An Easy Sell

By Mark Kalaygian on May 24 2011
If done properly, retailing pet products in a grooming salon can be a great way to bolster the business’ bottom line.

Here is a scenario that plays out in far too many grooming salons across the country: While picking up her four-legged loved one, a loyal client asks for the groomer’s opinion about the many varied pet diets on the market. Not surprisingly, the groomer has a definite point of view when it comes to dog food and explains that she is a big advocate of Brand X.

“I’m not familiar with that brand,” says the client. “Where can I find it?”

“Around the corner at Joe’s Pet Shop,” replies the groomer, who has just helped not only the client, but also Joe around the corner.

But what if the scenario played out a little differently? What if, instead of directing her client to Joe’s Pet Shop, the groomer walked the client over to a display of Brand X dog food in the salon to review the ingredients panel and talk a little more about the benefits of feeding this particular diet?

At the end of the day, the real difference between these two scenarios is in who profits from the groomer’s hard-earned reputation and knowledge about pet nutrition. Joe may be a great guy–he may even be a valuable source of new client referrals–but that is no reason to pass up the opportunity to make an additional sale in the salon. Letting someone else profit from your expertise, when it could be boosting your bottom line instead, is simply bad business.

The impact that adding retail can have on a service-oriented business for which time is money and each job is fraught with overhead becomes evident when comparing the profit margins associated with selling pet products versus those garnered from grooming services.

“Let’s say you’re grooming a shih-tzu,” says Missi Salzberg, co-owner of The Village Groomer & Pet Supply in Walpole, Mass. “After you’ve paid your bather, your assistant, your utilities and everything else involved in your overhead, and you’ve put in an hour to an hour-and-a-half of labor, how much are you making on that dog when all is said and done?

“Well, I can make that much money in 30 seconds selling a bag of dog food.”

Lori Haraske, director of product development, hardlines at PetEdge, a pet supplies and grooming products wholesaler based in Beverly, Mass., agrees that a retail component can directly benefit a grooming salon’s bottom line, but she is quick to point out that it can also enhance the capital that is a grooming business’ overall reputation.

“It provides your customers great convenience and helps strengthen the relationship between dog owner and groomer/pet care professional,” says Haraske. “Carrying the same grooming products and tools that you use also shows that you stand behind the products you use on their pets.”

The Perfect Fit
There are two basic factors that make the grooming salon a perfect place to sell pet products. First, there’s the convenience element mentioned by Haraske. Clients are already coming into the salon to pick up and drop off their pet anyway, so why wouldn’t they take the opportunity to pick up a box of treats, a cute squeaky toy or a big bag of dog food too, instead of making a separate trip around the corner to Joe’s Pet Shop. This convenience factor becomes increasingly important as fuel prices skyrocket and shoppers look to cut down on the number of shopping trips they must make, in order to squeeze another day or two out of their cars’ gas tanks.

“[Being able to purchase pet products in a salon] is hugely convenient because many people are part of two-income families and time is a commodity,” says Warren Goldfarb, vice president of Ryan’s Pet Supplies, a grooming supply and pet product wholesaler based in Phoenix, Ariz.

Maybe even bigger than convenience, however, is the trust factor. Clearly, leaving a beloved family member in the care of a groomer requires confidence that the groomer will take good care of the pet, and that confidence typically extends to recommendations that the groomer makes when it comes to product purchases. What’s more, because of their constant interaction with and knowledge about pets, groomers often assume the mantle of local pet expert. Salzberg is one groomer who has earned that type of reputation and has found it invaluable in developing a successful retail component in her salon.

“In my grooming salon, where the retail is extremely healthy–it’s right up there with the grooming at this point–my customers would rather spend their money with me when they buy food, collars, flea protection or whatever they might need, because they know me and trust that I’m going to steer them in the right direction,” says Salzberg. “Spending money is an emotional experience, and the emotional connection that people have with their groomers is a huge secret weapon that the big-box stores will never have.”

Picking Products
Once a groomer has been sold on the concept of retailing, the first step is figuring out what products would do well in the salon environment. The prevailing wisdom among groomers who have successfully added a retail component to their business is to start with the products that have a natural connection to the services provided in the salon.

While a grooming salon isn’t going to want to start selling professional-grade clippers and shears so clients can try playing the Groomer Has It home game, items that can be used to keep a pet well groomed between appointment–brushes, combs, nail clippers, shampoos and conditioners and dental products, for example–are a great fit for the retail section. And when it comes to choosing the specific grooming products to stock, Salzberg agrees with Haraske.

“First and foremost, you should sell what you use,” she says. “This way, when someone comes in and says, ‘Oh, my dog smells so good,’ you can say, ‘Well, here’s that shampoo.’”

This “sell what you use” philosophy should extend beyond the grooming category to include any other products that the groomer has had a positive first-hand experience with, whether they’re pet diets, treats, toys or stain and odor products, to name just a few.

Of course, finding the right product selection for a salon’s retail shelves will depend heavily on the needs and wants of its customer base; and what works in a salon located in the heart of New York City may not work in a rural Midwest community. With this in mind, groomers should be sure to obtain feedback from their customers to gauge their particular wants and needs, and then tailor the product assortment accordingly.

“You have to look at what kind of market you’re in,” says Chuck Simons, owner of The Pet Salon in Margate, N.J. “Are you in a ritzy, high-end market? Then you can carry high-end, one-of-a-kind-type items.

“If you’re in a low-end area, then you need to ask yourself, ‘What am I going to do to compete with Wal-Mart and PetSmart?’”

In cases such as this, Simons says that it is imperative that the groomer build a value-oriented retail selection without carrying products that can be found at the big boxes.

When building a product assortment for the salon setting, it is important to consider the fact that merchandising space will be at a premium, so overstocking is a real concern. “Many salons believe that they have to carry products from every possible category and bring in too much quantity and/or too many products,” says Haraske. “The key is to test products in small amounts to see what works well.  Once you know what works, then start to add more of the same.”

Presentation Matters
Of course, selecting the right products to sell in the salon is only part of the equation for developing a burgeoning retail business. Presenting those products with a cohesive merchandising strategy is also of paramount importance–and an area in which some grooming salons fall short.

“Having six toys in a basket in the corner is not retailing,” says the Salzberg. “Real retailing takes some planning; it’s not just a matter of throwing some stuff on the floor.”

According to Simons, the difficulty that many groomers have with merchandising is quite understandable. “Groomers are groomers, they aren’t retailers,” he says. “They don’t know how to present the retail; they don’t know where to buy the fixtures for merchandising.”

Luckily, help is available for groomers who seek it. “A good supplier should be able to assist you with merchandising recommendations as well as product,” says Haraske.

Goldfarb points out that, in addition to advice, more and more vendors are offering displays that come loaded with product, which can be a great help. He also suggests that groomers visit other local pet product retailers to get ideas on how to improve their salons’ retail merchandising.

Finding Suppliers
A challenge that every rookie retailer will face is finding the right sources for products, and that job can be extra-tough when the economies of scale are working against you. Since most grooming salons will not have the buying power of a PetSmart, or even a typical independent full-line pet store, finding the best deals will take some legwork.

In addition to the many regional pet product distributors and online wholesalers out there, the grooming industry has several suppliers–like PetEdge and Ryan’s Pet Supplies–that cater specifically to salons that retail pet products. Groomers should be sure to look at all of their options to determine which of these suppliers would best fit their unique retail model.

When selecting a line-up of suppliers, groomers should keep in mind that while loyalty to a particular vendor can often pay off with perks like discounts and superior customer service, having multiple sources for retail products can be invaluable in securing the best deals and ensuring in-stock rates.

Another important consideration in selecting suppliers is convenience, says Haraske. “Running a salon can be hectic and leaves little time for you to make purchases,” she says.

“Look for suppliers that have multiple order options (phone or web), suppliers that have supportive customer service (for those times when you need something fast) and, of course, a supplier that can provide you with all of your needs from grooming products, equipment and retail items.”

Goldfarb agrees that one-stop shopping for both salon supplies and retail products can be a huge convenience for groomers. “It’s very helpful when you can take care of your professional shop needs and your retailing needs in the same place,” he says, noting that a company like Ryan’s even offer services such as equipment repair and sharpening.