When she was in the fifth grade, Cindy Samartino swore that one day she would own a pet store. Her moment finally arrived this fall, when Samartino’s longtime employers, Chris and Nancy Guinn, “gifted” her the Leesburg location of their Fredericksburg-based Dog Krazy business.
“This is the closest thing to my dream,” Samartino said.
Samartino and her husband, Tom, recently opened the doors of their enterprise, rechristened Wiggle Butt & Whiskers.
Samartino began working for the Guinns and Dog Krazy five years ago. She claimed that after the couple helped nurse her dog back to health, she pestered them into hiring her.
Her enthusiasm on the job was noted, both by the Guinns and customers. Samartino was soon promoted and was working as the warehouse manager in Fredericksburg when the couple asked her to manage their Leesburg store.
When the Guinns first asked Samartino to manage the Leesburg outpost of Dog Krazy, she was commuting from near Stafford County’s Ferry Farm, while tackling the necessities of overseeing supplies for the entire franchise.
“People would order things up here that needed to go to Richmond. So I was that carrier in between,” she said.
This past October, Samartino was returning from vacation when the Guinns invited her over to talk. At first, she expected bad news.
“They had thought about closing because [Leesburg] is so far away,” Samartino recalls, adding there are Dog Krazy stores in the Fredericksburg and Richmond areas. A business mentor group gave the Guinns the idea of gifting the store.
“We are hands-on owners and present in our stores as much as possible,” Nancy Guinn said in an email regarding the decision to divest of the location. “Last year, when COVID hit, a lot of our NOVA customers [shifted] to shopping with us online.”
When customers started returning to in-person shopping, the Guinns decided that, rather than sell the Leesburg shop, they would transfer it to new ownership.
“We both knew who deserved it,” Nancy said of making Samartino’s lifelong dream a reality.
“They’ve always been generous,” Samartino said of the Guinns. “They hear us when we’re happy, they hear us when we’re sad, and they help take care of [their employees]. That’s how people should run businesses.”
Samartino and her husband, Tom, a medically retired Marine, looked for a Leesburg home before deciding on their single-level house in Warrenton, where both Tom and their 10-year-old bulldogs wouldn’t need to negotiate any stairs. (The couple also has two cats.) Warrenton allowed Samartino to be nearly equal distance from the Leesburg store and Dog Krazy home base in Fredericksburg.
Tom, who used to work for Oliver North’s Freedom Alliance organization, was busy last month helping his wife prepare to leave the Guinns’ umbrella and strike out on their own.
“We’re definitely going to be supporting a lot of veterans organizations here,” Samartino said, adding that her husband’s military career came to an abrupt end as the result of a car accident three decades ago. Tom, a chef by training, is now working with Samartino on specialized doggie treats to sell at Wiggle Butt & Whiskers—a name at least partly inspired by the couple’s bulldogs’ rather unique posterior-wagging. (She says the bulldogs will often be with her at the store.)
Samartino’s holiday season was spent reworking the store’s interior and ordering supplies she knows her customers will want. She’s been removing all the Dog Krazy paraphernalia and replacing it with Wiggle Butt & Whiskers signage—but she said little else beyond the name will change.
Rather than hire a new staff, Samartino is keeping the store’s current workforce. One of her groomers started working at Dog Krazy just before she did.
“As we say, we’re both getting ‘fired’ from Dog Krazy. We came in together, we’re leaving together,” she said, likening the pair’s transition to “graduating” high school and moving off to college.
Samartino hopes that her own success with Wiggle Butt & Whiskers will be a reflection of what she learned from Nancy and Chris Guinn—not only their generosity, but also their focus on putting the customer, human or four-legged, first.
She admitted the animals may get a little more attention.
“If you come in with the dogs, we’re probably not going to pay much to you,” she said with a chuckle.
“We want her to grow her business and make it a success,” said Nancy Guinn, adding that she and Chris will continue to be available for advice. “We love Cindy dearly and want her to make a name for herself [in] the Northern Virginia area as the guru of pet nutrition.”
“I only know how to run a business the way [Nancy Guinn] taught me,” Samartino said. “If you show up on time, do what you’re supposed to do [and] you hustle, this is what happens.”