In recent years, the concepts of mobile grooming and house call grooming have become more and more popular. Both involve a new style of the groomer-client relation where the groomer actually travels to the client, and either grooms the dog in their individual mobile salon or in the client’s actual home. This convenience has attracted owners and groomers alike, and you may find yourself becoming interested in expanding your grooming work to this area.
So, how should you do it? And how do you decide whether mobile grooming or house call grooming is right for you? To help answer these questions, we reached out to Wahl E.L.I.T.E. Educator Judi Cantu-Thacker. Judi has 25 years of experience in the industry and owns her own mobile grooming salon, where she caters to clients that are busy or on-the-go. Passionate about working with young groomers, she loves to teach and empower others through the craft of grooming, and we hope that this article helps inspire you in your approach to mobile or house-call grooming.
So how are mobile grooming and house-call grooming similar? With house-call grooming and mobile grooming, we’re actually coming to the client’s houses. So, for the client, it’s the opportunity that they don’t have to leave the house or the pet doesn’t have to leave the home. There’s no worry about bringing a dirty dog in their car, and it’s great for dogs that get carsick or have motion sickness because they're not being transported. That’s the biggest thing—it makes it more convenient at times.
A lot of mobile groomers and house-call groomers only work during the week, not on weekends. People don’t want us to come to their house on the weekends, because they’ve got stuff to do. So, this is a really nice option for people who like to get stuff done during the week, so they have the weekend to themselves.
What are the differences between the two? The difference is that with mobile grooming, you’re working in a salon on wheels, so everything is inside of the vehicle. You can have the best equipment, because the generators are all set up so that you can run blow dryers, air conditioners—all of that stuff. Some of the nicer units are huge, like mine. I have my own bathroom, two grooming stations, a very nice large bathtub.
With house-call grooming, the groomer actually goes inside of the house. I’ve talked to a lot of house-call groomers, some of whom live further north than I do, and they’re sometimes able to work in the garage or mud room, and even outside. Of course, you have to carry your own table, and you’ll generally want cordless clippers, scissors and maybe a brush and comb. Sometimes, you’ll even end up grooming in a bathtub or kitchen sink.
What is something that up and coming mobile and house-call groomers need to know? It’s important to stress that even though we’re in the client’s home, we don’t want clients helping us. A lot of people get the idea that since we’re in their house, it’s going to be hands-on. It doesn’t work that way. It actually makes it more difficult for us to groom the dog when the clients are trying to help, as its more of a distraction to the pet and can cause a dangerous situation. So, for house-call grooming especially, I tell people to make sure you’re in a room with the door closed, where the dog isn’t pulling for the owner or the owner is distracting the dog. With mobile grooming you can really set a boundary. I normally tell people they can’t come on the van. So, I think with house-call grooming, it’s quite a bit more challenging for the groomer—and for the client too, sometimes, if the groomer doesn’t establish good boundaries. The client needs to respect those boundaries and see that we’re professionals, we know what we’re doing. We need space to work our magic.
How can I make the owners more comfortable? The biggest thing that has helped me through 12 years of mobile grooming is that I have a set of policies and procedures. I tell groomers all of the time, “We know what the client expects from us, but our clients don’t know what we expect from them.” So, I have a set of written policies and procedures—this is how we schedule, this is what I do when I come in, this is what I need you to do. Depending on if it’s the client’s first appointment, we send them the policies and procedures, they have to sign them, and it kind of sets those boundaries. I always suggest having a set of policies and procedures to give to the clients. Sometimes, you have to update them. So, at the beginning of each year, I send out new policies and procedures and I have my clients read over them and sign them.
What are some of the unspoken difficulties of being a dog groomer? A lot of people don’t realize that grooming isn’t natural for a dog. We choose to go to the hair salon to get our hair cut—it is a treat for us. For a dog, it’s not a normal thing. They don’t know who the groomer is. They don’t know that getting a good bath and haircut is actually good for them.
My goal is to set it up so that we’re doing more grooming more often. It’s a training process. They’re trained from the time that they’re young, and I work with them. They’re used to me coming to their house now, so I walk in and get what I need, and get down to business.
How do I begin to create a dedicated client base as a house-call groomer? A lot of groomers my age won’t take big dogs, but I’m physically fit, so I don’t mind taking them. I know how to pick up a dog. I have a specialized mat. I have a specialized table that lowers to about 12 inches off of the ground, so can lift the dog with that—and the table is high enough that it’s level with the tub and the dog can step into the tub. So, I take everything. The only thing I don’t do is hand stripping, because my hands are a little more tired than the rest of me.
How do I decide which clients to consistently travel to? I run everything by my route. If I get a new client call and they don’t show up on one of my routes, I won’t take them. I have a certain area that I work in. I find that a very small service area is nice, so I groom about 15 miles away from home.
If a prospective client is outside my service area, I will tell them, “Oh, I don’t service that area, but these two local groomers do!” It used to be that if you looked another groomer in the eye, she would steal your secrets; but now we’re so busy and we know we can’t do every dog on the street, so we share a lot of information. We all know each other, and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so we’ll refer each other, which is really nice. But keeping your route short and becoming tight-knit with your clients who will come back to you week after week, month after month, that’s important.
What are some tips you have for young groomers who may be interested in working as a mobile or house-call groomer? Continue your education, it keeps you up to date on the newest techniques, equipment, and what your clients need. Being in the industry a long time, I’ve seen the evolution of the industry. Growing up, my parents used to have clients that would come in once a year, and now things have changed. We have to remind them that yes, we know this is your baby, but there are some different ways to raise a dog than raise a child. You still have to be the leader of the pack when it comes to your dog, that can be a little bit challenging, because a lot of house-call groomers or mobile groomers have to deal with clients who don’t trust anyone else with their dog; they know better what their dog needs than anyone else. So, I think doing research for clients is really important.
Keep your body toned and learn how to lift a dog—bend at the knees and not at the waist. Using the right clippers is also so important, so make sure they’re not too heavy. I love cordless clippers because a cord adds a little bit of weight to your wrist. I try to make sure I use a clipper that is ergonomically correct, and that I’m using proper technique. Some groomers have been grooming for 15 years and their bodies are demolished. You always need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. It’s not an easy job, it’s not something that everyone can do, but it’s something I love.