The best time to decide how much to charge for grooming services is when you’re setting up your business plan, before your salon exists outside your hopes and dreams. Keep an open mind when deciding and be ready to be flexible, as you might be in for some surprises as to what you’ll need to bring in to cover expenses and turn a profit.
First things first: where do you plan on opening (or relocating) your grooming salon? Teri DiMarino, a grooming judge and seminar speaker, explains that conducting thorough research before setting up a shop in a new area is the first step to setting up your prices.
If most of the dogs in the intended area are short-hair breeds, they’re unlikely to support your business. You can do some recon by visiting dog parks or consulting with day cares and boarding businesses, but most towns have a list of dog licensees that include the breed of the dog. Those lists are generally public, though there may be a fee for the printout.
DiMarino continues that it’s important to know your demographics and how much your customers can pay. While many industries typically underprice to enter a new market, that only encourages price shoppers—groomers are better off seeking a more loyal customer base.
What if you find the demographics won’t support the prices you’ve determined you need to be successful? It’s simple, but it’s not the answer you want to hear: Don’t open in that location. Try to find a lower rent and overhead in the same neighborhood or accept that you aren’t going to be able to provide the services you want to in that location and find somewhere you can. Mobile groomers have a better shot at this as they can target whatever demographic they want while living elsewhere. If you choose to go the mobile grooming route, make sure to build the cost and time of driving into your prices.
When you’re ready to figure out your pricing, start by asking yourself how many dogs you can realistically groom per day. How many days a week will you groom, and how many hours? The mechanics of price setting start with that. Say you are certain that, day in and day out, you can do six dogs a day and groom five days a week. What’s your overhead in terms of rent, electric, insurance, marketing, cost of consumable supplies (shampoo, ear powder, cleaning supplies), taxes, staff, your pay and pretty much everything else you can think of?
Let’s say your expenses are $50,000 a year and you’ll be grooming eight hours a day, five days a week for 48 weeks out of the year (you’ll need four weeks off). Divide your expenses by the grooming hours, which gives us $26.04 per hour to break even. Some people say you can get by with doubling that to make a profit, but DiMarino recommends tripling it—especially if you have employees.
"Make sure you know the hidden costs that most people don’t see," she says. "For example, your employee management costs are about 15 percent, so if you are paying a 50 percent commission, it’s really costing you 65 percent of each dog. Can you run your business on the remaining 35 percent?"
Once the costs of payroll (whether it’s a service or you’re doing it yourself) and insurance costs specific to employees are factored in, the amount it costs to manage staff adds up quickly.
Don’t make the mistake of asking another groomer what their prices are over the internet to get a reference point. They could be urban where you are rural, or they could be grooming at home while you’re in a mall next to the anchor business.
DiMarino suggests going to petgroomer.com and accessing its annual survey. She clarifies that it’s not 100 percent reliable, as it’s only based on the responses from groomers who saw and took the survey, but it’s still a good starting point as the findings are broken down by breed and region.
Don’t forget to, "Begin as you mean to continue—don’t plan on raising prices once you’ve broken into a market," says DiMarino. "Charge a fair price that meets your needs and lets you provide quality right from the start."
Bang for Your Buck
When it comes to pricing by breed or hour, you should do whatever suits you, as they should be about the same. Lara Latshaw, NCMG, groomer/proprietor at Gordon’s Grooming in Plymouth Ind., opts to charge by the breed. She considers breed prices the starting point and specifies in her client agreement that, "factors such as frequency of grooming, condition of the pet’s coat and the amount of time, skill and product required to groom your pet determine the final price of the groom."
If there’s multiple groomers in your salon, pricing by the hour can be more difficult to do fairly, as each groomer performs at a different speed.
How comfortable a customer is with your pricing all depends on how it’s laid out to them. Each time the phone rings at Gordon’s with the inevitable, "How much to groom my dog?", all employees are trained to answer in the same way. The prospective client is first told exactly what the dog will experience before any price is mentioned, including a bath with a quality shampoo/conditioner, ear cleaning and nail trimming (and filing, if needed), followed by drying and hand-drying, brushing and then clipping and scissoring to breed standard or per the client’s request. The client is told that unless there is additional time needed for dematting or other issues, that breed is usually $XX.
That sounds like they are getting a lot for $XX—and they are! If a customer calls and asks how much it is to groom a certain breed, giving a price off the bat may sound like a lot if the client is not immediately aware of what all goes into the groom. It’s vital to base your prices on your cost of doing business, but it’s equally important to be sure your customers perceive those prices as a good value.
Learning about a surcharge, additional charge or dematting fee doesn’t give customers that warm, fuzzy feeling you want them to have. Many groomers have a base price and then add extras for spa treatments, extra matting, difficult behavior, lateness and more. That’s a fine and fair way to price, but the problem comes when it begins to sound punitive to the customer.
If customers start hearing in your choice of words or tone that they are not taking good care of their pet, they’ll get defensive and upset and go elsewhere. Instead of saying what the customer is likely to hear as, "because it’s been so long since his last groom, he’s so matted/dirty/neglected, fat and bites so much, there will be an additional charge," try turning it around. Instead of giving the base price plus flea shampoo, just give the total—"Prince’s price today, including a special bath to alleviate any itching from flea bites, is $XX."
As satisfying as it is to groom a dog that we charge a lot for, it isn’t the individual prices we should be looking at to determine which customers we should prioritize—it’s annual income. A beagle that comes in every month for a bath at $35 a pop probably costs you less than $15 in labor and product, leaving you with profit of over $250 a year. That once a year may pay you $200, but after product and labor it may only net you $100—not to mention the toll it takes on your tools and back on the matted sheepdog, and the loss of your reliable customers you couldn’t book that day.
In all three cases, ask if they’d like to book the appointment while they’re still in the salon and let them know you book up quickly, and make sure to thank them for their business.
Getting Down with Discounts
I know a groomer that has a price structure based on frequency, but instead of referring to extra charges, it’s all discounts. Dogs that come in every four weeks get what is essentially the base price for the breed. If they come back in six weeks, it’s a 15 percent increase; eight weeks is another 15 percent over base, etc. Since she positions those increases as discounts, customers get excited about booking their dogs earlier.
For example, a miniature Poodle that comes in every eight weeks is $104. A six week schedule is $84.50 and, if he comes in every four weeks, it’s only $65. If you’re thinking, "What a bargain!", it’s not—$65 is her base for miniature Poodles. If there’s any issues that require additional time, an extra fee can still be added as long as the client is told that when their dog is dropped off. Even so, her customers are happy to book more often to get that "great" deal.
This pricing model helps if you do have to tell a customer there are additional charges because of the dog’s condition, temperament or anything else. Customers don’t want to feel like they’re being nickel and dimed to death; offering a discount for frequent grooming and outlining that it will offer a benefit to their pet will go over much better, even though it’s the same thing.
Now, what if you already started business with prices that are too low to maintain? Figure out how far off you are and, if you can meet your needs while not bringing your prices up much more than 15 percent, raise them. That’s not more than $10 for most pets. Even if you raise your prices 15 percent and lose 15 percent of your customers because of it, you’re making the same amount of money for less work. Great! Now you have time to devote to creating marketing strategies that will bring in new customers.
Don’t be afraid to raise prices when you need to, although $5 at a time is probably easier on your customers. If you can’t meet your needs without a huge price increase that the area can’t handle, move to another location, add more services or even consider retail. At that point, it’s probably time to find a good business consultant who can look at your overall situation.
I see posts on Facebook all the time of groomers urging each other to charge more, and that’s great—many of us do undervalue our time and our services to the detriment of our businesses and the industry as a whole. But simply charging more is not that easy. Some areas will not support higher prices, so we need to be realistic.
You can be doing absolutely everything else right but if your strategy for setting prices is off, it can put your business under. You can turn out a perfect dog but if the client doesn’t feel that they and their dog are special to you, they may still begrudge what they see as a high cost. It’s your job as a business owner to make sure your price structure is sound enough to support the business readily, and use good customer service skills to ensure that your customers happily pay those prices. Your time and work is worth it—charge enough to succeed. PB
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.