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Women of Lansing: Kirbay Preuss

Talking with Kirbay Preuss is a breath of fresh air. She is a woman full of passion, understanding, and creativity. Kirbay is very open about her story; she is a woman who has found how to be kind to herself, who is also a survivor of childhood sexual assault, has been healing through the loss of a best friend, helping to raise her bonus kid, manages a thriving pet store (which is way more than the average pet store), instructs yoga, and shares love with all animals and people she meets. Our chat covered a lot of content, but our meeting extended beyond the interview itself. Kirbay is one of the yoga instructors of Original Goat Yoga in Williamston and she opened an invitation up to join along! This goes to show how open and inviting she is, qualities she extends to every facet of her life.

Focusing first on Preuss Pets, Kirbay is the general manager of the family-owned pet store which is more of an interactive experience that takes care of both its visitors and its animals. Unlike a lot of businesses, their customer service goes well beyond the rhetoric of profit. They have a genuine care for those visiting and working there: “We’re a pet store, but we’re a very out of the box pet store. Our tagline is we’re a pet store with a purpose. We’re very community-based and we’re very education based. We actually have a full-time aquatics veterinarian who works for us.”

“We’re so quick as a society to judge and assume, and especially now empathy is something that’s unfortunately rare at times and I think it’s so important as a business to be empathetic”

A part of what makes their relational experiences so good is they put empathy at the forefront, especially when it comes to mental health issues. The pet store partners with a group called “Able Eyes,” which provides virtual tours for people who may have anxiety or feel uncomfortable in new places. Before people come to the pet store for the experience, they can watch the virtual tour and know more about what to expect. Not only that, but they hire employees who have disabilities as a way to provide opportunity and skill-building. It’s all about the people and community at Preuss Pets. “We’re so quick as a society to judge and assume, and especially now empathy is something that’s unfortunately rare at times and I think it’s so important as a business to be empathetic and to really try to put yourself in the shoes of those who are coming to visit you and realize this experience is for them,” says Kirbay.

Her values shine through education and to animals too: “We have 65 employees which is insane, that’s a lot of money for payroll. The reason we have so many employees is that, in order to stay in this type of business, if you will, education is at the forefront of that. In order to provide education, you have to build relationships and you have to have people who can really help you along the way… Our number one thing is relationships and having employees that people can go to.”

“Part of my determined spirit is almost from having to push so hard to get heard”

Kirbay gives merit to both her mom and her dad as the owners of Preuss Pets. She is a successful female entrepreneur in the generational shop! On being both female and entrepreneur, she says, “People don’t understand how much of a risk and how much sacrifice it takes owning your own business, especially if you’re a family that doesn’t come from anything… I think especially being a female in a multigeneration business where, in following the footsteps of my dad, there’s definitely challenges that you’re met with as a woman that men just don’t have to face. Part of my determined spirit is almost from having to push so hard to get heard.” She has faced challenges in both pushing at keeping her way to the top while already having the responsibility of running the store as a whole. She said that through learning how to balance this, delegation and knowing when to ask for help has been key in her life. She knows her strengths and, as a leader, knows the strengths of her employees and can therefore understand and take action on what needs to be done and what others can do.

She has grown a lot in knowing how to balance this business, but the business realm isn’t the only space she has grown. Kirbay recently finished a court case pertaining to her childhood sexual trauma. Kirbay was gracious and strong in sharing her story, but also in sharing the honest healing parts of it: “as a childhood survivor of sexual trauma and as someone who recently just went through that case and finished not too long ago, it sat idle for a long time; and someone who went through domestic violence for a long time, you don’t prioritize your sense of safety and you don’t prioritize your sense of well-being and focusing on those basic things like self-care, so I just depleted the heck out of myself.”

So what did she do? She struggled, she grew, she learned, and she realized one day that taking care of herself was the only way she could live sustainably. Kirbay had said, “I put on a facade…it was always like ‘I can do this.’ I think that a hard thing for survivors is accepting help. Sometimes we accept too much and sometimes we don’t accept any and for me, I had to really learn to accept help.” She attended Eve when she was in high school and from there, found an amazing therapist whom she raves about. Therapy is important to Kirbay, especially breaking the negative connotation of therapy since everyone deals with different traumas throughout life and does need help and guidance from others.

“If you don’t take care of yourself you have nothing to give from”

From there, Kirbay found peace and balance in yoga and meditation: “I think women are by nature very compassionate and caring. What’s been a struggle for me is making sure I’m taking care of myself… For me, yoga has always been how I keep my personal sanity with all the stuff I have on my plate. If you don’t take care of yourself you have nothing to give from.” She takes time to nourish herself so she can then give back to others. She starts off her morning by doing meditation exercises. This practice clears excess thoughts, energy and anxiety she says. “I feel like I can be so much more focused in my day and so much more intentional and not lost in all the chaos, and get a lot more accomplished.”

This lead to so many new experiences for her, like getting certified three times in being a yoga instructor and being one of the current goat yoga instructors in Williamston at Original Goal Yoga as well as at Our Space Yoga. She teaches at Our Space Yoga three times a week. This is where her passion lies: finding love and natural life in the authentic being: “don’t do something if it’s not authentic, do something that comes from your heart…when you live from a more authentic space, you see that authenticity in other people and you see when it’s not.” Her practices have taught her how to be kind and gentle to herself and to really focus on relationships and the precious life we have.

Kirbay closes with how she feels about being a woman: “being a woman is f*cking awesome. Women are so multi-faceted and so talented. We have an ability to communicate and to pick up on subtleties.” Her thoughts extend back into business and femininity: “I think good things are happening, it’s just things that we don’t want to necessarily look at and are uncomfortable, but I think women deserve an equal place in the work field. With our business, we’ve got a lot of female employees, a lot of women in leadership roles. Preuss employs several women who perform several jobs that as a society are often viewed as men’s work, one of which is driving the forklift… I never really thought of myself as someone to be looked up to until the past couple of years when I really got a lot more confident in my own skin. I offer yoga classes to women that are empowerment focused; offer classes to the girl scouts that are empowerment focused. Women are just awesome! And if you tap into it, and you believe in yourself, then you’re unstoppable in so many ways.”