Marketing the Grooming Salon
Professional groomers should take a broad and ongoing approach to promoting their business if they want to grow or even maintain a healthy client base.
While it’s easy to understand the role that marketing plays for a grooming salon—simply put, it lets prospective clients know you exist and entices them to use your services rather than someone else’s—executing this important business function effectively can be challenging, to say the least. For example, many groomers often make the mistake of limiting their view of marketing to specific activities like direct mailing (or emailing) or putting an advertisement up somewhere. While these are certainly elements of a good strategy for promoting your business, smart groomers know that marketing is something that should be in the front of your mind—and of every employee’s mind—all the time. Every single interaction with a customer represents an opportunity to further your business, so you must be prepared to take advantage of all of them.
Melissa Verplank knows more than a bit about marketing, having founded and run a number of successful businesses in the pet industry, including mobile salons, the Paragon School of Pet Grooming, a boarding and grooming business, and more. She has compiled a top-10 list of ways to boost clientele, and nearly half of them involve direct interaction with the customer. For example, No. 10 is simply, “Smile—it’s the best sales tool you have.” If you and your staff present yourself professionally and pleasantly at all times, clients’ perception of the business will be positive, which encourages them to continue to use your services.
Another important element of creating that positive customer experience is to make sure your salon appeals to all of the customer’s senses. Make sure it looks great at all times. Is it clean and up to date? Is the paint in good shape? Do you keep flowers on the desk or in the reception area? It’s easy not to see the inevitable wear and tear on a salon, since it happens so gradually. You can easily avert this by staying on top of regular maintenance. Also, be certain your clients hear soothing music instead of loud commands or barking when they’re in the salon, and that they are not greeted by the smell of wet, dirty dog when they walk in. Most importantly, be glad that they are there and make sure they feel that.
To send the right message to clients, you’ll need to spend some time identifying who you are. “Branding” means having a clear identity for the business, or essentially finding your niche and telling people about it. What do you take the most pride in? Is it hand scissoring or your expertise with terrier breeds? Is it the kindness and patience you show to geriatric pets? Are you staffed with certified groomers or competition winners? What separates you from all the other pet grooming professionals in the area? Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to blow your own horn. Publicize your brand, whatever it is.
According to Joel Weinstein, vice president of sales and marketing for Bass Brushes, groomers are very creative people and should use their passion to build a brand and influence the way people see them. “Grooming and marketing are similar, in that they are both art forms,” he says. “Art has two purposes—to inspire and to connect on an emotional level. Marketing is an art form designed to facilitate business and should do both.”
Weinstein believes that connecting with customers also means keeping promises, including those inherent in advertising. If you identify your brand correctly and stay true to your marketing ideals by doing what you say you will, clients will trust you and return.
All too often, we groomers tend to become a bit complacent about marketing, and it’s easy to see why. For one thing, we are all astoundingly busy. Also, we tend to think that if customers are coming in the door, we must be doing okay. We might be, but isn’t it always a good idea to make sure that next client is coming up the pipeline, ready to walk in the door? Ongoing marketing also serves current customers, making them feel valued whether it’s through a Facebook special or some type of community education.
Dog*tec, a full-service business and marketing support firm that focuses on dog-service professionals, recommends that groomers actively market their business consistently. As one of the many excellent articles that can be found on the company’s website (dogtec.org) notes, “If you’re not willing to market your business, you’re running the race with your shoelaces tied together. These days people have lots of dog businesses to choose from; if they don’t know you’re there, they can’t choose you.”
Dog*tec suggests putting together a simple marketing plan, outlining one new project per quarter if you’re in growth mode, and at least one new effort per year if your business is where you want it to be. Also, be sure to keep track of how people heard about your business and what made them decide to call, so you know which advertising efforts are working.
Lynn Switanowski, president of international retail consulting firm Creative Business Consulting Group (CBCG), agrees that marketing is something that isn’t just for new ventures and offers some valuable advice on how to calibrate as a business matures.
“If your business is well-established, you should be marketing 60 to 70 percent of your time to your current customers and 30 to 40 percent of your time looking for new customers,” she says. “If your business is brand new, of course 100 percent of your marketing is going to be focused on reaching new customers. However, even if your business is one to two years old or you move or add locations or you’ve moved to a mobile truck—anything that is a change to your business—you must constantly search for new customers and update them on this information.”
While all this marketing might sound expensive, Switanowski believes that the limited budget many groomers are bound by shouldn’t stop them. “Any groomer can be successful using social media and low-cost marketing tactics like event marketing, or joining a local Chamber of Commerce and offering grooming specials, etc.,” she says.
According to Switanowski, social media can be a particularly effective platform for marketing a grooming salon, provided you have the right strategy.
“Whether you use Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter or Pinterest, you can reach more customers who want to know about your grooming services through social media,” she explains. “My recommendation is to focus on Facebook and Instagram, which are critically important tools—by that I mean they’re social media sites where your potential customers are spending their time. Keep in mind that all groomers must focus on where their customers are looking for information on their services. Even with a limited budget, putting the information where your customers can find it will deliver the best results.
“Because they are both owned by the same company, business accounts on Facebook and Instagram can be linked together and you can do advertising for a very nominal price to a very targeted market—i.e., pet owners within your ZIP Code or within 10 miles of your ZIP Code, or people who talk about Chihuahuas or Golden Retriever grooming. That’s why ads on social media are so effective for small businesses, especially groomers.”
Of course, there are also a number of effective low-tech guerilla-marketing techniques that will cost grooming business owners little more than the time it takes to implement them. Because grooming is such a personalized service—we are caring for people’s beloved pets, after all—guerilla marketing works particularly well for groomers, as unconventional marketing gambits often have a more personal flavor.
Here are just a few examples that you might consider:
• Color your own dog for a holiday and take it for a walk at the park. Be sure to bring lots of cards and talk to other pet owners you come across.
• Get a decal or magnetic sign for your vehicle.
• Participate in local events. Maybe set up a nail-trimming booth at a fair, festival or charity dog walk.
• Host a seminar by a local veterinarian on allergies or a trainer about housebreaking issues.
• Have a dog wash event and donate the proceeds to a local charity.
• Give all your friends t-shirts to wear with your salon name and phone number or website on them.
• Offer discount coupons to local shelters and rescue groups for first grooms on newly adopted pets.
Of course, you should play to your strengths. If you write well, do a newsletter. Those comfortable with public speaking might give a seminar on at-home grooming. One underutilized way to market a salon is with an old-fashioned press release—a well-written one.
“Business editors are always looking for articles for their paper and often choose them from press releases,” says Mary Oquendo, a well-known speaker in the industry who offers various kinds of business assistance for pet professionals on her website (pawsitiveed.com), including a Marketing 101 workshop. “If it sounds interesting, they’ll send a photographer and an interviewer.”
Oquendo has had four articles written about her businesses, all of which resulted from press releases.
Daryl Conner is another business owner who knows the value a good press release can have for a grooming salon. When the author, blogger and recipient of Cardinal Crystal and Barkleigh Honors awards started FairWinds Grooming Studio in Appleton, Maine, in early 2014, she sent a press release to the local paper, which responded by sending out a photographer/journalist. The resulting article helped Conner’s business launch in a big way. In fact, she still gets calls today from people that say they loved the article and saved it for when they got a pet.
A press release can be used to generate interest whenever there is something newsworthy in a business to announce—awards, events of all kinds, a new website, adding staff, anniversaries, etc. For those looking for a bit of guidance on what makes for an effective press release, submission guidelines are usually on a paper’s website, and the internet is full of articles on how to write a good one.
Regardless of how you choose to market your grooming business, always remember that your ultimate success will always depend on your ability to meet or exceed customers’ expectations. As Verplank says, “No matter how well you do your job, the client needs to perceive the value of the grooming they receive on their pet. It does not matter if you think you are giving great service, the client has to know that. They have to value that great service. If they don’t, they will look elsewhere to have their needs met.” PB