The Model of Efficiency
Grooming business owners should constantly be on the lookout for ways that new products, equipment and procedures can help them and their staff groom better and faster.
Even the best grooming salons can become better. Increasing efficiency is an excellent way to improve an already healthy business, or perhaps turn around one that isn’t operating at its peak. How can this be accomplished? By using better products, equipment and procedures, of course—not to mention taking advantage of any and all forms of continuing education, which can help with all three points.
Sometimes it’s easier to look at an analogy from a different industry for inspiration. For example, a friend of mine runs a farm in rural Maine, and it’s getting more difficult to find help (sound familiar?). Because help is harder to find, her focus in the last few years has been on increasing efficiency. A new vacuum seeder has tripled the number of trays of seedlings one person can produce, reducing the need for quite as much help in the greenhouse. Written instructions for many tasks have made the training process go faster, and more people are able to do some of the training of new hires. Building a walk-in cooler right on the farm allows vegetables to be harvested a day ahead and still be fresh at the market.
What does any of this have to do with grooming? They are all solid business practices that a grooming salon can emulate in some way to become more efficient. By keeping up with advances in equipment that may improve production, making sure tasks are clear and staff well-trained and adjusting procedures for increased efficiency, grooming business owners can achieve optimal productivity in their salons.
Rooting Out Inefficiencies
The first step in making a salon more efficient is to determine where it is inefficient. Dissect every part of the business and grooming process. Time everything and keep a log to see where productivity might be increased. Are phone calls taking too long? Does bathing take too long? Drying? Do people have to stop to help with another do or look for tools? Identifying the biggest time wasters is the first step to reducing them.
Be ruthlessly honest with yourself or consider hiring someone who will. A business expert or a friend with good organizational skills can help evaluate the procedures you are currently using. For example, back in the dark ages of grooming, we used to completely brush every dog and do nails before the bath. Now, we pop most dogs right from the door into the tub. Clean hair brushes out more easily with less coat damage and discomfort for the animal, and recently soaked nails are easier to cut—and it’s all much faster.
The point is, stay current with trends and be ready to adopt those that will help your business.
Having trouble finding qualified staff? Look for ways to produce more with less staff. One groomer reports that the salon where she is employed increased productivity from an average of $24 an hour to $32, simply by changing hours. Since they weren’t doing a lot of business in the evening, they cut two hours off of the end of the day but kept the same number of employees. As a result, they had more staff on in the morning and early afternoon hours. More dogs could be prepped earlier and the salon’s overhead was reduced by two hours a day.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that can make a difference. For example, Christa Rain, a stylist at Hair of the Dog in Penticton, B.C., Canada, recommends texting customers to avoid having to turn off your equipment to talk on the phone. Most of us assume that talking on the phone is a necessary evil in a service-based business, but setting specific call hours and only texting during others could save a lot of time and money.
Who cleans? Is there a better way to do it? Hire outside help? Look at everything with an eye to seeing how else it might be done, and if that could benefit you. One salon compared the costs of owning and operating a washer and dryer to sending towels out to a service. Including estimating the increase in heat and humidity in the salon and accounting for the time spent by staff folding and storing, it turned out to be appreciably less expensive to send the towels out.
Organization on both a small and large scale increases overall salon efficiency. Every tool someone uses at all regularly should be readily at hand, not across the room or in a closet. How are blades arranged? Like mine, all stuffed in a drawer together so you have to fish through for the one you want? Find a way to organize them that works with your process, and stick with it throughout the salon. Arrange shortest to longest, or longest to shortest, or most often used to least often used. Just have them organized in some way that makes sense to you. It’s faster and reduces errors in blade lengths.
In addition to your tools, consider if you’re organizing the staff in your salon for maximum efficiency. Play to their strengths. Assign them tasks that they like, as they are likely to be best at those. Is someone a neat freak? Set aside some of their time for tidying and organizing tasks that others may not enjoy, whether it’s organizing and cleaning drawers or keeping track of dull blades to send out for sharpening. Find out what your staff’s strengths are and use them. It’ll increase efficiency and make for happier employees.
Equipped for Success
Using the right products can go a long way in improving efficiency. From shampoos that help with deshedding or speed drying to products that cut dematting time in half, keep up with what’s current and what works.
This includes keeping an open mind about equipment. I was skeptical of using simple box fans to dry dogs, as I am in a sometimes-humid climate. However, they do help dry more quickly—even here. They are also safer for dogs and lead to a more comfortable working environment, as they don’t add heat to the air.
Think outside the box—sometimes the best way to improve drying efficiency isn’t adding more dryers.
Laura Kilgore, owner of Laura’s Dog Grooming in the hot and humid state of Louisiana says, “A good dryer is essential, and rather than a second dryer or fan, I run a dehumidifier to prevent my work area from turning into a swamp. It makes a huge difference, especially in the spring and fall when it rains a lot here and neither the A.C. nor the furnace runs enough to make a dent in the humidity.”
Scott Wasserman, noted pet industry expert, says “using a quality bathing or shampoo-delivery system can improve efficiency in any salon.” Look into which type of system will best suit your needs—recirculating, water pressure driven or simple delivery of diluted shampoo.
Vania Velotta, owner of Pet Groom Studio in Orange, Ohio, says that using a recirculating bathing system is the No. 1 thing she’s done to increase efficiency in her salon. “Bathing is faster, rinsing is faster, and I use less product with better results,” she says.
Stacy Peios of Ultimate Grooming in Skaneateles, N.Y., has had a similar experience with recirculating bathing systems, though she was initially resistant to using one. “I was totally against it at first, and I only did hand bathing,” she says. “But once I tried it, I was sold. It is a huge time saver and the dogs are just as clean.”
Rain makes sure to use good dryers, drying with two high-velocity dryers at a time and using a clipper vacuum as efficiency increasers. Clipper vacuum systems like Clipper Vac by M.D.C. Romani were designed to save groomers time both in grooming and cleanup, and they work.
Work in Progress
When looking at how the procedures used in a grooming salon can be adjusted to increase efficiency, there are few better examples to follow than the automobile industry. You see, back in 1907, cars were expensive, custom-built items available only to the rich. Then, in 1913, Henry Ford built the first moving assembly line, reducing the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to two hours and 30 minutes. A similar approach to grooming has proven to be quite efficient.
Of course, some pet industry experts believe that “assembly line grooming” is impersonal and not the best solution for the dog, with a different person potentially bathing, drying and finishing the dog. But if everyone involved is competent, well-trained and compassionate, it may make the process quicker and easier, which definitely is in the dog’s best interest. Consider all the options, and decide which procedures and workflow will work best for your business.
It is also important to be organized in the grooming process with each individual dog. Groomers argue about whether it’s best to start at the rear (less threatening for the dog) or the front (you can get a quick idea of the dog’s temperament), but it doesn’t much matter as long as you get in the habit of doing it the same way every single time.
Elsebeth DeBiase, CMG, stylist and proprietor of Coastal Creations Pet Salon in Bucksport, Maine, says one of the secrets to becoming a faster groomer is using the same procedure on every dog whenever possible.
“For instance, always do the nails, sanitary trim, body rough out, face, tail, feet, finish in the same order,” she says. “That way you won’t miss anything, even on a difficult day. It’ll be habit.”
Sometimes it’s expectations that can make a difference. I was fortunate enough to work with Daryl Conner, a well-known industry figure. As the salon manager and someone that knew the clients’ wishes well, I would often ask her if a groom was okay. Her frequent answer was, “It’s good enough!” Conner, now owner of Fair Winds Grooming Studio in Appleton, Maine, says she often practices what she calls “good enough” grooming.
“This does not mean that the dog is not as clean as I can get it, or that not all of the tangles have been removed,” Conner says. “But it might mean that there are a few ‘sticky outies,’ on an old dog that can’t stand well, or the hair is shorter than would be optimally beautiful because I know the owners don’t brush and don’t come back often enough. It might mean that I don’t spend excessive extra time going over and over a dog that looks perfectly fine. It means that the dog is kindly and carefully groomed, and its owner is perfectly happy...but maybe it could have been better under ideal circumstances.”
“I groom in the real world, and circumstances are rarely perfect,” Conner says. “I strive to make the pets I groom look and feel nice. To me that is ‘good enough’ grooming.”
Business owners, like everyone, tend to get into ruts. Make sure you know the reasons you are doing everything the way you are. If the reason is “because we’ve always done it this way,” take a good hard look at the process.
Once we brushed dirty dogs. Now, many of us let product and the bathing and drying process do much of the work. It’s much more efficient, not to mention easier on dogs and groomers. Keep looking for new ways to do things. That doesn’t mean to jump on every bandwagon for a new process or product—they don’t all work, and certainly won’t all work for your specific circumstances—but stay open to change.
Continuing education is possibly the most important thing you can do to increase your salon’s efficiency. Grooming shows and seminars are exciting ways to keep current, but there is lots of valuable information available online, too. Ashley Stribling, owner of Almost Heaven grooming salon in Charleston, W. Va., says, “Facebook groups and thegroompod.com have helped a lot with ideas, equipment and techniques. Learn2groomdogs.com also.”
However you go about staying up-to-date, make sure you continue to be open to new ideas, products and equipment. It’s vital to a healthy business and will pay you dividends in increased efficiency and profit, as well as continued enthusiasm for your profession. gb