By Missi Salzberg
It happened again. Every time it happens, I think, “I will never see one as bad as this again.” Then I do. The time goes by, and it happens again. Over the many years I have visited other grooming salons, daycare centers, and retail pet shops, I am often taken aback at that first impression—that first moment I step through the door. I wrote about this many years ago, but so much has changed since then. I feel like I want to readdress this to the audience that perhaps had not been in professional pet care back then and hit the topic for those of us that just may need a reminder!
Here’s what happened. I walked into a consulting gig at a groomer’s shop. I opened the door, and the smell immediately triggered my fight or flight instinct. As I entered, I noticed signs everywhere. ALL DOGS MUST BE LEASHED! ALL AFTER-HOUR PICK-UPS WILL HAVE A $25 SURCHARGE. $5 NUISANCE FEE FOR UNCURBED DOGS. NO DOGS WILL BE ACCEPTED AFTER THEIR SCHEDULED APPOINTMENT. Wow. Get me the heck out of here! No, but wait. She asked for help, and boy, did she need some. The place was gloomy, even a little dark. It didn’t look particularly dirty or hairy, but I was thinking that was because she was not particularly busy. She was rather abrupt and started telling me all of the things she will not tolerate from her customers. Oh boy. Those seven seconds didn’t go well…
You have seven seconds to make a first impression! That’s it. In those seven seconds, the people that walk through your door will make a decision about who you are, and it’s somewhat indelible, like a bad mental tattoo. Like when you didn’t want to see that person naked when you opened the wrong door, but—boom! There it is! Imprints on our visual mind. In professional pet care, it’s an imprint not only on the visual mind but also the olfactory sensibilities and the audible experience!
How does your space and staff look?
How does your space smell?
What does it sound like?
In many professional business circles, they focus on things like initial handshakes, posture, personal appearance, and initial contact with the customer. While these things are all important, I find the seven seconds to make an impression on a customer unique to the grooming industry. Perhaps your posture is a little crooked after 25 years of bending over a table, and you are still grooming, and we all know the importance of the nylon, hair-resistant smock (ouch!). In my mind, the first seven seconds when you enter a business that is centered on animals and beauty are consumed by the following:
The customer opens the door, and the first thing they experience—even before they take in your shop visually—is how your business smells. We are in the beauty industry, after all, and it is hard to wrap your mind around providing a great product (i.e. your grooming) in a space that smells bad. The fact is, however, that dogs smell. Cleaning them gets smelly. A force dryer on a Bassett Hound that has issues can just about make me want to leave the building!
Maybe you don’t notice it because of olfactory fatigue. “Olfactory fatigue, also known as odor fatigue or olfactory adaptation, is the temporary, normal inability to distinguish a particular odor after a prolonged exposure to that airborne compound” (definition taken from Wikipedia). For example, when I initially enter my salon in the morning, I am always hyper-sensitive to the smell of the store, but as the day progresses, my sense of smell sort of tunes it out. For your clients, every time they walk through the door, it’s like the first time they ever came in. Their sense of smell is sharp, and they’re leaving their pet to be pampered and beautified, so what do they want to smell?
As an exercise, travel with me tomorrow morning to the land of make believe, where your store is no longer your own. You are checking it out as a place to possibly leave your baby. Open the door, take a whiff, and think about what it says about that business. I do it every morning, and I adjust accordingly. We have pet odor candles burning and wonderful natural sprays to freshen up the room.
If your salon smells bad, you just lost round one.
As the customer begins to focus visually on their surroundings, the sound of your shop sneaks in and makes the next impression. Are the dogs absolutely wild and barking? Is there a surly groomer hurling expletives (fire them now)? This audible experience can be challenging in our business, especially if you do larger numbers of dogs at one time. We can have 40–50 dogs in the groom room and more next door in daycare. The noise can be really alarming to someone coming in for the first time. If I had my chance to redesign my store, I would make some changes, but for now, I manage the noise level the best I can by doing the following:
Asking owners with really vocal dogs to come in first thing and call them ASAP, or book them an appointment later in the day after some of the other dogs have gone home.
Requesting that really social, good playing dogs utilize our Groom & Play option, where the dog can get a half day of supervised play prior to grooming and just run and get their ya-yas out for an upcharge.
Trying to really understand where the barking is coming from and making adjustments for the pet. Over the years, I’ve noticed some dogs hate cages while others find cages comforting. Some dogs can’t handle all the visual stimulation in the room, so we have a quiet room with glass sliders so we can see them. It is significantly more quiet, and they are not in the main room. We make notes on their record to remember how they have the best experience.
The visual experience of your business really sets in. How does the entry to the shop look? What is the customer’s experience as they walk through the door? Is the entry way clean? Is the path to the drop-off area clear and easily identifiable? Do you have good signage, providing useful information about your services? Is the space well lit? Are there hairballs the size of Pomeranians zooming across the floor? There is a huge comfort factor in that first visual experience. Remember, when it is a customer’s first visit to your shop, they are often nervous about leaving their pet in a new place, so order and cleanliness are key to Second #3.
When my dad was running the retail, he never filed anything. There were index cards everywhere, invoices from distributors, stacks of junk mail, and empty coffee cups all over the place! He had the personality to sell ice to eskimos, so he could charm people past his disorderly conduct, but the statement that it makes in our stores is that we don’t care about “appearances” on some level, and why would you choose someone that doesn’t prioritize appearances to provide the service of beauty and cleanliness to your pet?
The greeting of the most important customer. One of the most important lessons I learned from my father was the importance of recognizing the pet as soon as they came into the shop. Whether they were a new customer or a veteran, that initial acknowledgment of the “best friend” gives people great joy. Once you know the dog’s name, never forget it! I review my docket every morning before opening to make mental notes about my regulars and see what new kids are coming. I will greet them by name even though I’ve never met them before. It conveys a sense of familiarity and importance that this new pet is now in your care and allows the owner a moment to absorb why this place is different! This is a hands-on greeting often accompanied by sitting on the floor, rubbing bellies, or just quiet connection for the nervous dogs. That initial greeting of the pet will always be remembered, I believe, so get it right!
Greet the human. Yes, we do have to greet the humans as well! The same attitude and behavior in an initial introduction to a new client translates across all businesses, I think. Make good eye contact. Smile. Offer a sincere greeting, specifically in our business, that includes something along the lines of, “Welcome to The Village Groomer! You must be Peanut’s mom!” Give undivided attention. Have a neat and professional appearance.
Something unique to our business, which I think is very important in the initial greeting with the owners, is contact with the pet as we engage with the owner. My friend is a veterinarian, and repeatedly customers that we share will tell me, “I love how she gets right down and gets to know my dog when we go in for our appointment.” This acknowledges that you “get it!” You understand how important this dog is in this person’s world.
Acknowledge appreciation. In this world of super stores offering grooming services and the superior service provided by many mobile groomers, take a moment and say, “Thank you for choosing us.” It is a blip on the screen, you may think, but offering gratitude is never lost on a customer.
Good information and knowledge. This is where I believe independent professionals can really differentiate themselves from the pack. Speak knowledgably about the breed, about the grooming process, and the kind of coat the dog has. If it’s a puppy, provide information on how that coat may change. Educate about care between grooms. Ask questions. “What is your ultimate goal with your pet’s look?” Provide the customer with real information about what will be required to achieve that goal. Train ‘em young in the relationship!
Be the professional! Be the authority on the subject. I don’t care if the breeder of the Labradoodle said the dog only needs one bath a year and a grooming every other year! You are the professional groomer. Exert your expertise in an informative and respectful way, and your customers will listen. If they don’t and want to bring in that 11-month-old pelted Doodle that’s never seen a brush and whose coat cannot be penetrated with a light saber, then they may not have been your ideal customer in the first place!
Okay, so in reality, it’s more than seven seconds. Maybe it’s five minutes, but the points remain the same. If they have graced your doorstep, you have to own the client-professional groomer relationship and make it yours. Make them yours! And it is this initial first impression that will either bring them on board for life or leave them looking for something different.
This is work, my fellow pet care pros! This means keeping on top of the tactile experience of your shop, and it means adjusting the attitude sometimes and pushing through the other “noise” inside your head. I have the responsibility of running four businesses, plus teaching and writing, and my two-year-old! My mind at any time can be on a multitude of tasks, phone calls, and meetings, but when that customer walks through the door, if I don’t set all of that aside, I lost those “seven seconds” and can’t get them back.
Try it tomorrow! Walk into your store. Experience what your customers experience, and ask yourself if it’s good enough. If not, you’ve got seven seconds to fix it!