Bather Blunders

Ask the Grooming Tutor

By Michell Evans

“Dear Michell, I groom in my busy shop five days per week. I am having bather trouble. I can’t find good bathers. I can’t keep good bathers. My groomers always complain about the bathers.

Our bathers are required to bath, dry, express anal glands, pull ear hair, deshed, demat, clip pads, clip nails, trim around feet, privates and eyes. We pay our bathers minimum wage plus tips, which are pretty good at my shop. Do you have any advice?” —Travis M.

Hello Travis. Ahhh bathers. This is one of the biggest challenges for salon owners, managers and groomers. In all reality, bathers are the backbone of the grooming salon. If they are good producers on a consistent basis, they deserve to be honored as such. However, if they are not, they might be more trouble than they are worth.

Consider having bathers do dogs that do not affect the groomers. Have them service dogs that only need to be seen by a bather. It is often the havoc that it wreaks on everyone else’s day when a bather calls in sick or gets behind that does the most harm. In this scenario, if a bather no–shows, you can simply inform their clients like you would if a groomer no–showed, and then it does not wreck everyone else’s schedule for the day. These dogs could include short–haired dogs, bath–between–groom dogs, and bath–and–tidy dogs. And let’s not forget cats. There are many cats that a bather can do alone. 

Also in this scenario, it can be more beneficial to pay commission instead of hourly. Many people are more motivated by being paid on commission and will produce more. If you decide to pay commission, sit down and run some numbers to see what a feasible commission is for your salon. Often a bather will stick around longer if they are paid better and they feel like they have some control over how much they make.

If you are in a state that does not allow you to pay your employees commission, and you wish to do so, consider offering a base pay that meets the minimum hourly wage and pay their additional “commission” as a bonus. In this scenario, you are still basing the pay on the individual’s production, so it is similar to commission–based pay. Between thirty and thirty five percent commission plus tips is usually far more than minimum wage, but it depends on your salon’s prices. Be sure to consult local employment laws and your CPA for advice.

One of the most challenging aspects of running a grooming salon is managing the schedule. If you have a bather call in sick and they were scheduled to bathe dogs for groomers, who has time to call all of those clients and reschedule them for another day and/or figure out how to get most of them done without calling the client? You may find yourself running triage on the disaster days rather than producing quality grooming yourself. 

A receptionist plays a vital role in a well–functioning salon. They can help tremendously in these situations. Everyone else can continue to produce quality grooming while the receptionist handles the schedule. 

Try advertising to the veterinary community for bathers. Most Certified Veterinary Technicians make excellent bathers and they can often make much more money as bathers than they can as vet techs. Make sure that your job advertisement explains that they will be using many of their tech skills for better pay. They have spent time and money getting their education and it is safe to say that they would not want it to go to waste. 

In the case of a $60, one–hour bath on a Shepherd with nails and deshed, if you pay the bather one third and they make a $5 tip, they will make $25 dollars in that hour. According to Zip Recruiter, Certified Veterinary Technicians make $12–$19 per hour. Keep in mind that $60 for a Shepherd bath is on the low end of the pricing spectrum.

A salon should never pay out more than fifty percent of a service. This means that the bather and the groomer both get their income from fifty percent of the service. If you are paying your groomer a fifty percent commission and then paying a bather on top of that, there is little left over for profit. Your groomers may not like the idea of bathing their own dogs if they have had a bather, but a price increase could help them recuperate some of the lost income.

Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to do a quality bath. Often the bather will be scheduled too many dogs in too little time. This is stressful for the bather, groomer and dog. 

Doodles have taken over much of the schedule these days, and unless you are shaving them, you are doing a considerable amount of dematting. Dematting takes time and it will often set the bather behind. Consider scheduling dogs with unknown factors like dematting or temperament issues as the bather’s last project for the day, so that if it takes longer than expected, it will not affect the entire day’s schedule. On a side note, dematting can be an excellent money maker.

I hope some of these suggestions help you to keep thriving bathers making money! —Michell  ✂️

Have a question you want Michell to answer? Please send questions to [email protected]