What happened to the year? It seems like just yesterday that we were all wondering if the country was ever going to be released from the grip of that never ending winter. I walked into Costco the other day and saw Christmas decorations! (Mind you, I am writing this column in early September!) The Holidays are almost upon us and it feels like we’ve just put away those darned decorations. We are all coming to the end of another year, but not without the typical holiday time drama of overbooking, overworking and just making ourselves, in general, crazy.  Let’s face it… holidays are stressful. I want to de-stress for myself and my family.

November is always a good time to take a deep breath, regroup and reorganize ourselves in preparation for the end-of-year onslaught of madness. Holiday time can really take its toll on even the most staunch-hearted business person, so early preparation does nothing but make things go easier. Let’s make a checklist for ourselves of things that need to be done before it’s too late.

Look at the dates

Thanksgiving is late again this year, November 27th, the last Thursday of the month and exactly four weeks from Christmas. Hanukkah starts on December 16th, about a week prior to Christmas. Watch your four week customers, as they may all pile up the week before the holidays. Those celebrating Hanukkah may only want tidy-ups, so book accordingly. For the six to eight week dogs, try getting them in for full grooms before Thanksgiving so they may only need tidy-ups for Christmas.

Schedule yourself and your employees

Look at your calendar from the two weeks prior to Thanksgiving up until New Years Eve and figure what you want these seven weeks to look like. Do you traditionally close the week between Christmas and New Years? Or will you close just for the weekend after Christmas? Do you groom on Christmas Eve? My salon would traditionally close on Christmas Eve, but if it fell on a Saturday, we would only take regular customers for bath and bows only, which was very successful, I might add. Are you planning on working the Sunday before Christmas? These are all things that you should plan well in advance and post it for all employees to see. Solidify employee schedules! You don’t want any surprises from employees “forgetting” to tell you about that vacation to Disneyworld they planned the week before Christmas. Good scheduling and spacing of appointments can really ease up the holiday tension. This is also the time to schedule any office parties or gatherings. Don’t forget to schedule time for your own personal appointments, like your holiday mani/pedi or massage.

Decorate for the holidays

Even the smallest of decorations add a festive flair to a business. You don’t have to go overboard, although sometimes it’s fun.

Gifts for your customers

Many salons give small gifts to the pets for the holidays and this is something that can be made up ahead. I like doing this, as it really sends a good message to the customer and encourages tipping. I like customizing gifts whenever I can. I would get small empty stockings and fill them with treats that I made available for sale the rest of the year. If the dog liked it for Christmas, they could buy a bag each time they came in year round. This is a good marketing strategy and a quick repeat sale. Some of the special clients might get a bigger stocking with more treats, others might have special dietary needs. Some of our more “challenging” dogs would get coal in their stockings in the form of charcoal flavored biscuits, which the customers really got a kick out of.

Equipment maintenance

This is something many salons put on the back burner, only to regret it when your clippers or a high velocity dryer conks out while you are rushing to get those Standard Poodles finished. You reach for your back-up dryer, only to find that it is also out of commission. Now you’re stuck! All dryers, high velocity, stand or box, should be fully maintained and ready to go for the holiday season. A busy salon cannot afford the lost time because of a broken dryer and back-up dryers should always be available.

Clippers, blades and shears fall into this category as well. Many of us have a pile of dull blades that we keep intending to send out to the sharpener. I hate when my favorite #5F starts snagging coat, only to find that my other favorite #5F is in the box marked “Dull” that I have forgotten to send out. Send those blades and shears off to the sharpener NOW, then you will have time to test them out before the “crunch days”. Same with clippers. Change those levers and grease them up so they are in top working condition. Nothing will slow you down more than a poorly performing piece of equipment.

Supplies

Other than water, shampoo, conditioners and grooming sprays are the number one expendable items in a salon. A busy salon is constantly buying shampoos so do yourself a favor, buy all of your shampoo for the rest of the year NOW! If you had the opportunity to attend a recent trade show, like GroomExpo in Hershey, you have probably already taken advantage of the great prices and savings. Having your favorite products in reserve for this busy time will take the pressure off worrying that you may run out.

Do you have enough holiday bows, bandannas or other accessories? Now is a good time to check your supplies in this area. If you make your own bows and bandannas, have a bow-making party one evening and get these things done and out of the way ahead of time. You will be way too busy the week before Christmas to sit and cut bandannas, much less leave the salon and shop for fabric. If you purchase pre-made accessories, shop now!

Booking advance appointments

This is where we really make ourselves crazy. The average groomer overbooks themselves on high pressure days, trying to please everybody. How many times have you given a prime-time appointment to a new client you have never seen or to a once-a-year person, only to realize you cannot fit in that good regular customer that not only has a nice dog but tips well too? We are our own worst enemies when it comes to this. There are a few things we can do to make it easier on ourselves, our customers and the pets.

Most of us pre-book our regulars. Getting these good customers on the books for the December holidays should start by September, at the latest. Regulars will usually want to book for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so solidify them now. I like taking care of the people who take care of me all year round and these regular clients all have priority status. I did have one rule in my salon; if we did not see a client before Thanksgiving, they were not given any of the priority appointments for Christmas or Hanukkah. Period.

A busy salon can really be stressed out if certain dogs make their way into our salons during the busy times. For this reason, I would never take new customers for at least two weeks before Christmas. Many people who need their dog groomed “today” are negligent of the dog’s regular grooming needs and these pets can really ruin your day. Some owners want to treat their dog to a “spa experience” and book an appointment for a dog who has never been in a salon before. This is not fair to the pet or the groomer. Avoid booking problem dogs, pets with severe health problems or pets that continually come in matted or in poor condition. During those busy two weeks before Christmas, you want all of your regulars there. These are the pets you know are good and they will be comfortable in an extra busy situation. A new dog that is unfamiliar with you and your routine can really slow things down. These pets don’t get your regular, personalized attention, so everybody gets shortchanged.

We groomed cats and found that it was easier not to take any of our regular cat customers for the week before Christmas. It’s busy with loads of dogs and many of the cats are already a bit “off” as their homes are in chaos with Christmas trees, packages and company. Our cat customers were all very understanding and cooperative with this request.

Holiday Greeting Cards

This is one sure-fire way to get customers to call in for their appointments. Barkleigh Productions has a very nice assortment of Holiday cards for the professional groomer. My salon would start filling these out several months before Thanksgiving, addressing the card to the pet and stamping it with the name of the salon, along with the phone number. This is also a good time to cull out the deadwood from a card file. If your salon is computerized most programs have applications where you can easily print out address labels with the stroke of a key.

Now the next thing we would do may sound a bit strange, but it really worked to our benefit. When the cards were finished we would put them into a large plastic trash bag along with some dog hair. We would have all of the cards finished by Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving we would take the cards out of the trash bag, dust them off and mail them, assuring that the first Holiday card the client would get would be from us. The salon phone would start ringing the day the cards were getting delivered to the customers. The fun part of all this is that the dogs would smell the scent of the dog hair and salon on the cards and they would start digging, chewing or carrying around their card, just like they knew it was for them. Customers LOVED the reaction their dogs had to the cards and would call to tell us how cute it was that their dog knew the card was from us and book an appointment while they were at it.

I hope these little tips and reminders will help make the upcoming Holiday season run a bit smoother for you, your employees, your customers and their pets. It just takes a little bit of planning to make it all run smoothly. Happy Thanksgiving!