there would be a need for a store like Bark Fifth Avenue one day. In the past seven years, I noticed that pet owners were seeking higher quality goods and more expensive, high-end accessories. That’s where I come in: These things like organic treats, fine foods, medical therapies such as acupuncture and laser therapy, luxury services and spas. I built Bark Fifth Avenue to be a niche business that offers these luxury services and more! My clients know that when walking into Bark Fifth Avenue, their pup will be greeted with a “paw-tini” and for the human, a glass of bubbles. Not to mention, first-class, white-glove customer service.
Q: With your store having a very specific customer base, what made you decide to go from an online store to a brick-and-mortar store in 2014?
A: I started Bark Fifth Avenue in 2013 online while still in college. It was great, and I learned a lot, but I wanted more. I felt like everywhere I traveled—whether in Beverly Hills, New York, Chicago, even in Milan— there were many high-end boutiques everywhere I looked, and nothing like that existed in Atlanta. That’s when I decided to open my first brick-andmortar in Buckhead, Atlanta. It was by appointment only, which gave it more of an exclusive feel and more one-onone time with my clients. As Atlanta continued to grow, a new retail, hotel and residential development in the heart of Atlanta’s most luxurious Buckhead district was born. It was dubbed the “Rodeo Drive of the South.” At that point, with neighbors like Tom Ford, Hermes and Dior, I knew that I had to be there! That’s when I found the perfect storefront and re-opened this spring.
Q: How do you utilize the internet, social media and video calls to remain in touch with your customers?
A: I started Bark online, so utilization of the internet, social media and other communication platforms have always been the norm. It is also what sets me apart. Opening my store online has opened me up to a bigger customer base throughout the U.S. and Canada. I use tools like FaceTime and Facebook chat with my clients who are either in another state, traveling or just can’t make it into the store that day and can show them what’s new and assist with their purchases. I feel it’s necessary and goes hand-in-hand with excellent customer service