John Stockman, national sales manager for Wag’n Tails Mobile Conversions, discusses how the company helped build and continues to revolutionize the mobile grooming business.
Grooming Business: What sets Wag’n Tails apart from other grooming van manufacturers? Why should groomers choose a Wag’n Tails van?
John Stockman: Several things make Wag’n Tails unique. First and foremost, we built the mobile grooming industry. We didn’t invent it, but we nurtured its growth by using our experience and knowledge to educate the market. Anytime a new concept is introduced, education is key. We educated the grooming industry by demonstrating the viability of the concept with pet parents. We showed the excellent profitability of the business model that we developed—a model we continue to refine and update to this day—as well as the affordability and asset value of the van compared to a leased stationary grooming salon.
Second, we do much more than build and sell vans to pet stylists; we become their best business partner. That part of the Wag’n Tails ownership experience is free for as long as a groomer owns the van—and even beyond that in some cases. We teach them and consult with them on how to successfully launch, operate and grow their businesses. We teach pricing, routing, scheduling, maintenance, marketing, advertising, networking, telephone skills and more. We have a state of the art, in-house graphics department to help mobile groomers develop their own unique brand and make the van into a rolling billboard. We even offer web design and development, plus we have a groomer locator on our website that drives business to our clients.
We essentially offer the same support as a franchise, with one major difference: We don’t stick our hand in our clients’ pockets every month. Buy the van and the support is free. In fact, if you buy a used Wag’n Tails grooming van—from us or from any other source—you get the same support from us. If it is a Wag’n Tails van, the groomer is in our family and we’ll take care of them with service support on the van and consulting support for the business, and we will get them in our groomer locator.
Another thing that sets us apart is our service support. We fully understand that our job really starts when our client drives away. We have a fulltime Customer Care Manager who is dedicated to taking care of our clients. Nearly 90 percent of the calls we get daily are taken care of over the phone. This commitment stems from our heritage. We operated a fleet of 22 vans and we understand the issues that downtime creates. Most of the systems that can end a grooming day have a redundant system backing them up, so the day will continue.
A major and possibly our most significant quality is the Wag’n Tails van itself. The design, layout, floor plan, component selection and location—essentially every detail, right down to the shampoos, conditioners and other products included in the van—are first approved by our founder Dina Perry. Dina spent more than four decades in mobile grooming, and you can’t get a better product development expert anywhere on Earth. This attention to detail makes the life of a Wag’n Tails owner much easier, since the ergonomics and basic layout reduce fatigue, increase efficiency and productivity, and ease the process of pet grooming.
Beyond that, our heritage also dictates that the components we put into our vans are the best available. We do not cut corners anywhere, from raw materials to vinyl graphic materials. We use the best table, dryer, air conditioner, plumbing parts, and so on. A corner cut will always come back to bite, and we see no value in that. We work hard at taking care of our clients and, in turn, we expect our suppliers to do so as well.
Each model we introduce has to meet a very high bar we set for ourselves in terms of quality, safety and ease of ownership. We know our clients aren’t mechanics, so we design them to be easy to operate and maintain. Each production station on our assembly line is staffed by the very best employees, and many have been with us from the beginning of Wag’n Tails van production. Those that join us stay with us. We are truly like family and we expect and get the best from each and every one here.
Safety is always our number-one priority. We are the only grooming van manufacturer that is listed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Each model has been rigorously tested by an outside independent testing laboratory that ensures we meet or exceed all NHTSA standards, chassis manufacturer specifications, National Electrics Code, UL codes, National Plumbing Standards, etc. It is costly, time consuming and strains our resources, but we will not compromise safety.
Finally, we have sources for financing that understand what we do, they have been trained on our business model, we visit each other regularly and our portfolios with them perform exceptionally well. In other words, our clients earn great money and make their van payments like clockwork. The lenders love Wag’n Tails groomers, so with good credit and a little down payment, our clients own their own business, schedule their own time and manage themselves. The van and conversion are financed in one package, so there is one payment to one lender. It’s a really simple process and we are pretty good at it, since we do it more than 16 times per month.
GB: Over the past year or so, Wag’n Tails has introduced two new models of grooming vans. Can you tell us a bit about each of the new models? What inspired their creation? What are some of their standout features?
Stockman: The “newish” Ultra Groom was introduced in April 2014. Ford Motor Company was discontinuing the Econoline (or E-Series) vans. Built on the Ford E-350 since 2004, our Pet Pro Van was our most affordable and most popular model, and we needed to fill the slot in our lineup. We needed a modern chassis with great fuel economy, excellent cargo carrying capacity, the ability to accept our build requirements and factory financing for our clients. Since the new Ford Transit van was going to be delayed, and since we knew ahead of time that the Transit model we would be building on was substantially bigger than the Pet Pro, we needed to continue to offer a small Wag’n Tails option.
Fitting those requirements completely is the Ultra Groom Van on the Dodge Promaster chassis. It has many unique features. First, it is front wheel drive, so it has great traction in all conditions. And since there is no drive train in the rear (live axles, transmission, differential and associated bits rear wheel drive entails), it sits lower, giving it great step in height. In addition, it has less weight, giving it outstanding cargo capacity that allows us to build on a 2500 chassis and save our clients money.
Although they are new to American soil, more than two million of these vans have sold in Europe as the Fiat Ducato, so we had confidence in the design and adaptability to our needs as a grooming van conversion company and, most importantly, the needs of the Wag’n Tails client.
The Ultra Groom has enclosed cabinetry to keep hair away from product and tools; Cree LED lighting for a crisper, brighter light with less shadowing; and a slide out cabinet to keep shears, brushes and combs out of the harsh grooming environment of hair, dander and moisture. Its front wheel drive configuration, lighter drive train and fuel sipping V-6 engine offers exceptional fuel economy. Our owners are reporting 16 to 17 MPG, including generator fuel usage. We anticipated those numbers and are glad they are bearing out.
The new Dyna Groom van is on the Ford Transit chassis. We have had a long and fantastic relationship with Ford, and they build excellent trucks. Our arrangement with Ford Motor Credit is a major strength, so our plan all along was to build on the Transit. It fills a big gap between the Ultra Groom and the Mercedes-Benz-based Endurance Sprinter, in terms of price and size. It comes with the V-6 Ford Eco Boost engine that delivers excellent horsepower with superb fuel economy. We anticipate the fuel economy to be 15 to16 MPG with the generator usage.
The Dyna Groom also has the enclosed cabinetry and the Cree LED lighting. It is large enough to add a second grooming station for additional storage, a Porta-Potty and, of course, to accommodate a second groomer, if needed.
I should also note that the enclosed cabinets and Cree LED lighting is migrating into the Endurance Sprinter and the Pet Stylist Elite with late September production and into the trailer at some point in the near future.
GB: What does the future hold for Wag’n Tails?
Stockman: Continuous improvement is our future. That may sound a bit nebulous, but that is really what drives us. Can we find a better dryer? Is there a better way to produce our vans? Can we improve quality with a new procedure, a new component or a new way of design? What are our clients asking for and how can we meet their expectations?
In addition, we have recently launched a line of veterinary vans that we will continue to market. The business model is very transferrable from mobile grooming, so we are embarking on building another industry. We are currently in the early part of the educational phase, and while we are seeing some good sales success, we are building momentum and are looking to the future with eager anticipation.