The phone rings, and when I answer it I hear, “Do you groom cats?” Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get a call like that. When I started grooming many years ago, I was seldom asked that question. But, times have really changed.
That phone call got me wondering if other stylists were also being inundated by people needing their cats groomed. I know there are some groomers who wouldn’t touch a cat with a 10–foot pole. But of those of us that do groom cats, I was curious about how many find it to be a lucrative, satisfying part of their business. So, I interviewed some stylists who love grooming cats, and got their views on why they prefer to groom cats and what they enjoy most about it.
I asked Justine Cosley, a Nationally Certified Master Groomer (NCMG), Certified Feline Master Groomer (CFMG) and winning creative grooming competitor, who operates a cats–only salon, Cat Around Town Grooming (C.A.T. Grooming), why she no longer grooms dogs.
“I made the decision to go cats–only because there is such a need for people who specialize in cats,” says Justine. “We get so many that have been turned away from other grooming shops. We aren’t taking new customers unless they are referred by veterinarians for behavior issues or are too old to be sedated. We know we are sometimes their last resort. I love being able to be there for those cats that need us the most.
“I would never go back to grooming dogs,” Justine continues. “I do miss it sometimes, but cats are in my blood. Grooming bad cats that no one else can do—those are my trophies now.”
When I asked Justine to comment on some of the things that make cat grooming more enjoyable for her than dog grooming, she said, “Some of the best things about being cats–only are no black nails, no plucking ear hair, no shaving faces, pads or poodle feet, and nothing over 35 pounds. And, when it rains, they don’t come in covered in mud because they come in carriers.
“Additionally, cat owners tend to be more appreciative than dog owners, and will flat out tell you if their cat is a butthead. Cats really aren’t that bad; they just have a bad reputation. That’s okay because it helps me charge more for a cat than I could for a dog,” Justine concludes.
Then, I spoke to Aubrey Bird, who is the owner–operator of The Little Bird Stop. She also began her career grooming dogs.
“When I was a new groomer, I worked at a corporate salon,” shares Aubrey. “I would often help the cat groomers with difficult felines. The more seasoned groomers encouraged me to start grooming cats.
“My favorite thing about grooming cats is getting to know all their individual personalities. It’s also nice how much the owners appreciate me. They’re just so happy to find someone to help their kitty.”
Since Aubrey has groomed both dogs and cats, I asked her if she used a similar technique for both of them.
“I have found that cat grooming is very different from grooming dogs,” Aubrey said. “In dog grooming, the dynamic is more you are in charge and the dog listens to you. This isn’t true for every dog, but for the most part, dogs are more eager to please and will follow your direction or lead.
“With cats,” Aubrey continues, “I feel more like we’re working together. It’s a compromise. You have to work within the cat’s comfort zone. Never force a service on a cat who can’t tolerate it. The energy of the groomer can drastically affect the cat too. It is so important to stay calm and confident when handling a cat.”
Lynn Paolillo is a lifelong cat owner, but she started her career by grooming dogs.
“I loved seeing the transformation that a groom could do—soft, fluffy hair, happy pup and happy owner,” recalls Lynn. “Soon I thought, ‘why can’t I do the same for cats?’ I attended seminars and took classes, then went through the National Cat Groomers Institute’s program and earned my CFMG (Certified Feline Master Groomer) certification in 2011. A year later I joined their team as an instructor and Certifier.”
I asked Lynn to comment on why she now prefers to cater to a cats–only clientele.
“I love how quiet my salon, Cat Naps Cattery, is,” shared Lynn with a smile of sheer contentment. “I am much less stressed at the end of the day. My body is thankful that I’m not lugging big hairy dogs back and forth. Also, I do a lot of grooming and drying while sitting down.”
Then Lynn adds, “In addition, I’m able to charge a premium price because I offer a service with very little competition, which helps me plan for growth, retirement and not living paycheck to paycheck.”
When I spoke to Kage Coven of Come Stay and Play Pet Resort, he told me that grooming cats just came natural to him.
“Honestly, I have just always felt a deeper connection with cats,” says Kage. “It’s like we have an understanding. I love the feeling of accomplishment and knowing that I’m helping these cats have a safe, healthy, happy life. I also love the rapport I have with my customers because of the work I do.”
Kage works on both dogs and cats, so I asked him if he had any suggestions for working on cats.
“Cat grooming is different from dog grooming in many ways. Cats don’t usually stand for their grooms, so you’re dealing with an animal curled up in a ball most of the time,” says Kage. “Trust yourself as an expert. Know what you do well in dog grooming and find a way to translate that into the cat world. If you feel uncomfortable, unsure or afraid—say no. It will not be the end of the world if you turn down a service that you aren’t 100 percent confident can be done safely for the pet (and you).”
Sandra Gonyea, owner of Fur Real Mobile Pet Spa has been grooming dogs and cats for 47 years. In 2013 she started her mobile business which catered to dogs under 50 pounds and to cats. She is no longer accepting dogs, and plans to be completely feline exclusive by 2021. I asked Sandra why she decided to go with a cats–only mobile business.
“The reasons I chose to go cat exclusive are many,” says Sandra. “In 2017, I took a long, hard look at my business, and asked, ‘How am I different? How can I stand out in the crowd? What services can I offer that other mobiles do not?’ The solution was to focus on my cat grooming services. Good cat groomers were few and far between. But I needed to do it right. Continuing education and certification were the answer for me.
“Cats are generally quicker to do and I can charge more,” Sandra continues. “My average ticket has gone up significantly and I work less hours. I especially love how quiet cats are. Yes, you get the occasional talker, but it is nothing compared to a salon full of barking, whining dogs. With no distractions, you can stay focused. It’s amazing how much better you feel without all that noise.
“And finally, I find cat owners to be so much more appreciative of the work I do. Because good cat groomers are hard to find, they tip well, and tell their friends. With education, they rebook and stay on schedule,” Sandra says.
I found that not everyone transitions from dog grooming to cats. Deborah Hansen is proof of that.
“I actually don’t have any professional dog grooming experience,” says Deborah. “I was a kindergarten teacher. Learning to groom my own cat was on my bucket list. I found out about the National Cat Groomers Institute of America, attended the school session and earned my CFMG (Certified Feline Master Groomer) in March 2013.”
Deborah then opened Kitty’s Purrfect Spa, an exclusive house–call cat grooming business.
“I have always believed that house–call is the best environment for a feline to be groomed,” says Deborah. “Unfortunately, with COVID–19 and stay–at–home orders, it limits house–call grooming in many places.”
I asked Deborah if she could give some suggestions on where to start if you think you might want to groom cats.
“For someone who thinks they might be interested in grooming cats, but unsure where to start, I recommend looking into resources like Groomer To Groomer magazine,” shares Deborah. “Then start following people you are curious about on social media. Look for cat grooming–specific groups. Ask questions. Then, when you are ready, invest in a high–quality cat grooming school.”
Cat grooming is big business. Although there are more groomers than ever before who specialize in cats, the feline part of the grooming industry is still underserved. Could cat grooming be your next venture? ✂️