The Road More Traveled
For an increasing number of professional groomers, starting a mobile business is proving to be the best route for maximizing profits while minimizing stress.
The call of the open road has long held a certain allure. Representing, at its core, freedom and the opportunity for a better life, the idea of mobilizing to seek your fortunes has been part of the American ethos since Horace Greeley famously wrote the phrase, “Go west, young man.”
Today that call is being heeded by a growing number of professional groomers who have come to the realization that hitting the road could hold vast potential for not only their businesses, but also their overall quality of life. And while this trend is pervasive among the newest generation of pet stylists who are just getting their start in the profession, it certainly is not limited to upstart businesses.
Take Shaffia Galis-Menendez, for example. The owner of Best of Breed Mobile Pet Grooming in West Orange, N.J., Galis-Menendez had 16 years of grooming experience—including more than a decade of operating her own brick-and-mortar salon—before she decided to expand her business with the addition of a mobile grooming van in 2005. It turned out to be an avenue that brought her somewhere she never expected.
“The first year, I worked in the shop three days a week, and went out in the truck two days a week,” she says, noting that salon managers and staff would run the brick-and-mortar business while she was out and about. “Then the next year, I was doing two days in the shop and three days mobile; and the by the year after that, I was mobile four days a week and spending one day a week in the shop. Eventually, it just got to the point where I felt more comfortable and less stressed out in the mobile [salon], and I ended up selling the shop two years ago.”
Galis-Menendez’s experience comes as no surprise to John Stockman, national sales manager for Wag’n Tails, one of the industry’s top suppliers of mobile grooming vans. He has seen the same response from countless other groomers who have flourished on the road after working in a traditional salon setting. “They don’t know, when they’re just starting out, how much their life is going to change,” he explains. “They have time for their kids, their relationship with their spouse is better, they get into better shape because they can be more active—those stories are common, and hearing them is very rewarding.”
According to Stockman, there is a simple reason why groomers who dip their toes in the mobile business often find it to be a less stressful and time-consuming way to turn a buck. Because mobile grooming services provide a distinct convenience factor for pet owners, he says, customers will gladly pay prices that are significantly higher than what can reasonably be charged in the typical brick-and-mortar salon. For example, in instances where a traditional salon might charge $45 for a groom, mobile operators can typically fetch as much as $85 for the same service.
Obviously, this means mobile groomers can generate the same, if not more, revenue by working on fewer dogs. Combine this with an overhead model that is relatively stable compared to traditional salons—“rent prices are going up,” notes Stockman—and many mobile operations have the potential to be more profitable than their stationary counterparts.
The best part, say many industry experts, is that the demand for mobile grooming services has continued to grow year after year, with no sign of abating anytime soon. This has proven particularly important given the tough economic climate across the country over the past several years. Because mobile grooming customers are what Stockman describes as “premium clients,” they have proven less affected by downturns in the economy, which have often led some traditional salon customers to stretch out their regularly scheduled appointments or even forgo them altogether.
To take advantage of the profitability and stability offered by mobile grooming, an increasing number of groomers and salon owners are either transitioning to focus on mobile services, like Galis-Menendez, or adding these services to complement their traditional brick-and-mortar salon offerings.
The latter is the strategy that has been employed by Jessica Law, owner of The Dog Salon in Charlotte, N.C. A little more than two years ago, Law decided to expand her business by adding a mobile grooming van to meet the emerging demand for at-home services in her local community. “We had clients asking about mobile grooming all of the time, because mobile services are great for certain types of dogs,” she says, noting that the time-pressed clients and owners of older and nervous dogs are particularly receptive. “It just seemed like the right thing to do to help every client that we might come in contact with."
Instead of taking on the mobile services herself, the way Galis-Menendez did, Law decided to stay in the established salon and put a reliable staff member behind the wheel. The choice of who to entrust with the mobile operation, she says, was key in getting this part of The Dog Salon’s business up and running smoothly. “You really have to build a relationship with the groomer and know that you can trust them,” Law explains, noting that this trust must apply to everything from handling and grooming the pets, to taking payments from clients, to driving carefully.
After more than two years since launching The Dog Salon’s mobile component, Law reports that she could not be happier with the results. “It’s doing so much better than I had anticipated,” she says. The van currently operates five days a week and handles an average of six dogs per day, with new clients constantly being added. In fact, the demand for The Dog Salon’s mobile services has been so robust that Law has to create boundaries for where the van operates. “We had to limit the distance to within Charlotte,” she says. “So on any given day, the van is never more than 30 minutes from the salon in any direction.”
While it is clear that mobile services can be a great way to reinvent or augment an established grooming business, it simply is not for everyone. While many groomers thrive under the increased responsibility and isolation that come with operating what is usually a one-groomer show, others prefer the traditional salon environment. That was the case with the staff member that Law originally selected to operate her mobile business. After two years, it was apparent that the groomer wanted to return to The Dog Salon’s brick-and-mortar operation, and Law obliged, replacing her with another experienced groomer who found the mobile environment more attractive.
Connie Runyon is another groomer who understands the distinct benefits and drawbacks of operating a mobile grooming business. After 12 years of grooming in a salon that was owned by someone else, she decided to strike off on her own in a mobile grooming van. At the time—circa 1995—there were virtually no other mobile groomers in her area, so there was ample opportunity for Runyon’s Northwest Pet Design. At its peak, the mobile grooming business, which operated in Eugene and Springfield, Ore., for about 10 years, was grooming eight dogs per day five days a week.
And yet, even with this busy workload, Runyon says that she found the environment less stressful and often more personally satisfying. “You get to build more of a one-on-one relationship with clients,” she says. “It’s more intimate than a salon, because you’re going to their home.”
In the end, however, all of the benefits that came with mobile grooming could not outweigh what is perhaps its biggest drawback when Runyon faced a personal crisis. “[Isolation] is probably the main reason I went back to grooming in a traditional atmosphere,” she says. “Dealing with the trauma of a local school shooting put me in a depressed state, and I felt that I needed to be around other people, because I was having trouble overcoming it on my own.”
Now happily working as a groomer at the All American Pet salon in Springfield, Ore., Runyon says that while mobile grooming ended up being a less than perfect fit for her, she definitely sees the value in it for others—especially given the aging population of pet owners. “Sometimes, these pet owners just can’t drive to the salon,” she says, adding that mobile services can be a great fit for dogs that are particularly sensitive to the often hectic and noisy environment found in traditional salons. “The ability to offer specialized services [for these clients] is important.”
Whether it is a groomer tapping into her entrepreneurial side for the first time, or a grooming salon owner looking to expand or transition an established business, Stockman says the potential that going mobile holds is limited only by a groomer’s drive and patience in growing the business. “Groomers need to understand that there is a ton of demand out there for mobile services,” he explains. “In fact, the demand is far outpacing the supply, and there is no end in sight for the growth of this segment of the industry.
“The only people who will fail are those who are not good groomers or simply aren’t motivated enough to succeed.”