Riding Out the Recession
My family’s business, The Village Groomer and Pet Supply, turned 40 years old this year. Opened in 1969, it has seen its share of financial rough rides and bumpy patches. Some of those bumps in the road were certainly due to inexperience on the part of my dad in the early years. When he left his job as a social studies teacher to work with dogs, he apprenticed as a groomer for a matter of months and then, in the same spirit my father did almost everything, he grabbed for the gusto and opened his own shop. The learning curve was a steep one back then. Luckily, my mom had the mind and attention span for numbers and running a business. He was the front man, the energy, the face of the business. She was, and still is, the glue that holds everything together.
That was the nature of their dynamic, in and out of business, and the balance that helped them weather a few recessions. I think there are many lessons to be learned from business owners who have been out there in the trenches through the years. There are also new ideas and new energy in our industry to draw upon. In writing this “state of the industry” report for Grooming Business, I didn’t want to rely on percentages, graphs or industry forecasts by business consultants. While there is no doubt that this information is invaluable, I wanted to hear from the professionals in the trenches–in the shop, at the table, booking appointments, hearing the stories and feeling (or in some cases, not feeling) the pinch of the recent economic turmoil in our country.
I made phone calls, hit groomers groups on the Internet, and spoke to trade show owners and coordinators to take the pulse of the industry. Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to my surveys and phone calls.
Tales From the Trenches
The first question I posed to the grooming community was, “Has the current economic downturn affected your business?” To get a broad view of the industry, I approached professionals from different parts of the country. Of course, the responses I received varied. One groomer in Pennsylvania reported that her business was down by 50 percent, and another in California said that she had to close her storefront and move her operation into her garage because she could no longer afford the rent. Other groomers I surveyed reported losing customers who lost jobs and were forced to move or make even tougher decisions. “I lost a few clients who lost their jobs and had to give their dogs away,” said Anne from Maine.
While some of the groomers that I heard from are clearly having a hard time, many groomers responded that their businesses are only slightly down or right on target with their numbers from 2007 and 2008. The most noticeable shift in customer behavior, across all of the survey responses, was stretching out appointments. The four-week dogs were becoming six-week dogs, and the six-week rebooks were pushing for eight weeks. In addition, many groomers noticed customers requesting shorter haircuts to make the grooming last a little longer.
There was also some great news that came out of my informal survey. Several groomers reported that they continued to see growth, albeit slower than normal. This was true for both shop owners and mobile groomers. Patty from South Carolina, who is mobile, reported, “I am on track to meet the numbers I set for the business before the economy tanked.”
Personally, I’ve seen my own business continue to grow on the grooming side, but my non-food retail sales have slowed by 12 percent. Food has continued to be a strong leader, but the ‘extras’ have seen a dip in sales. While we are selling more items, the average ticket price is lower. Magali from the Bronx, N.Y., has noticed a similar trend. “The recession has affected our bottom line, but the grooming income has grown by 20 percent compared to last year,” she said. “Sales are down in retail, and definitely in daycare and boarding.”
When I asked business owners if they had to downsize their staff recently, only one made a direct connection to the economy. Another business owner did reduce hours for part-time employees, but her full-time staffing remained the same. Yet another groomer reported that she shortened her workweek to avoid staff layoffs. For groomers that offered daycare as an independent business, there were some layoffs, and one business reduced the size of their daycare center in response to falling attendance.
When asked about attending trade shows this year, the majority of respondents said they would continue attending trade shows and educational programs. Only a handful said they could not go to these types of events because of finances. Patsy from Amarillo, Texas, reported attending “at least one trade show per year for the last 22 years. I feel that it is even more important these days,” she said. She also attends small regional seminars and utilizes DVD and video programs to keep up her grooming chops. Another groomer summed up continuing her education this way, “Continuing education is vital in this industry; if you’re not keeping up with the latest innovations and trends, you risk your business being perceived as stale or behind the times.”
One interesting statistic I noticed was that just over 10 percent of the respondents I heard from are certified master groomers. Some of the groomers were in the process and had completed various stages of certification. Others wanted to be certified but did not have the resources. One groomer was not certified and “had no interest in becoming certified.” That seems to be an ongoing debate in our industry. It will be interesting to see how both certification and licensing playsout over the next few years.
Trade Show Trends
When I turned my attention to the owners and organizers of the industry’s trade shows, I uncovered some good news. Show attendance was reportedly strong this year. In some cases it was down marginally, and in other cases it increased, but overall it was steady. Intergroom experienced a slight decrease in attendance on Friday and Saturday and an overwhelming boom on Sunday, which suggests that groomers were keeping their groom rooms open for their regular schedule and heading out for the show on their off day. This was echoed by some of the groomers I surveyed.
Vendor attendance at trade shows continues to be very strong, with the Atlanta Pet Fair having a waiting list going into the 2010 edition of the show. One show owner observed that smaller regional vendors have to pick and choose which shows they will attend a little more carefully these days, taking a closer look at costs in order to get the most bang for their buck.
Understanding that budgets are tight across the industry, one show organizer indicated that there will be no price increases for vendors or attendees at their 2010 trade show. Christine DeFilippo, owner of Intergroom, has even offered free trade show tickets to groomers who register early for the 25th anniversary edition of her show. “If I have anything to say about it, it will go on forever,” she says. “Yes, it is less money in our pocket at the end of the show, but the difference is that we have shown our vendors that we care and are trying to provide a worthwhile attendance.”
In tough economic times like these, it’s more important than ever to attend industry trade shows and seminars. Whether the goal is to improve your grooming skills or hone your business acumen, working smarter in this economy is the key to success. Our show owners and organizers are aware of this and the palette of programs to choose from is more diverse and exciting than ever. The educational offerings at industry events have become simply incredible over the past few years. From simple grooming techniques to advanced business education, our trade shows and seminars are a resource that none of us can afford to miss.
After all of the research I did for this article, I am left feeling very hopeful for both our economy and our industry. Things are already looking up, with economic indicators improving day by day. Although we are not out of the woods just yet, our recent struggles and challenging times will ultimately make the grooming industry stronger, as we will learn how to add quality and efficiency to our businesses.
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