Elevated Decision Making
Finding a grooming table that meets all of a pet stylist’s needs and preferences is essential and can only be accomplished by considering all of the options available.
Photo courtesy of Petlift
Which grooming table is the best? I hear this question all the time, and the answer is the same as it is for clippers, scissors, brushes, tubs or any other grooming equipment or tools: The one that works best for you and your particular needs at the moment.
Of course, it can certainly be useful to talk to your peers and find out what they did and didn’t like about a particular table, but only as far as making sure you have considered everything. For example, it is helpful to know that someone didn’t like a particular table because it moved from side to side a little as it went up and down; if you are mobile, space considerations may require one of the accordion-style lifts that go straight up and down with no sideways movement at all. Ascot’s Low Boy Electric Scissor Lift, Master Equipment’s X-Tend Electric Grooming Table, Comfort Groom’s Accordion Lift Electric Grooming Table, and Hanvey’s electric table are all that type.
Social media can be a valuable tool for researching your equipment options, but it is also full of less-than-useful advice, such as “Don’t get a table from Company X, they stink. I bought one and it broke and they wouldn’t do anything about it.” Remember, you are never going to hear the full story on social media. Maybe that table was bought used, altered, had something happen that voided the warranty or was out of warranty. There are dozens of reasons a manufacturer might refuse repair or service under the warranty—maybe a dog ate the cord. One or even a few people’s customer service experience may not reflect yours.
Instead, ask other groomers specific questions about the tables they use; do they prefer hydraulic or electric? Why? Which hydraulic did they buy? Why? Is it living up to expectations?
At the end of the day, though, what works for other stylists may not be right for you, so you have to make a selection based on your own wants and needs.
Consider Your Options
There are three basic types of tables that professional groomers can choose from: electric, hydraulic and folding tables.
Electric tables are very popular today due to the ease of lifting and lowering, and the wide range of heights that will accommodate any groomer working on any breed of dog. Dogs are more comfortable with the smoother mechanisms on electric tables. These tables also tend to go higher and lower than hydraulics, with some ranging over 30 inches. Ascot’s Lowboy Electric Scissor Lift, for example, advertises a range that goes from six to 42 inches.
Hydraulic tables tend to be less costly than comparable electrics, and that makes them more suitable for groomers with a tight budget, as well as for those who do not have electricity readily available where they are working. Some groomers simply do not want electricity in, for instance, a drying area next to the tub area where moisture abounds.
No matter how good the lift system, though, hydraulics will not be as smooth as electric tables. The original hydraulic tables had a height range of about seven to nine inches, but different style frames have given these tables a height range that is somewhat closer to what an electric can achieve, with most modern hydraulics going about 20 inches from high to low.
Folding tables are not very popular unless the lighter weight is needed for portability, such as going to shows, demonstrations or house-call grooming. They still have their uses, though, and can be more versatile you might think. They are not only easily transported to shows and competitions, they are also portable within the salon, allowing table space to be utilized where it’s needed in the moment.
Champagnetables.com manufactures many of their excellent quality tables in two heights—25 or 30 inches—as well as with different tabletop sizes to accommodate most breeds and most groomers. The company’s folding “toy” table, with an 18-by-30-inch top, is available with a height of either 33 or 36 inches. The company’s adjustable-height folding tables are great for the drying room.
Although they cannot be adjusted with a dog on them, it is easy enough to adjust the height to accommodate the majority of dogs coming in that day. Remember, the point is to be at the right height, but that does not necessarily mean adjusting the table; instead, you could sit at a folding table with a grooming stool or office chair with a lift mechanism and change your height for the dog you are working on that way.
When shopping for a new grooming table, it is important to consider materials. Most warranties cover defects in the material used to make the product and defects in how it was made. I’m not sure there’s much to be done about the latter, other than hope the welder or person assembling wasn’t asleep at the job the day your table was made, but we can assume that the better quality the material, the fewer defects there will be and the longer the table should last.
According to Bob Lutz, owner of UltraLift, Inc., manufacturer of premium tables and tubs, materials are indeed an important consideration. Make sure you take into account the location in which the product will be used. For example, if a table will be up front and will only have dry dogs on it to be finished, what the tabletop is made of is less important.
Lutz, whose products are all made in the U.S., believes that construction details are important, too. For instance, UltraLift bolts its tabletops on, rather than using screws, which can strip. “How a table is made can be as important as the materials it’s made with,” he says.
UltraLift workstations are customizable with options for tabletop sizes, drawers, dryer mounts, grooming arms and pedal positioning. UltraLift also uses powerful motors, which allow its tables to go up in 11 seconds, and down in 10. Some electric tables take more than four times that, which may not seem like much, but according to Lutz, groomers move their tables an average of 30 times per groom, so that lack of speed can add up.
“The more comfortable a groomer is, the more money they can make,” says Lutz. “Most of the reason groomers hurt themselves is because they are not grooming in the right position for that breed and their own height.”
Chuck Simons, developer of perhaps the best-known accessory for grooming tables, the Groomers Helper, agrees that materials are very important, especially in determining how long your purchases are likely to last.
“Our grooming arms are made of 16-gauge quality 304 stainless steel with stainless steel hardware,” he says. Because of this, they are warrantied for life not to bend. In fact, Simons has never had one returned.
While Billy Chen, vice president of marketing and sales for Comfort Groom, says that materials are extremely important in table construction, he does not believe that better materials have to mean higher costs for groomers. “Using better materials will make a better product and, in turn, can be higher in price,” he says. “[However,] Comfort Groom is one of the few manufacturers that sells directly to groomers, bypassing the commissions paid to a middleman. We want our premium-quality products to be offered at a lower price point so that groomers have the ability to provide great grooming services without worrying about the price tag.”
Comfort Groom works to make it easy for groomers to select and use their tables and accessories. The company offer casters, grooming organizers, fitted towel table covers and a bellow-type cover designed to keep hair out of its Accordion Lift Table. The company also has a completely portable electric table that house-call groomers will appreciate very much.
When it comes to considering all of the various features and options available in a grooming table, Simons stresses that groomers should make their choices based firmly on what will work best in their unique situation. “Make sure you can use the accessories you love, whether it’s the Groomers Helper or your favorite arm, on that table,” he says.
Differences in tabletop widths, frame locations and styles might make it seem like the only thing that fits well on your new table is whatever arm came with it. However, Groomers Helper has developed a range of arms and clamps that will fit any table. What’s more, the safety system is scalable with a number of accessories, including panic snaps for quick release of loops in an emergency.
When shopping for a new grooming table, it is important to ask the seller everything you want to know about its products. Once you begin to get answers, consider creating a chart or an Excel spreadsheet for yourself to compare the different options. Here’s a handy checklist to use as a starting point:
• How high does it go? How low? Do I have to remove the arm totally for it to go that low without the arm clamp bumping the floor? Does the table move to the side at all as it is being raised?
• How does it operate? If it’s electric, does it use a foot pedal or a remote? Are pedals on both sides? Where is the remote stored? If it’s hydraulic, does it use a hand pump or foot pump?
• What is the footprint of the table? How big is it in relation to the size of the tabletop? This will give you an idea of how much space there is for your feet or chair legs under the table, which will tell you whether or not you will have to bend while grooming—not recommended.
• How quickly does it go up and down?
• How much weight is it rated for? How much do you need it to lift? Many electric tables recommend 180 to 200 pounds, which covers most of the dogs I want to groom. However, if you’ve got a breeder of Mastiffs in town, you might need a heavier rating. In addition, some people feel that if a table is rated for heavier weights, then the motor may last longer if carrying lighter loads.
• How big is the tabletop? It’s tempting to get a big table, just in case that huge dog comes in, but if you never do anything bigger than that 70-pound Golden, a 42-inch or even 36-inch long table top should be plenty. Remember, the more room our canine clients have to move around, the more they will move around.
• What tips do you have for care and maintenance of the table? All tables should have hair vacuumed from around them and be wiped down daily. Hydraulics fare best if left in the lowest position overnight. Keep electrics at a medium height; that way if it stops working overnight, at least it will be in a usable position until you can get it repaired. Manufacturers should be able to tell you exactly how to care for their tables.
• What might go wrong with the table? How can that be prevented?
• Does the table come with a warranty? What does the warranty cover, exactly? Ask for examples of things that are covered, as well as examples of things that are not covered. Get a copy of the written warranty to review. In the end, evaluating a warranty often comes down to whether you trust the manufacturer of the table or not, so it can be tricky.
• What is the expected, or average, life span of the table?
• What is available for after-warranty repairs? Motors? Lifts? Tops? What are the prices?
• What is the tabletop made of? Marine-grade plywood? OSB? MDF? Metal? All are suitable for various uses. Each material has different grades, so ask for specifics. Also, be realistic in your expectations when considering costs. If you get the top-of-the-line marine-grade plywood top, it is going to cost more than MDF board.
• What is the surface made of? Is it rubber or plastic? Is it ridged? Pebbled? Is it easy to clean?
• What kind of metal is the frame made of?
• Does the top rotate? Does the grooming arm? Are these available options? Many groomers like to stay in one place and groom, which means turning either the table or the dog and a rotating top or arm can make it easier. Do you want it to rotate 360 degrees, or will three-quarters of the way around and then back suit your needs?
• What special features or benefits does the table have—a stainless top, removable/replaceable top or drawers? Will these features be helpful to your needs? All sorts of different features are available on tables. Master Equipment even has a table—the Flex—that converts from standing on foot levelers to wheels, allowing for sturdiness in place yet easy portability.
• How much does it cost? How do you know it’s worth the price? How does the price compare with equivalent tables from other manufacturers? Make sure to account for shipping expenses; this will be a large part of the cost. Keep an eye out for free shipping specials on your favorite table’s website.
Given the important role that a grooming table will inevitably play in your salon, not to mention the considerable expense that this important piece of equipment will require, it is clearly worthwhile to spend the time necessary to ask all of these questions and carefully consider the answers. If done correctly, you will end up with exactly the table you need for the style of grooming you do and the height of the groomers in your salon.