By Deborah Hansen
A client who likes you, believes in the services you provide and who is faithful to your company is the most valuable asset your business can have. It is worth your time to set expectations for your clients and to give them the education they need to meet those expectations.
Taking the time to teach your clients how to brush their cats, prepare for a grooming appointment and recognizing the importance of veterinary care can go a long way in helping your clients become fabulous. But after you have invested time into improving the client relationship and things just are not working out, it is time to break up.
Breaking up is hard to do. The groomer, business owner and cat owner all will react differently to the termination of service. It causes stress and anxiety on the groomer because they want the best for the cat. The business owner fears the loss of income. The cat owner is often sent into desperation and panic because they value your services and cannot see any other options at that moment.
The first thing you need to establish is why the client is not a good fit for your business. In my business, there are four main categories of clients I break up with: when the cat is too aggressive, when there are work environment issues, when the owner neglects the cat’s needs or when the cat has medical concerns that are not being met.
Breaking Up with Aggressive Cats
When a cat is too aggressive for your skill or comfort level, you need to decline service for your personal safety and wellbeing. When I was a new feline groomer, I accepted five of what I was calling “highly aggressive” cats. All five cats were on six–week schedules. The following summer I was hospitalized for a cat bite. When the realization hit that I could lose my house if I had another serious injury, I started turning down highly aggressive cats. I knew many groomers turned away clients, and I did not expect this decision to be a problem. After all, my ability to earn a living was at stake.
What came next, I was not prepared for. When I started telling these five families that their veterinarians could provide the necessary grooming, I was stunned at what I learned. The first cat owner immediately confessed that the vet would only see him in a trap cage. The next owner started crying and said Animal Control had to extricate the last cat she had, and believed this cat would meet the same fate. The third owner was angry and stated the cat was going to die a pelted mess because she can’t get him to the vet, and if she could, none of the local vets would see him again. The other two owners had similar stories.
This brought me to the realization I was accepting clients that I should not have been grooming. It does not matter what your definition of aggressive is—if you are putting your health, limbs and livelihood in danger, it is not the cat for you to groom.
Breaking Up with Work Environment
For a house–call cat groomer, work environment sometimes refers to the overall cleanliness of the home, but it could also be a lack of ventilation, a work area that is too hot or low water pressure. In a salon setting, work environment could mean owners that hover, are verbally abusive or are always late for pick–up.
I always give the owners a chance to fix my work environment. As a house–call groomer, my main concern is a clean place to work with a reasonable temperature and good ventilation. Some strategies I use are clearly stating what I need for my work environment on my website and in my client reminder emails. I also document the temperature and humidity at each grooming session on the client’s itemized receipt.
When I can no longer service a client due to work environment, it is the most difficult category of client for me to break up with. I always want to make sure they do not see the termination of service as a personal attack on their lifestyle.
Breaking Up with Neglect
These are the kitties that need us the most. The first visit is always a pelt removal, at which I offer a free eight–week consult. These clients tend to cancel this free consultation appointment. Then sixteen months later, they call for another pelt removal. Again, I offer an eight–week free consult that is declined or canceled. I make it clear I will not do another pelt removal for their cat. At the third call, sixteen months later, I tell the owner I will only service their cat if they commit to a regular schedule. Sometimes they do, most often they don’t. When the fourth appointment request comes in, I decline service.
Breaking Up with Unmet Medical Needs
We have all had clients with cats we know need veterinary care, yet the owner would rather pay for a groom than the vet. While we may never understand the logic in their thinking, it is always better to refuse service than to have a cat go into medical distress in your care.
With cats that we suspect are not getting the medical care they need, it is important to decline service at check–in. For these cats, I require a letter from the veterinarian stating that the cat is healthy enough for a groom.
How Do We Break Up
Terminating service is never easy. The best policy is honesty. In my business, I do not schedule the next appointment. When the owner asks for an appointment, I am clear and to the point; I can no longer groom Kitty (she is too aggressive for my comfort level), (the temperature and humidity get too high for Kitty’s and my safety), (I know she is in pain from her coat condition, there is nothing else I can do), (I fear she is going to have a medical crisis in my care). Then I direct them to their veterinarian for a referral to a different groomer.
Breaking up with a client is never easy because we love their cat. When grooming their cat puts your safety or livelihood in danger, causes emotional stress, or when grooming can result in the death of a cat, terminating service for that client is always the best option. ✂️