Groomer to Groomer

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Bottom Line Booster #1

Paw Inspiring

By Missi Salzberg


As part of my series on the business of grooming, I thought I would share different ideas that have really worked at my own salon. Hopefully you will share some great ideas for me to pass along! I hope some of these ideas will help you boost your bottom line.

Every grooming salon has a similar routine. Dogs come in, get groomed, and go home. Start to finish, you are carrying the overhead of a complete groom: prepping the dog, bathing, drying, and so forth. Grooming is a very labor-intensive service and is our biggest category in terms of the cost of doing business.

My salon employs nine people, and six of these professionals are either finish groomers or bather/brushers. That’s a serious chunk of change every Thursday to meet Friday’s payroll! But let me say right here, right now, they are worth every penny. I admit I am inclined to boast, but my staff is amazing.

What if there were another income stream readily available to you, which would add a nice boost to the bottom line and simply required a little networking and a few extra hours per week by your bathing staff? It is a win-win-win situation for all.

One of the fastest growing categories in vet care is dermatology. When I think back on the 44 years I have spent hanging around the Village Groomer, I can honestly say that I have never seen as many skin issues as I do now. Whether it is a change in our environment, canine diet and nutrition, overbreeding, or whatever the next expert wants to attribute it to, dogs are suffering from skin conditions and allergies like I have never seen before.

In addition to your local veterinarians that receive dermatological training in school, there are hundreds of certified specialists practicing all over the country now, focused specifically on issues of skin, allergies, and immune deficiencies in our canine friends. According to the American College of Veterinary Dermatology, or ACVD, these vets continue on after completing veterinary school and then intern and complete a residency in dermatology. “In order to become board certified, the veterinarian must then successfully pass a rigorous examination covering all aspects of veterinary dermatology and allergy.”

In our grooming salons, this means that we are having many more conversations with our clients about the things we see, the odors we smell, and the changes we notice in the skin and coat health of our four-legged customers. Whether it is “elephant” skin, hair loss, yeast imbalance, chronic hot spots, or itching that is so consuming that the dogs are injuring themselves, it seems many of our best friends are struggling with skin issues.

We, as professional groomers, may initially suggest a special bath or a diet change, but when a customer finally resolves to take their pet to the vet, often times the doctor diagnoses a skin condition that requires frequent bathing. That’s where we come in. Over and over, I have heard clients tell me that the vet gave them a prescription shampoo, and they were instructed to bathe the dog once a week, three times a week, and in a few extreme cases, even daily. Over and over again, I can tell you that the client did not follow through. So here we have a possible solution to heal or at least support the improvement of this animal’s skin issues, but we have a human client that has four kids, a spouse, and a job and is already finding a lack of hours in the day to juggle their existing dockets!

I recognized this struggle for my clients many years ago, and I reached out to the vets in my area. We developed a program that supports the vet, the owner, and the pet. When the client is instructed by the doctor to follow a schedule of bathing, they are also informed that my salon will support them in sticking to the prescription schedule, and they are given our contact information. We then work with the customer, depending on the length of time prescribed by the vet, to implement a schedule for treatment.

Here are some examples:

MacIver is a Sheltie with ongoing skin issues. The doctor has created a schedule for him, which requires a weekly medicated bath with a prescription shampoo, and he must soak for 20 minutes on each visit. MacIver’s owners already brought him to us every six weeks for regular grooming, so we created a program for them where Mac gets a bath every Saturday, and on the sixth visit, he gets his full groom. All of those visits that do not require a full groom are discounted to make it more affordable for the family. In their case, they pay at each visit, because that’s what works for them.

Humphrey is a Lab that has terrible yeast imbalance, and the fungus grows very rapidly on his skin. He begins to smell funky within a few days of a bath, and he’s also elderly and blind. He requires compassionate care and two baths a week. His vet believes this will be necessary for his entire life, and he has been to many doctors. This regimen of bathing has been the first plan that has brought him relief. After the first month of bathing Humphrey regularly, we offered the customer a discounted program, recognizing that this frequency would quickly become unaffordable, that it really was working, and that Humphrey was feeling significantly better — and we certainly appreciated the extra income. That customer pays for the full month on or around the first, and we see Humphrey every Tuesday and Friday. He loves his tub time now! We use our Hydrosurge and first give him a nice long hydro massage with hypoallergenic shampoo followed by his prescription shampoo according to the vet’s orders.

Java is a Portuguese Water Dog with a lifetime of autoimmune issues. Her vet, who is a board-certified dermatology specialist, prescribed for her a weekly bath for the long haul. Her allergies manifest as her skin cells dying and sloughing off much more quickly than the typical average six-week cycle of most dogs, so she has an overabundance of flaking and chafed skin. Her weekly baths calm her skin, wash away dander and dead skin, and slow down the process enough to keep her comfortable. Her family also pays monthly, and on the sixth visit, they get her fully groomed at her regular price. It has made an enormous difference for her comfort. We have also worked with her vets on nutritional planning and have her on a single protein, single starch diet, which also has improved the condition of her skin dramatically.

The key to this sort of program is efficiency. Done properly and according to doctor’s orders, none of these treatments takes more than 30 minutes (except for Annabelle, the Newfoundland, so her base price for a monthly plan is a little higher). Do the math! If your bather/brusher staff — not your finish groomers — handles these baths, your overhead will be quite manageable. In my salon, some of my staff members are salaried, so if the bathers do the work at the tub and my salaried staff dry, the numbers really work. It depends on the pay structure in your salons, but if you figure out the most cost-effective way to handle this extra work, it can really add to your bottom line.

If you are in a situation where you pay commission, I would treat these baths separately. There is no reason to pay 50% for these dogs that require little to no prep work and take such minimal time. You may need to structure payment for these dogs in a different way, or you are missing out on the advantage of this type of additional income stream. My bather/brushers are paid hourly, so they welcome the extra time on the clock. How you structure the payment depends on your pay model.

Come up with a catchy name for this type of program so it is easily remembered by the vets and vet techs. Be sure to put something in their hands when you kick off the program. When we started this many years ago, I personally visited many of the vets in the area with a postcard-sized handout, explaining the benefits for the owner and animal and also the benefit to the doctor. Healed and healthy dogs are also good for their reputation, right?

In our area, there are four vet offices that refer people for this service regularly. I also recently reached out to the new dermatology specialist at our local emergency hospital. She has been very impressed at the care of the dogs and the quick improvement in their skin condition. I also invite her or any vet to call me personally and share any ideas, concerns, or tips so that we can best serve those animals when they are in our care. Working hand-in-hand with the pet’s healthcare provider is a powerful way to share information and look at the dog more holistically. Things you notice in the grooming salon may help the doctor hone in on what’s going on more quickly. We do, after all, see most of the pets we care for four to six times more often than their vet does (if you are rebooking properly, and maybe I’ll do an article on that subject next time!).

When a customer loves a pet, tries to treat them for a malady like skin issues, and the solution is pretty work-intensive for them, sometimes they drop the ball. It’s not because they don’t care, but because “life happens.” People’s lives are complicated, busy, and stressful. By offering them a reasonable, affordable solution, everyone wins! First and foremost, the pet experiences relief from their illness while the owner is able to care for their pet according to doctor’s orders. The vet gets the results they want to see, and you just added a nice little financial padding to your monthly bottom line!

Do you have any interesting ideas to share? Let me know! Networking is a powerful tool, and we can learn so much from each other! Email me at villagegroomer@comcast.net. ✂