Planning for Success
Aesthetics, safety and efficiency are all considerations that must be made in order to create a successful grooming salon.
Over the years, there has been a great evolution in how professional groomers are seen by the pet-owning public. In a relatively short time, we have transitioned from being viewed as mere dog washers to being deemed worthy of the title of “salon stylist,” and much of this shift in our reputation can be attributed to the way our shops reflect our high level of professionalism. A well-thought-out salon design can go a long way in this regard.
However, the look and layout of a groomer’s workspace impacts more than just the image we project to customers; it also dictates the comfort level of everyone within, from salon staff to human clients to the pets in our care. When done well, a grooming salon’s design can ultimately play a big role in its success.
A good grooming area design starts with research. The more you know about the design and construction process, the better you will be able to either communicate what you want to a contractor or accomplish it yourself, if you are doing your own work.
Be thorough; you don’t want to find out after a successful grand opening that you are not up to local building codes or ordinances in some way and must make a major, expensive change. Check town, county and state requirements that may concern everything from how waste water must be treated to how far the storefront must be from parking spaces to what kind and size your sign should be.
Navigating these types of local regulations can be a bear, as Elsebeth DeBiase learned when building her salon, Coastal Creations Pet Salon in Bucksport, Maine. “The most difficult part of designing the salon was figuring out the town ordinances, and my town is less complicated than most,” she says, noting that Bucksport’s population is less than 3,000. “I had to have a sign permit, check zoning, and have an inspection by the fire chief and code enforcement officer.”
For those building or redesigning a grooming salon, research should also include understanding the resources you will need to operate the salon. No matter how good your contractors are, unless they are specifically in the business of designing salons, they will likely underestimate how much power you will need. And if all you do is tell them where you need outlets, they won’t know how much power you need each one to carry.
Even a small shop is likely to operate an air conditioner, force dryer, cage dryer and fluff dryer, possibly all at once. With this in mind, Scott Learned, president of Design Learned, Inc., in Norwich, Conn.—a firm that specializes in designing salons and other animal-care facilities—recommends one circuit breaker per electrical outlet. He also recommends that you connect the salon’s lights to their own separate circuit breaker.
Look at all the possibilities when deciding on the types of fixtures you will incorporate into your design. For example, when figuring out how to separate and restrain your canine clients, do you want to use cages, stalls or suites? How about harnesses and ties? Look for the best way to carry out what you need to accomplish, rather than simply looking at what’s traditional.
When the time comes to figure out the layout of your workspace, Perry Haberman, owner of Doggy Man’s Mobile Grooming in Los Angeles, suggests drawing your plan out on paper first, and then taping lines to the floor before you build anything. “It’s way easier to move tape than move a cabinet or fixture,” he says.
Haberman also points out that the simplest designs are often the easiest to clean up. For example, his current grooming van is designed so that it can be hosed out completely, increasing cleanliness and reducing time spent cleaning.
Projecting an Image
The way your space is designed should enhance the image you want to project and solidify your brand identity. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, including making the right choice in color palette, says Holly Gibson, marketing and innovation manager at Shor-Line, a Kansas City, Kan.-based grooming equipment manufacturer.
“Choose a color theme for your salon that expresses what you want people to feel while they are there,” she suggests. “It should also make you and your co-workers feel positive. Colorful tables, accessories and other products pull through your themes. Good color choices with a consistent theme denotes a more expensive look that translates into customer expectations on pricing.”
Sometimes, creating the right salon atmosphere has less to do with following time-tested formulas, and is more about taking a decidedly unique approach. For example, one salon owner turned the front porch of her 100-year-old farmhouse into her dream grooming studio. Daryl Conner’s FairWinds Grooming Studio in Appleton, Maine, is long and narrow (30 ft. by 8 ft.) with windows all along one side. Of course, this made it a challenge to insulate and heat for Maine winters, but Conner says the finished product made it well worth the effort.
One element that Conner’s unique salon design allowed for was a waiting area for pet owners—a rarity in this industry, and a true selling point of FairWinds Grooming Studio, which sees about 75 percent of its customers stay and wait for their pets. “I made one end of the porch a space with comfortable seating, a Keurig beverage maker, and books and magazines,” she says. “Most days I have home-baked cookies under a covered cake dish (to keep hair out), and there’s calm, instrumental music playing.”
It’s all part of the welcoming, warm theme that Conner espouses. “I chose a soothing color palette and decorating plan, and stuck with it,” she says. “When people come in, I can see them pause, breathe and visibly relax.”
Increase Safety, Reduce Stress
Of course, safety should permeate every detail of salon design, no matter how small it may seem. For example, make sure that doors open inward and there are multiple barriers between work areas and the outside door to prevent loose dogs from roaming. Also, arrange a waiting area so dogs cannot suddenly see or smell the owner, which can make them fidgety during the last crucial moments of face finishing.
Creating easy lines of sight for staff to see dogs in crates, especially dryer crates, is important. For those who do use dryer crates, it is vital to select units that automatically shut off if the temperature inside exceeds safe levels, or use units that do not utilize heating elements.
Another critical key to creating a safe workspace is only using electric outlets that are equipped with ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection near moisture-laden areas of the salon, as well as investing in a good sprinkler system and fire alarm, whether your lease requires it or not.
Undue stress can lead to a host of potential safety issues, so design the salon to reduce stress on pets, staff and even customers in any way you can. For example, allotting space for a break room for lunch can allow a stressed employee—or salon owner—to clear their head and get back on track quickly. A hot beverage and few moments away from the job, or a comfortable hair-free environment in which to eat lunch can pay dividends in not only keeping your team sharp, but also increasing morale.
Noise in general, and barking in particular, can be a big cause of stress in both people and pets. For this reason, Learned makes noise reduction a key consideration when designing an animal care facility. “It’s important to reduce stress, and that means separating areas,” he says. “The bathing area should be separate, as should the holding cages for both incoming and outgoing dogs. If possible, the lobby and grooming areas should be physically segregated, as well.”
This is a lesson that Vickie Lynne Piva, owner of Blue Dog Pet Grooming in Virginia Beach, Va., learned the hard way. She just finished designing her shop and is off to a profitable start, but does have one regret. “My shop is currently an open floor plan, and I really need a wall to separate my bath/drying/kenneling area from the front grooming floor,” she explains. “The noise of the dogs barking or dryers makes it difficult to talk to clients sometimes.”
To keep barking to a minimum, Veronica Boutelle, founder of dog*tec, a Sixes, Ore.-based consulting firm for dog-oriented businesses, suggests designing the salon to eliminate barrier frustration. “You can reduce a lot of stress and barking by simply setting your space up so that dogs can’t see each other,” she says.
The more you can isolate a particularly noisy space, the better. Keep this in mind when asking a contractor to separate areas within the salon. Often, they will build a dividing wall up to the ceiling, but the space above the ceiling will still conduct sound very well. Designs by Learned, on the other hand, use cement board and insulation on the walls and ceiling to essentially create an acoustic box, so less sound escapes. Also consider that many noise-reduction products on the market may not be designed to suppress the sound of barking, which has a very different frequency and amplitude than human speech.
To keep the noise down in his salon, Mario DiFante, owner of Four Paws Grooming in North Providence, R.I., placed his velocity dryers in a soundproof closet. The hose from the dryer connects to PVC pipe in the ceiling, wall or floor and opens into a hose near the tub or drying table. “You still get the noise from the air touching the dog, but the motor noise is not contributing to the noise level in the salon,” he says. “And it’s helpful for the motors, dryers and filters to be out of the hair environment.”
Ergonomics Breeds Efficiency
Creating a salon design that emphasizes efficiency will create a good workflow, reducing wasted time and increasing profitability. “Ergonomics in the main work area make the difference between enjoying the last cut of the day to dreading it,” says Gibson. “Invest in the best quality equipment you can to let the equipment do as much of the work as possible. The grooming table should adjust to the height you need and give you multiple grooming arm positions. The more you have to adjust to the equipment, the more you will be compromising your body.”
While there are many efficiencies that can be accomplished with the right choice and placement of equipment, there are also those that can be found in how other aspects of the salon’s physical plant impact the grooming process. For example, having a separate HVAC system over the tub can speed drying by reducing the humidity in the air. For this purpose, Learned, Inc., uses a professional hood—similar to what can be found over a commercial oven—to exhaust humid air around the bathing area. It has the capacity to exhaust 2,500 cubic feet per minute, versus the average of 80 cubic feet exhausted by an average bathroom fan.
DiFante, who serves as a representative for B-Air dryers, agrees that humidity can slow the drying process. He suggests the use of a dehumidifier in the drying area, such as B-AIR’s VANTAGE VG-1500. It can also help alleviate allergies, as most triggers (mold, mildew, dust mites, pollen) thrive in a humid environment. He also recommends using an air scrubber, which is a portable filtration system that removes particles, gases, and/or chemicals from the air.
At the end of the day, spending the time, money and effort to design a really great salon is sure to pay dividends in comfort, safety, efficiency and enjoyment of your trade—not to mention a successful, profitable business.