How to Be an Efficient Groomer

A lot of time can be wasted in the grooming salon, whether it's from idle chit-chat or late drop-offs/pick-ups. To keep things running smoothly, it's all about increasing efficiency.




Generally speaking, there’s only two ways for groomers to make more money: style more dogs, or charge more per dog/per hour. Most groomers will tell you that they’re already working at top speed and capacity, but what if there was a way they could save time and make more money? There is—it’s called efficiency.


Being efficient simply means becoming more productive while wasting less time and effort. The first step to increasing efficiency is to evaluate and identify where time is being lost during the grooming day, what wastes the most time and which parts of the day take up the most time.


Although some common time-wasters are difficult to measure, listen to your instincts—they’re probably right. Personally, I know that I tend to waste time in the tub. When I was taught to groom, my instructor emphasized, “Any soap residue can cause irritation or itching, so when you’re sure it’s rinsed, rinse again.” While completely rinsing out soap is indeed vital, I still end up over-rinsing and taking unnecessary time to do it—unless I keep a sharp eye on myself.


Be careful about comparing the time taken in your salon to other salons, especially with bathing and drying. There could be differences in water pressure, the shampoo used and climate. For example, a dog will dry much more quickly in an arid climate than a humid one. To solve those problems, you might to invest in a dehumidifier, consult a plumber or consider investing in a shampoo delivery system.


Re-evaluate both your grooming processes and your staff to see where time can be saved. I know that I can’t quickly hand-scissor an overgrown Standard Poodle down to a nice kennel cut, but changing to blade guards with a clipper vacuum system cut my scissor time to less than half.


Once your staff’s (and your own) strengths and weaknesses are identified, take advantage of the strengths and bolster up the weaknesses. The stylist that finishes a dog and then goes over it for another 15 minutes nitpicking perfection can be encouraged to know when to stop, just like the amazingly quick bather can show the slower one how they do it.


A lot of time is lost and wasted while looking for things, making organization one of the keys to increasing efficiency. For example, if blades are arranged according to length, number or frequency of use, you’ll always reach for the right one. Organization solutions range from habits to labels to weekly clean-outs, so adopt the one that suits you best.


Let’s (Not) Talk About It

When I asked my fellow groomers on social media where they lost the most time, the vast majority of them said some variation on talking to customers, followed by scheduling the grooming day and then handling interruptions. To solve these common time-sinks, I consulted some industry experts.


“A simple ‘I’ve gotta get started on my next dog, but it was great to see you and Max today!’ usually ends the conversation,” explains Corina Stammworthy, owner of the Laundromutt & Kindermutt in Buffalo, N.Y. She reduces “chat time” with her clients by having most interactions take place through the receptionist or bathing staff, with the groomer just bringing the finished dog to the front.


Daryl Conner, owner/stylist at Fair Winds Grooming Studio in Appleton, Maine, advises using body language, such as moving away from the customer and turning your body as you’re speaking.


While Laura Jayne Massaro, owner/stylist at Hair of the Dog mobile grooming in Manhattan, N.Y., loves her clients and always tries to be “personable and attentive.” She sets an alarm on her phone to go off five minutes after she opens the van door for a client. When it rings, she’ll hit the snooze and tell the customer she must take the call.


According to Melissa Verplank, founder of the Paragon School of Pet Grooming and, leadership is the key to controlling idle chitchat. The person in charge has the responsibility to set boundaries and be consistent with the limits, whether that’s for staff or clients.


“Respectful, consistent praise and consequences for actions goes a long way to set the stage for a harmonious work environment,” explains Verplank. “With clients, listen with respect. If you have a time crunch, don’t engage too deeply into the conversation. If you need to get back to work, excuse yourself politely with a warm smile as you tell the client you have a tight schedule.”


Although most groomers begrudge over a certain amount of time spent not working on a pet or completing the transaction, you still can’t blow your customers off completely. After all, time spent chatting with them reinforces the bond and loyalty that keeps them returning to your business.


It’s a balancing act of keeping it short but still making the customer feel valued. When talking with clients, keep it to questions that could be answered with yes, no or a single fact. For example, “When would you like Fluffy’s next appointment to be?” may lead to an endless discussion of doctor’s appointments, preferred times and queries as to whether you could open early just this once. Instead, offer two options: “Would you like Fluffy’s next appointment on Tuesday, Sept. 10th at 10 a.m. or Thursday the 12th?” If the owner starts telling you in detail why neither day would work, simply suggest another date. If they are still waffling, don’t be reluctant to just be honest with them. If none of your suggestions work, let them know the time frame’s too long between grooms and they’re risking additional fees, extra brushing time or a much shorter haircut than they’d like.


As with most client interactions, it’s a matter of training. If you had a puppy on the table and it was crazy to see the dog on the next table, you’d redirect them to get their attention, right? Well, it’s the same thing with customers. Acknowledge what they’ve said, and head right back to where you want to be. “I’m sorry to hear that your husband isn’t feeling well. Would you like to reschedule?” Redirect.


Now, if you’re thinking, “But it’s ME that chats! What do I do about that?” Begin as you mean to continue. If you allow a dog to jump on people, you are training them that it’s okay to jump up. If you engage in chatty conversations with customers, you are teaching them that that’s alright to do. Make a rule and stick to it. Decide that you will allow the customer (and you!) just one off topic comment. One. Then have the next sentence pre-planned—one that begins with, “Thank you for doing business with us.”


Remember, you don’t need to be rude to take control of a conversation. Just be firm, polite and make yourself clear. Smile. Use the techniques above to make sure that your conversations are enjoyable and productive. The same ideas can be used for phone conversations.


Everything in its Place

The second biggest time-waster groomers pointed to is concerned scheduling and organizing the grooming day, which included everything from providing pickup times to assigning dogs to stylists and providing consistent results.


“I’ve set up my salon with operations, grooming and employee manuals,” explains Lara Latshaw, NCMG and groomer/proprietor at Gordon’s Grooming in Plymouth, Ind. “We have ‘go-to’ grooming styles. This helps everyone be able to produce similar grooms, even if someone else groomed the dog at the previous visit.”


Everyone in her salon uses the same terminology for guard combs, blade lengths and styles so if someone is sick or on vacation, another groomer can easily recreate the groom.


Stammworthy’s approach to scheduling is to estimate times for dogs based on size and trim. Small dogs take 1.5 hours, with the first 30 minutes allotted for bathing and drying. Small dogs are scheduled each hour, so there’s a half hour overlap on appointments. As the bather puts the next dog in the tub, the groomer is finishing up the previous one.


To further keep things running smoothly, one groomer takes a dog on the hour, the next groomer at a quarter past, the next on the half hour—allowing bathers to have a little breathing room.


Massaro, as a mobile groomer, works on one dog at a time, which poses its own set of unique challenges.


“Routing, check in chit-chat, client updating, client pick up chit-chat and providing a through perfect service within a reasonable time at the dog’s pace—it’s a lot,” she explains. That’s why she sends Hair of the Dog’s policies to the customer prior to the first visit, reducing questions when they arrive. She also has software that updates clients automatically, alarms or timers to keep staff on task and on time, and smart mapping to ensure travel efficiency.


Verplank has experience organizing for salons, mobiles and a school. She suggests coding your dogs according to what work needs to be done.


“By coding your basic grooming jobs, this gives you an edge to know ahead of time whether you have an easy day or a difficult one,” she says. “If you are working with a team of staff members, it also allows you to divvy up the pets in a very fair way, ensuring the types of jobs are spread equally among staff members and/or specific jobs are assigned to those groomers/stylists that specialize in specific types of grooms.”


Pardon Me

Another source of frustration seems to be interruptions, no matter how valid. Texts, phone and walk-in inquiries—even nail trims—can throw your schedule off.


Latshaw encourages texting as the preferred form of communication with clients, as texts are quick and to the point.


Massaro has a simpler method: just don’t allow interruptions.


“Every client is told in our policies that your groomer will update you 60 minutes before your appointment of when to expect our arrival,” she says. “That the groomer will not be monitoring the phone until your next update when they are on their way. If there’s a problem, they are notified to call the main line. The key to peace is train your clients.”


Stammworthy has trained the reception staff to do nail trims so the groomers aren’t interrupted with them.


“Reception staff is paramount to increasing groomer productivity,” she explains. “I’m always shocked to hear when groomers don’t want to hire receptionists out of concern for cost, because a good one will always pay for themselves.”


Verplank reduces interruptions by having written information on-hand to minimize the amount of time spent answering questions; batch checking her clients in and out, reducing how many times she has to step away from the grooming table; having a voicemail message that acts as her personal assistant; communicating with clients during check-in and check-out times; and creating appointments for every job, no matter how small it may be. She also won’t offer walk-ins if she doesn’t have the staff to accommodate them, but when she does, she builds a window of time into their schedule.


Some salons create a sign outlining policies to help control nail trims, such as what times walk-ins are allowed or explaining that nail trims are by appointment only.


For issues that are out of your control, such as late drop-offs and pick-ups, it’s all about having (and enforcing) clear policies that customers know about ahead of time. For instance, place a sign on the counter that states, “If you are more than 15 minutes late, we will need to reschedule.” There will always be dogs that defecate from the stress of the environment, but for regular offenders you could plan a potty trip outside partway through the groom and charge the customer for it. A little creative professional thinking will help reduce almost every way that time is wasted in a salon.


Efficiency has a variety of defintions and there are as many ways to achieve it as there are groomers. It’s all about identifying the time wasters and looking for solutions. Ask your peers how they solve a specific problem, put your thinking cap on and consult with staff for solutions to problem areas and create good work habits. Being efficient always means saving time, which equates to more money. And we’re all always up for that!  PB


Note: Some of my favorite people were kind enough to take time from busy schedules at a crazy time of year to speak with me, and I’m deeply grateful.


Carol Visser has been involved in the pet industry since 1982 in various capacities, including grooming in and owning a busy suburban shop, working as a product expert for PetEdge, teaching seminars and training dogs. She certified as a Master Groomer with NDGAA in 1990 and as a Certified Pet Dog Trainer in 2007, and she continues to enjoy learning about dogs and grooming at her small salon in rural Maine.


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