Software in the Salon

By Carol Visser on Oct 1 2010
The right software package can help a grooming business run more smoothly and boost its bottom line, but making the wrong selection can be costly.

There is an overabundance of software out there for grooming salons–a really confusing amount, especially for someone who is not a computer guru. What’s more, software can be a costly purchase for a salon, so it’s important to properly evaluate options in order to make the right choice the first time. The right product can save time and increase income, while the wrong one may cost time and money, as well as causing errors and endless aggravation. So, how do salon owners decide what package is the right fit for their businesses?

The best solution is to throw it right back in the laps of the software manufacturers, many industry officials say. Instead of shopping, which means reading ad copy written by people paid to minimize negative aspects and glorify positives, begin by defining the salon’s needs, they note.

The overall consensus is that groomers need to spend time figuring out exactly what it is that the salon needs the software to do, from booking appointments and making reminder calls to photographing trims that the owner loved. They should write down what occurs daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually. Then they need to use this list to ensure that the software being considered has the necessary capabilities. For example, when a new customer comes in, she will be asked about any medications the pet may be on, its birthday, behavior, vaccination dates, vet info, contact info, and more. All of that information must be accessible in usable form.

Can the software being considered run a report that will provide a list of clients with birthdays in a certain date range? Can it be used to generate “Happy Birthday” emails or postcards? Will an overdue vaccination generate a reminder? Can it look up customers by phone number, last name, pet name or breed, or any other specific piece of data?

Salon operators shouldn’t stop with a list of necessities; they should also create a wish list. For example, when trying out a new deshedding tool in the retail section, perhaps it would be a good idea to send a marketing email to the owners of German shepherds, huskies and other similar coated breeds. Or maybe it’s a notice about a new whitening shampoo that would go to owners of white dogs and cats.

A business owner may want software that can do as many tasks as possible, or she may be looking for something that will simply function as a database for customer information–or perhaps she wants something in between. Groomers need to go as simple as they like or as complex as they can afford, but a large part of selecting the right software will be accurately defining the salon’s needs.

It’s important to include future needs as well, observers note. No software will be cost effective if the business outgrows it in a couple of years. Look at the salon’s business plan–where will it be in two years, or in five years? How will that affect the business’ software requirements? It’s always best to purchase more capabilities than immediately necessary, if it’s affordable. Groomers can always opt not to use them, but it is frustrating to realize a year later that you really should have purchased software that will connect to the salon’s cash register, keep records and generate a report on how much each customer has spent over the year–features that your selection does not have.

As with any purchase of tools or equipment, it’s important to look at what other salons with similar style and size operations are using. Although websites like www.groomers.net and www.pet groomer.com are invaluable tools for finding peer reviews, especially concerning customer service and responsiveness, don’t accept generic opinions. If someone likes a brand name, or doesn’t like it, find out why. It may be that someone hates all the pop-up screens that demonstrate how to use the product, and that’s a feature you would love to have. Software that is ideal for one business may be unsuitable for another.
Some additional factors to consider include:

• Reliability and customer service.
How long has the company been in business? Is product support available whenever you need it, by phone for immediate answers?

• Drawbacks
Ask each company you are considering what the negatives are to their product. Ask what it won’t do. Ask what they didn’t choose to add to the capabilities and why. Their answers will help you decide if both the product and the company are a good fit.

• Compatibility
Is the software compatible with other platforms the salon currently uses or might want to use in the future, such as Excel or Quickbooks?

• Purchase method.
You can pay a single payment and own it, or pay a monthly subscription fee. For a subscription fee, you do not own the software, the developer hosts it on their server. Be sure you trust that your data is safe since it is on the Internet. Also keep in mind that if your Internet connection is down, your bookings and client information are unavailable. You pay a monthly fee, and can usually opt out whenever you want. Make sure all your data can come with you.

• Cost
Cost is a factor that can’t be avoided. Remember to look at it accurately. If a piece of software, by its functions and ease of use, will save you 10 man-hours a week, at $15 an hour, then a package that costs $1,500 will make up for its cost in less than three months. Remember to include any peripheral items in the cost estimate for each package being considered, such as barcode scanners, cash registers, credit card processing terminals, printers, and even new computers. Ask the software manufacturer what additional purchases may need to be made.

Groomers need to look for software that offers at least a 30-day tryout or demo version, and they need to be sure to use it. It will be limited, usually by restricting the number of clients that can be input, or by automatically ceasing to function after a certain date, but this allows the salon owner to test the program.


Avoiding “Shelfware”
Getting stuck with expensive software that doesn’t get used happens often enough that a name’s been coined for it–“buying shelfware.” The only sure ways to avoid it are to make the right choice the first time, or use subscription software so you can opt out if it doesn’t suit.

A salon owner can spend an eternity trying to find the perfect software package, but unless it is developed specifically for their particular business, that’s not likely to happen. There are probably a dozen products that will meet all, or nearly all, of an average grooming salon’s requirements. Programs specifically for mobile groomers, for kennels that groom, for those that want online services  and will automatically book appointments–it’s all out there; you just have to look.

Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Formerly a pet product expert for PetEdge, she and her husband Glenn now own Two Canines Pet Services in Montville, Maine, which provides grooming, boarding, training and day care services to Waldo County.