Adding Grooming Services

"Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket." That familiar old saying is a good reminder to pet specialty retailers that there is strength in diversifying your offerings. But in today’s marketplace, where one-stop shopping has become key to driving repeat customer traffic, this concept should extend well beyond the products that line a pet store’s shelves to also include services, with grooming at the top of the list. Not only will this approach generate incremental revenue from the service offerings, it will also provide the convenience that pet-owning shoppers clearly crave.

With nearly 78 million dogs and over 85 million cats in the United States, there is clearly a large potential customer base for professional grooming services. Wouldn’t it be nice to keep that grooming money in the store instead of sending it down the street? Some groomers have retail fare as well; so pet stores may risk losing sales by referring customers somewhere else for these services. In addition, pet stores that are losing business to the convenience of online shopping just might win it back with the personalized services of bathing and styling pets.

Since pet owners that regularly shop in independent pet stores already trust these retailers to help provide the best possible care for their animals, it makes sense that they would be receptive to having their precious pets groomed there as well. But grooming services are not just a good fit for pet stores; a variety of other pet-related businesses can benefit from these offerings as well. Boarding kennels, for example, are obvious candidates. Most already have some sort of setup to bathe kennel dogs shortly before they go home. Whatever this setup is can usually be expanded fairly easily, as the necessary plumbing is already in place.

Daycare facilities can be another great fit for grooming services. These businesses often already have the personal and trusting relationships established that customers want with their groomers. People that are at work all day will appreciate not having to make an extra trip to another business, and the dogs are likely to experience less stress as it is a familiar, everyday environment for them. The space requirements of daycare are pretty expansive to begin with, so finding a corner to use to increase profit and customer satisfaction may work.

For those businesses that do decide to add a grooming component, the revenue-generating potential can be huge. Consider this: a typical busy salon can reasonably work on as many as 14 dogs per day, so even if the average price per groom is only $35 (a very low estimate), that will generate almost $500 a day in gross income. Even after deducting costs and payroll, that is a valuable addition to a small business.

Susan Baker, president and owner of Pet’s Best Friend, Inc., in Rocky Mount, N.C., had so much success in adding grooming services to her pet-sitting business that she went even further by expanding into a variety of other service offerings. She has added retail, doggie daycare, training, and a pet taxi service, all of which complement each other well. "We offer everything except veterinary services," says Baker. "We consider ourselves the place that provides solutions for busy pet owners, and they appreciate it by coming back again and again."

Baker’s strategy in adding more services has worked so well that she had to move to a new location after outgrowing her business’ existing space. Multiple awards ranging from Small Business Woman of the Year to International Pet Sitter of the Year are a testament to the success of the business model.

Businesses that decide to get into professional grooming can do so either by adding a traditional grooming salon or by deploying a mobile grooming van. Both offer very different and very specific advantages to clientele, so they do not really draw the same demographics. This makes the addition of both options a possibility worth considering. While some customers might have difficulty in getting their dogs to appointments at a traditional salon, others may find the extra fees associated with mobile grooming prohibitive. Instead of sending either of these groups away, why not cater to both? The business framework is already in place, you are just adding another dimension.

When looking at all the options open to add grooming to an existing pet business, retailers should not forget the self-serve option. This turned out to be the perfect fit for Heidi Neal, owner of Loyal Biscuit Co., an independent pet supply store with four locations in Maine. "We added our self-serve dog wash to our first store in April of 2010," she says. "When opening new locations, it is now an automatic for us that there is space for us to add this service. The self-serve dog wash has been a great draw for new customers and gives us the opportunity to showcase our retail selection.

"For those customers that already shopped with us, they love the ease that a self-serve provides in bathing their dogs. For our area, this is a very unique service and one that has garnered us a lot of positive attention."

Equipped for Success

Of course, no matter which grooming option a pet retailer chooses to add, the process is more complicated than simply hanging a sign announcing the availability of these services. There are a number of considerations that must be taken into account. Selecting the right equipment, for example, can be critical. This was a lesson learned by Neal when adding self-serve grooming to her retail model. "The hardest part has been getting some of the bigger dogs in the tubs," she says. "We had stairs, but a lot of dogs didn’t like them, so we have moved to ramps and a lower access point on the tub, which has helped tremendously."

Any retailer adding a grooming area should research all of the necessary equipment before purchasing. A good rule of thumb with large equipment is to buy the best the business can afford, especially in the case of a tub. Tubs are installed, plumbed, and sometimes built in, making them very expensive to replace if they fail or rust.

Holly Gibson, marketing and innovation manager for Shor-Line, agrees that the stakes are higher when mistakes are made in buying tubs. "If you have to buy a less expensive table at first, you can replace it later when you can afford it, but a tub is expensive to re-install," she says.

Gibson also points out that current low interest rate levels make it a good time to invest in any equipment that might need to be financed.

One good way to get reliable advice on what equipment to buy is to consult with a distributor that carries it all—tubs, tables and dryers, as well as smaller equipment and tools. Distributors have heard every problem, issue and wish list there is, and they can help figure out what’s best for a particular business and its budget. A good one will ask prospective customers questions about their space, future growth intentions and the type of pet clientele anticipated—all in service of helping the client make informed decisions.

It is important to carefully select smaller pieces of equipment, as well. The quality of the clippers, brushes, combs and other tools selected can make or break a grooming business, and it can mean the difference between happy and unhappy groomers.

Wahl has, along with any other tools that might be needed, a number of clever trimmers that use an adjustable blade and guard combs. They are not compatible with professional detachable blade clippers like Wahl’s popular KM5 or KM10, but many groomers are using the smaller trimmers for the majority of the grooming done because of their lightweight, small and ergonomically correct design, as well as the convenience of being cordless in most cases. The Bravura, Figura and Chromado are just a few that come with lithium-ion batteries to ensure longer run times.

Professional detachable blade clippers like Andis’ AGC clipper are still very much in demand because they offer power and the necessary options of multiple blades with differing blade lengths.

According to Bruce Bock, marketing communications manager for Andis, in addition to their well-known clippers, "Andis offers a variety of grooming tools for any expert level, making it quite simple for an existing business to add grooming to their services.

"All of our tools are designed to be comfortable and easy to use. Our Premium Pet Grooming Tools have the professional features that pros demand, like ergonomic, anti-slip handles designed for all-day use and reduced hand fatigue. They’re built to last with heat-treated, stainless-steel cutters and bristles and require very little maintenance.

"Those new to the grooming space will also find our website helpful, as it offers an Education Center in which users can learn tips and even have their questions answered by Andis’ own team of expert groomers."

Minimizing Risk

Despite all of the potential benefits of adding grooming services, there is a downside to such a move. For example, the recent negative publicity about injuries to pets, mostly concerning the drying process, makes the liability aspect of grooming loom large. Many of these injuries are preventable and can be forestalled by purchasing safe equipment and training personnel in its correct use. And, like any business handling people’s precious pets, good liability insurance is a must.

Business owners who are not groomers may end up being too reliant on their staffs’ input and expertise. The best way to avoid this is by obtaining a good education on grooming. Although this education may not compare to that of a trained groomer—especially one with certification from a reliable grooming school—most business owners can develop a pretty good eye for, and knowledge about, dog grooming by going to grooming competitions, trade shows and seminars. Learn what the groomers are learning, and listen to the audience comments. Go to dog shows and watch how they are groomed. Get grooming magazines and dog show publications and study them. And most importantly, hire a groomer with good credentials and a good portfolio.

If most of the dogs in the local area are "bath dogs"—short- or medium-haired breeds that do not require a lot of trimming—perhaps a self-serve grooming area rather than a full-service salon is the best way to avoid the biggest liability risks. This may also be the best option if the area is saturated with professional grooming.

Diversifying, even by adding one slight variation, can be a risky strategy. Creating a business plan, complete with what the addition is expected to do for the business and how much it will cost to begin, will go a long way in minimizing this risk. Business owners should make sure they have the time or assistance to baby the new venture along without neglecting their core business.