Groomer to Groomer

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Doing Things Differently

By Ellen Ehrlich


I often think about what it was like when I started my mobile business in 2006. I was a beginner, fresh out of grooming school. It was my first “real” business. Little did I know what the future would hold. There were many decisions and challenges with every phone call and first appointment. I did not have the self-confidence and the experience I have today. Present day, my book is full of “regulars” - small, cooperative dogs on a maintenance schedule.

Of course, things did not start out this way. Every dog and customer was new. I remember grooming my first “client,” Riley the mini Doodle, in my brand new van. I picked up the scissors, and my hand was shaking! I had no one to help me hold the dog or tell me what blade, trim, or product to use. Each time the phone rang, my heart skipped a beat. What would they ask me? What should I say? Would my new furry friend on the other side of the door be as described?

If I could go back in time, what would I do differently?

A huge challenge in starting my grooming business was estimating prices. When the phone rang, how would I know the cost when I had not seen the pet? I could ask all the important questions – breed, weight, behavior, coat condition, age, health, home care, and the last time the pet was groomed… but I would still be left in the dark. To tackle some of these variables, I could have asked the caller to e-mail a picture, but if that weren’t done, I was back to square one.

I have learned from experience that some owners do not know the breed of their pet. The dog or cat might have been given to them; the previous owners might have been misled. The pet might have come from a shelter, a rescue, or online, including petfinder.com. Many times they guess the weight, erring on the lighter side between five and twenty pounds.

The owner might be brushing at home, but it is ineffective because they are using improper tools and not doing it often enough. They often cannot recall the last time their pet was groomed. They might say eight weeks ago, but when I put their furry friend on my grooming table, I could tell they had been stretching the truth by looking at the length of their pet’s nails and hairy paw pads.

Behavior is a big concern. I had to trust what people said, and sometimes even they were not aware of how their pet would behave during grooming. Some owners were not forthcoming, because they were afraid I would not accept the pet for grooming. Estimating is no small task. In addition, all critters are not created equal.

Selling your services over the phone is critical. It is extremely important to make a good impression and connect with the caller. This is always a challenge when starting a new business. If this does not happen, the odds are the pet owner will not make an appointment and go elsewhere. In the beginning, a lot of it is self-confidence. Do you sound knowledgeable? Does the passion for what you do come through over the phone? It takes experience.

Here is one hint to keep in mind. You do not have to respond immediately when someone calls asking for a quote. Gather all the information you can and tell them you will call them back. Some estimates require more thought than others. You might want to go online to become more familiar with the breed. You can even ask opinions of your local and online grooming friends and then return the phone call. Do not be tempted to blurt out a number! I learned this the hard way. Return the phone call when you have a game plan and all the information you need for grooming their specific pet. I would suggest you give a starting point, adding the key phrase “I have to see your pet” so that you will not lock yourself into a price that is too low.

If I could turn back the hands of time, I would change how I handled add-on services. This is a common mistake made by many groomers. I am guilty of this myself. How many of us have dematted and deshedded dogs and cats without charging for additional time and labor? This is something I would like to see change for every salon owner, at-home groomer, or mobile groomer. There is nothing worse than driving away or seeing a client walk out the door from an appointment knowing that you undercharged for your services. Grooming is hard work! If you begin grooming and see it is a much more labor-intensive task then you originally thought, call the owner and provide an update. Let them know! Consider charging hourly. They need to understand that you will have to charge extra for additional services, especially if the pet is not groomed on a maintenance schedule.

This is an overview of some of my start-up challenges. Success results from research and experience. I have always been interested in how other groomers run their businesses. I have been able to take this information and use it to my best advantage. Adjust your business to the specifics of your own market and needs. This will give you the opportunity to create a business that runs like a well-oiled machine. ✂