The Holistic Experience

With the recession hopefully leveling out and fear gradually subsiding, it is a great time for groomers to start thinking about re-inventing their approach to pet grooming. The buying public is once again receptive to new ideas, and change is usually a good motivator for new business and increased revenue.

Obviously, groomers choose their profession because they love animals and enjoy improving the quality of pets’ lives every day through their actions. Switching over to a holistic approach could mean an even better overall experience for the animals that you care for in the salon.
The term “holistic” refers to the theory that regards nature as consisting of wholes. As an example, holistic medicine is an approach that emphasizes the study of all aspects of health, including physical, psychological and even social, economic and cultural factors. Likewise, a holistic approach to pet styling should be one that balances all aspects of the animal to create overall harmony and wellbeing.

It is important to develop a clear strategy to successfully transform a grooming salon into a holistic haven. It only makes sense that a salon will be able to charge more for this specialized care. However, customers need to feel that they are getting value for their dollar. This is possible by selling not just grooming services, but rather an “experience.” Appeal to their senses with a variety of inclusive services provided in a soothing and calm atmosphere, and conscientious pet owners will be lining up to make appointments.

The Right Ambiance
The experience should begin when a client walks through the front door. Her initial reaction to the salon surroundings is key. This makes the interior paint color choice important. Creamy earth tones and shades of sage green are always welcoming. Choosing a color that is serene and tranquil will send the right message immediately.  And don’t forget to match your staff uniforms to this new color scheme. It gives a sharp, professional impression.

Instead of pet-themed decorating accessories, opt for items that add a living element, such as healthy plants or a well-maintained aquarium. Tabletop Zen gardens can be found for less than $20 and provide great stress relief for clients and groomers alike. A stack of books and magazines that focus on holistic pet care are great choices as well. Also, turn off the fluorescent lights and provide soft lighting with lamps in the waiting area.

Salon owners who have trouble coming up with ideas can turn to the Internet for inspiration. A quick search for “holistic clinic” will bring up over a half-million results. Get a feel for how these places have crafted their holistic brand. Check out pictures of waiting rooms and care centers, which can provide ideas for color palettes and furniture arrangements that promote relaxation and harmony.

It is also possible to increase a salon’s appeal by using sound– and I don’t mean barking dogs. Try to keep the barking and whining at a minimum. If necessary, place crated barkers in a place farthest from the waiting room to avoid upsetting incoming pets. The mind, both human and canine varieties, reacts keenly to sound. A bubbling fountain is always nice, especially with faint strains of pan flute music in the background. Think peaceful: perhaps sounds of the rain forest, or ocean waves would be a nice touch.

Let’s talk about smell. Many groomers may be immune to the overwhelming scent of a wet dog. However, clients are not, and they do not enjoy this smell. Consider investing in a couple of good quality air purifiers: one for the waiting room, and one for the bathing area. They will cost around $100 each, and are worth every penny. A drop of pure flower essence or lavender essential oil on each filter will diffuse a lovely scent through the salon.

Walking into a peaceful, clean, relaxing place feels good. If the salon environment evokes these feelings in human clients, pets will sense the change in their owners and will most likely be calmer too.

A Whole-Health Approach
Of course the task of grooming entails the usual washing, clipping and styling. But to truly be holistic, it is necessary to go beyond that. When a grooming appointment is treated like an opportunity to improve the overall health and wellness of a dog as a whole, then the grooming task itself also becomes an entire experience. Making a necessary process enjoyable and even more beneficial takes some careful planning.

First, take a look at the products that are currently being used in the salon. This changeover doesn’t mean that all new supplies need to be used. However, this is a good time to experiment with some of the new products that are available. If the salon has not yet switched over to natural flea and tick treatments, now is the time to check it out.

It is wise to have an extensive selection of specialized products available to cater to different pets’ needs. It’s important to mention that in the salon’s marketing materials, too. Pet owners will appreciate the utilization of all-natural products, which also presents an opportunity to increase income through retail product sales.

Industry bathing systems offer various therapeutic effects due to water flow, etc. If the salon currently uses one of these systems, check out the manufacturer’s website. You’ll likely find keywords that will help convey these benefits to pet owners in the salon’s marketing materials. Also, it would be good idea to invest in a whirlpool tub. Pet owners love the idea of Fluffy spending time in the doggie hot tub.

If the salon doesn’t already offer massage therapy services, now is the time to consider it. The Internet offers many choices for pet massage training. Check state guidelines and requirements for massage. It might be possible to get around some of the regulations by offering “rub downs” for aching pets instead of “massage therapy” services.

The use of essential oils for dogs is also gaining popularity. Many believe that these oils can be an integral part of a system of natural health management for dogs. The oils can be delivered through application or inhalation to affect mood and promote health.

Before purchasing and using any oils, do some homework and learn about the benefits, as well as the risks, of these products. It is important to note that they can be dangerous to use on cats, as toxicity can occur very quickly. As with any product, the risk of an adverse reaction is always possible even in dogs. Skin rashes, hives, or shortness of breath are just a few of the symptoms that may arise. It is vital to be prepared to deal with this situation before it happens. While severe canine reactions are rare, knowing how to quickly respond could potentially save a dog’s life.

Also check out the local area for holistic pet practitioners. Forming a referral network, as well as a relationship with these natural medicine veterinarians, pet chiropractors and acupuncturists, can be a great way to develop a holistic grooming practice. Consider on-site health and wellness clinics at the salon in a joint effort with these outside professionals. It will generate traffic to the salon, and might even generate some free media coverage.

Becoming a Resource
The relationship that groomers form with their clients is based largely upon trust. Pet owners view their groomers as pet experts; they want and need information, advice and product recommendations. A client information center in the salon will strengthen this bond and most likely improve the bottom line.

Pet owners often have questions about behavior, nutrition, health, diseases, parasites and vaccinations, as well as maintenance tasks at home such as toenail trimming and bathing. Many websites such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (www.avma.org) offer printable brochures on many pet-related topics. Also, online article websites such as Ezinearticles.com will allow use and distribution of contributed articles, as long as the author resource credits are included.

Making these resources available to clients is invaluable; not only does it improve customer loyalty, it creates a place where customers can send their friends, family and colleagues with their pet care questions. Providing this information is vital to the overall holistic atmosphere. An informed pet owner is better equipped to provide top-quality care for her furry friend. A healthy pet is a happy pet; and really, isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Stocking the Retail Area
Having a well-stocked retail area is a must for a holistic salon. Pet owners who embrace the idea of creating overall wellbeing will want to complete the process by purchasing holistic products. Stock retail shelves with consumer-sized containers of the grooming products used in the salon. In addition to the expected brushes, combs and hand tools, offer a variety of vitamins, supplements and natural treats. Also consider having some of the essential oils available for those clients who appreciate the pleasing scents wafting through the waiting area.

Selling quality pet food is a must for a holistic salon. It’s possible that many clients are unaware of the benefits of feeding a premium diet. Unfortunately, most owners choose dog food based largely on the manufacturers’ marketing efforts. The assumption is that if the kibble is colored to look like a vegetable or shaped like a cute dog bone, it must be a good food. This is not always the case.

Traditional kibble, raw, freeze-dried or dehydrated organic diets should be considered for the retail area. However, this is another subject that requires research in order to make an informed decision. It is important that the salon owner believes in the brand being sold and can offer facts to back up that endorsement. Good nutrition helps the pets’ health, makes the clients happy, and makes the salon more money.

Facing the Controversy
It is nearly impossible to talk about holistic pet care without addressing the over-vaccination debate. At some point, informed clients will likely ask questions about the salon’s position regarding the vaccination issue, especially if the salon accepts titer test results in lieu of current vaccinations. Keep in mind that supporting titers instead of scheduled vaccinations will likely be frowned upon by local traditional veterinarians, which could have a negative impact on the business, right or wrong. Salon owners who prefer to avoid controversy may declare themselves neutral and simply encourage clients to do some Internet research and make up their own minds. Salon owners who want to take a stand should arm themselves with knowledge and be prepared to defend their position. Both sides of the debate are very passionate about their beliefs.

Holistic Healthcare for Groomer
Obviously, a holistic approach can offer many benefits to the people and the pets on a salon’s client list. However, it is important to mention that there are also many benefits for the groomer who wishes to change her own lifestyle in addition to her salon. Business owners who decide to take a holistic approach to grooming may find that perhaps it is time to examine their own health and wellbeing, and take steps to improve their own existence. How is your diet? Are you feeding yourself premium, nutritious food, or are you gulping down fast food between groomings? Are you getting enough rest? How about your stress level? Are you overbooking appointments? Perhaps it’s time to schedule a massage or invest in your own whirlpool. Consider acupuncture and chiropractic care; they can be life changing.

At the end of the day, groomers are in business because of their love of animals. I truly believe that we owe it to them to also be harmonious and “whole.” Applying the holistic approach to our own lives just might offer some valuable insights into providing more comprehensive care to our cuddly companions as well.

Shannon Heggem NCMG, CKO, CMG  is an internationally-recognized grooming and boarding kennel expert, with a long list of accolades and certifications. She is the founder and director of the Fast Track Institute of Pet Careers, which offers online and hands-on grooming instruction. She recently opened the Australian Grooming School in Queensland and works as a consultant to pet professionals. Within her firm, Bloodhound Marketing and Consulting, she helps the overwhelmed and overworked get focused, organized and more productive in their pet care businesses. Subscribe to Shannon’s free e-zine “Words to Wag By” at www.petbusinessadvice.com.

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