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Navigating Change

Grooming Business’ annual Pet Groomer Survey revealed a number of opportunities and challenges that grooming businesses face as the calendar flips to 2017.



 

It is hard to believe another year has passed. Things change fast in the pet industry. If it’s not a new innovative technology mixing things up, it’s a shift in customer needs and wants, or a new business strategy. We all know change is normal for any growing industry, but what we need to know are the specifics of how successful businesses are adjusting to these shifts. With this in mind, Grooming Business reached out to the industry and did a survey to get a feel for how the groomers navigated the opportunities and challenges presented in 2016. 

In general, it looks like a majority of grooming businesses experienced a nice increase in revenue this year. A grooming salon’s profit and loss is pretty easy to figure out, and so are the elements that had the most impact on the bottom line. The grooming salons that felt growth may have simply raised their prices by five percent, or brought in a small amount of retail inventory. I am hearing that more and more salons are taking their lead from some of the big-box stores by adding spa-type packages or simple services such as nail grinding to their regular grooms and charging for their time. This has worked quite well in the veterinary profession for some time now. They add a fee for not just the shots but also administering them, which is what traditional hospitals have been doing for years. 

Grooming businesses that felt a negative fluctuation in their revenue can typically trace the change directly back to the loss of a groomer, a groomer taking leave, a change in the hours of operation and/or a price increase in supplies. To counteract these challenges, plan ahead when possible and raise your prices regularly.

For many, the 2016 presidential election has been a roller coaster ride, and the effects have some Americans stressed out and pessimistic about the future. However, putting politics aside, most of our industry is feeling pretty positive about 2017.  Having an optimistic, can-do attitude is so important, as it can improve decision making, increase your productivity and boost workforce morale, all of which can help to create a thriving business. In this way, positive thinking is a key to long-term success. And positivity can be contagious. It can even help encourage clients to try new products or services, leading to increased sales. 

Keep in mind that negativity and pessimism can rub off on those around you, too, so it is important to always be aware of the impression you are giving to other people in the salon environment.


Top Challenges
The uncertainty of an ever-changing world can be hard to deal with and makes staying ahead of business demands a formidable challenge. But while the pressures facing us may shift, one thing that is consistent is the need to position ourselves as experts and stay current on issues facing the entire industry.

One of the biggest challenges facing grooming salons today is obtaining more knowledge about their craft and pet care in general. Pet owners are becoming more educated through the internet, and while some of the information they receive is incorrect, many have researched the breed they chose and want their dogs or cats groomed to the breed standard. 

Grooming clients are also increasingly looking to groomers for advice about caring for their pets. We are not veterinarians and need to be mindful of that, but we do need to have a good knowledge of pet first-aid. Also, when we see anything out of the ordinary regarding the health of a pet, we should be prepared to bring it to the owners’ attention. We can’t diagnose, but we see the pet more than the veterinarian, in most cases. We can communicate what we see and direct them to have it checked out. 

Not too long ago, many groomers operated in a silo: They were the experts in their salon, but they didn’t go to trade shows or educational seminars. Today, however, groomers are using a better approach and taking in as much knowledge as possible. Many are becoming certified master groomers for dogs and/or cats, as well as becoming certified in first aid and other helpful practices, such as massage therapy. All of these pursuits can create a great bond between your business, customers and local veterinarians. These relationships will position you so that you do not have to worry about competition from the big box stores, and you will always be in front of any changing trends. 

Another thing that can lessen your worry is having at least a basic knowledge of the local competition. This does not mean you have to change the way you run your business, but it should allow you to differentiate yourself slightly from others. It is crucial to remain open and adaptable to change. Successful business owners regularly read the top industry magazines and blogs, subscribe to newsletters, follow industry leaders on Facebook and Twitter, and join relevant groups. But keep in mind that even the most knowledgeable salon owner cannot build and maintain a thriving business alone. You need a talented, engaged team.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for business owners to recruit and retain top performers these days. Because professional groomers are in such high demand, they have more opportunities than ever. That makes it vital that you work on being a strong communicator and clearly explaining policies and procedures so each groomer knows their role in the establishment. Support employees as they build their skill set and prepare them for greater responsibilities. Listen to your staff and follow through on their best suggestions, as the feeling of being heard is always a positive. All these things will help make you a successful leader and, in many cases, retain your best groomers.

Staffing is always a challenge in the grooming industry.  Not just finding qualified groomers but managing the flow of income versus what is going out to employees.  Some salons, like the Village Groomer in Walpole, Mass., pay bather-brushers hourly, but the groomers are on a salary. It is nice for them to have that guaranteed income. They have quotas to meet each day, in order to manage the bottom line, but there are a lot of variables when it comes to scheduling appointments. The Village Groomer also has a large retail inventory, which allows additional income for a receptionist. 

Owner Missi Salzberg, who represents her family’s second generation in the grooming industry and has a degree in business management, knows a lot about managing staff and the bottom line. “Over 47 years in business, the key to The Village Groomer’s success has been the people that we employ,” she says. “People need to have a sense of stability in their lives. There also has to be a balance shared by everyone. So if your groomers are producing high-quality work on the back end, then it is up to the front end to create stability in the schedule. The front needs to be able to communicate well with the pet owner and rebook at the same time they are educating the customer about the length of time needed between appointments. When the front and back do their jobs well, everybody wins.”

Many smaller shops work on percentage and do not provide a brusher-bather.  If you do hire extra hourly help to assist in productivity, you really have to watch the bottom line. When you are paying 40 to 50 percent and taxes, that does not leave a lot of wiggle room for smaller salons with overhead. Higher-volume salons can typically manage with less worry, but it is still always a challenge. Unfortunately, when the bottom line falls short, salons will have to cut either hours or employees.


New Opportunities
Just as every year brings new challenges for professional groomers, it also presents opportunities—for example, in the form of new service offerings. When it came to the new services that professional groomers added in 2016, the survey results were diversified, but that does not surprise me. In our industry, I believe you are as busy as you want to be. In my shop I offer cat grooming, de-shedding and dental care. But if I need additional income, I have done some pet sitting, day care, boarding and dog walking. I have also considered taking a massage course, and I am learning more and more about the benefits of different oils. The way I see it, the opportunities are endless.

I am surprised to see there are still a large number of groomers not taking advantage of the opportunity to sell even a select variety of products. The way I look at it, every time you sell a product, it is like grooming an imaginary dog or cat. How easy is that? I personally stick to the products I believe in and use. For example, I use Taste of the Wild Food, so I sell it. I also keep the tools I use in stock, as these products can help my customers maintain the pets at home. I also stock a few leads and collar, and I keep impulse treats accessible so pet parents can buy them for their good puppies and kitties.

Adjusting your prices is another great opportunity that professional groomers must consider for improving their bottom line. Grooming business owners are constantly being hit with rate increases, whether it is for products we use or utilities—not to mention the cost of living and medical care. Many salons increase their prices with inflation each year, while others raise their prices by a dollar each year. I tend to raise my prices every few years, when I typically add a 10-percent increase across the board. However you choose to run your business, keeping up with inflation is important. And for those that work on a commission basis, it will provide a well-deserved raise. 

The trend toward using natural products also represents an opportunity for professional groomers—one that I have been addressing, personally. And according to the survey results, it is a subject that is on the mind of many groomers. The biggest challenge is educating yourself on all of the toxins out there—or, as I like to say, “the unnatural in our daily environment.” They are lurking everywhere and in just about everything we use. It takes a lot of time to break down some of the large words used for these different chemicals. The government reviews each one and determines if they are safe in the strength and purpose presented. However, some pets and people cannot filter out these toxins or cannot handle them at all. So, caring for yourself and the pets in the most natural way with the least amount of artificial colors, preservatives and such is a best practice. 

Groomers who are moving toward using natural products will find that knowledge comes while you are researching products. Trying to find truly natural products that still do the job we need them to do is a challenge, but overcoming those hurdles provides us with an education. To those who are taking their first steps down this often difficult but ultimately important road, I say, “Happy label-reading to you.” Weed out the worst exposures first and don’t make yourself crazy. It is an ongoing focus that will get easier as you go.

Finally, one element of operating a successful grooming business that qualifies as both a challenge and an opportunity is marketing your enterprise. Of course, we can all see where a lot of our energy is going in this regard these days. Although some of us still rely on more traditional marketing avenues, most of our efforts are put toward promoting our businesses with websites and social media. The best piece of advice I can offer here is to keep up with your website and Facebook pages. To consumers, there is nothing worse than going to a website that has the wrong business hours or contains dated information. Likewise, to stay relevant on social media, you need to post a minimum of a few times a week. Some experts are now even saying that you should post multiple times each day and use tools like Facebook Live. 

Judy Hudson, NCMG, owner of Groomingtails Mobile Pet Grooming in Nashville, Tenn., went to a brand-building workshop that delved into this topic in more detail. The people that maintain Facebook statistics can tell you when your industry is online, and even what kind of content gets the most activity. For business pages, it is also smart to boost posts from time to time to broaden your reach. Hudson explains, “Facebook is the easiest way to drive business to you, but the key is share usable content. Small bits of education and a lot of pictures that are meaningful to your customers goes a long way.” 

Here’s wishing you and your business a Happy New Year. Keep a positive outlook, and be sure to share it on Facebook. 


Christina Pawlosky is a Certified Master Groomer, professional handler, breeder and successful pet store and grooming shop owner (The Pet Connection) since 1985. She is currently the National Training Manager for Oster Professional Products and produces grooming DVDs through her website GroomerWorks.com.

 

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