Crisis in the Pet Service Industry! Where Are We Going to Find All These People?

Grooming Business Basics

By Khris Berry

The pet service industry has experienced exponential growth year by year and decade by decade. As the pet reigns supreme in the household, so does the pet service provider in the tool box of professionals who are helping pet owners provide cutting–edge, necessary care for their pets.

Previously, the veterinarian was the king of the pet professionals—and that sector of pet care still provides necessary medical and wellness care for the pets of the world. But the pet groomer has emerged in recent years as an invaluable regular resource for pet owners. 

To understand the complex relationship between pet owners and pet groomers, let’s take a walk down memory lane. 

Three decades ago, Russell contracted a pet professional to provide grooming and boarding services for his German Shepherd, King. Russell was an “animal” person and had grown up with livestock as well as many miscellaneous pets in his lifetime. When Russell needed to hire a pet professional, he already knew what care King needed—he knew what, why, where, who and when to turn to provide basic needs and care for his own animal. Russell knew what to feed King, how to enforce basic good behavior, and when he needed medical or skin and coat care. He relied on his own experiences and perhaps those handed down by his own family to provide a comfortable life for King. 

About two decades ago, Mark contracted the services of a local pet professional for his Scottish Terrier, Lady. At the initial meeting with Mark and Lady, he identified as a “dog” person. Mark had researched the perfect breed, spoken with several breeders, bought dog care and behavior books at the local book store, and spent a lot of time learning what Lady would need to become a valued pet in his household. It was important to Mark that Lady be well–behaved, handsome and healthy. He hired a dog trainer, enrolled her in a new local dog daycare a few days each week, and found a local veterinarian as well as a trusted local groomer. Mark was passionate about his care choices for Lady, and while he didn’t know initially all of the broad spectrum care she needed, he quickly found professionals who could provide the services he desired. He learned about her complete care and embraced the responsibility of pet ownership. 

About a decade ago (loosely), Jenny became the owner of a Maltese named Jynx. Jenny lived with a dog growing up and wanted her children to enjoy the same experience. She chose Jynx because she wanted a small, non–shedding breed. Jenny called Jynx her “fur baby” and quickly learned that dog ownership was going to be more complicated than she realized. She visited her local veterinarian and, upon his recommendation, found a groomer to remove the matting which Jynx had already acquired. She quizzed the groomer, the local pet supermarket clerk and the school carpool line to find a kibble that Jynx liked. She scoured the internet for articles on housetraining and how to stop Jynx from barking at the mailman and nipping at her childrens’ hands. Jenny increasingly relied on the professionals around her to be a resource in every aspect of Jynx’s care—nutrition, skin and coat, and behavior, just to name a few. Jenny wanted an experience for her family but was not prepared for the complex behavioral, social or care needs of a different species living in her home. 

How many of your customers are Russells? How many Marks do you have in your client database? And how many Jennies enter your pet business—lost and looking for guidance on how to care for the animal they brought into their home? 

The American Pet Products Association reports that millennials are now the primary pet–owning demographic, at 35 percent of US Pet owners to baby boomers at 32 percent. According to the APPA, US Pet ownership overall increased between 2014 and 2016, and spending in the US Pet industry increased between 2015 and 2016. The APPA biennial survey of pet owners found that 84.6 million US households owned pets in 2016, up 6.1 percent from 2014. Millennials account for half of that increase. Spending on pet services such as grooming, boarding, walking, training and daycare increased 6.5 percent to $5.76 billion in 2016.

That’s a lot of people; and that’s a whole lot of pets who are seeking the services of a pet professional. As seen in our history lesson above, while we have more and more pet owners seeking our services as groomers, we have fewer and fewer pet owners who are essentially equipped to understand the complex needs of their pets. And they are increasingly turning to the pet service provider which they visit more often than any other—their groomer, for answers and help.

Is there a crisis looming that the pet–owning public doesn’t realize? According to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of animal care and service workers is projected to grow 22 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than average for all occupations. The US Department of Labor suggest that employment growth along with high job turnover should result in very good job opportunities. But for the pet–owning public, and the already overwhelmed grooming industry, does this signal opportunity or a warning that an impending storm is upon us? 

Where will we find the increased number of pet professionals to service these pets? This increase alone means that over 64,000 new pet professionals (non–veterinarian) will be needed by 2026 to service the demand for our services collectively. Are we as an industry equipped to encourage, train, employ and mentor 64,000 new pet professionals in under a decade?

What can we do as an industry?

Public outreach programs in every community to encourage new job–seekers to enter the pet services field can be a great first step. Many career development counselors are beginning to encourage graduates to reconsider skilled trades as careers. 

As the cost of a traditional college education rises, coupled with lower graduation and employment rates for college graduates, skilled trades are getting a second look. Reaching out to high schools, trade and vocational schools in your area, and attending local job fairs can help bring awareness about long–term job opportunities in pet grooming. 

Public education will be key during this transitional and high growth period. The pet–owning public is often unaware about the depth of training and high degree of technical skills required to be a successful pet groomer. Begin by educating your own customers about your training, education, skill set—and don’t be bashful about disclosing the dangers associated with your job. It will help them to understand and value you as a professional. As the demand for your services rises, so should the value of your service. Create respect and value with professionalism.

Groomer education will also be key to keeping up with the demand for our services. Both new and long–time groomers will continue to seek and master skills needed to provide not only beautiful styles, but safe experiences for every pet. People who are new to the pet services industry will need guidance and direction to know where to begin to find quality education. Be prepared to mentor new stylists; be prepared to develop relationships with existing groomers in your community and beyond so that you can create your own support network. 

Compassion and career fatigue are a real concern and every working pet professional should develop their own care network. The industry needs all of you to stay strong, coach and welcome a new generation of pet professionals into our ranks.

Safety will always be at the forefront of any discussion with pet services. Diligent attention to handling, safe practices and creating safe environments for pets will be ever more important as the industry experiences the predicted growth. Many pet professionals and stylists will focus on learning new marketing strategies, the latest new styles, or new equipment innovations, but understanding that continued attention to pet safety and best practices will be a platform which every pet owner will value and every professional should practice. This will be critical to navigating the waters of growth for the industry.

Finally, establishing good business practices for the grooming industry is a key component. Pet business owners will need to establish or restructure their business models to provide legal and fair employment for pet service professionals. By establishing profitable and self–sustaining business practices, employees can find better footing with competitive wages to commiserate for the danger of their jobs, enjoy benefits such as paid time off (for compassion fatigue and work/life balance) and health insurance. 

Healthier employees, both physically and emotionally, will translate into better care for the pets. There is an old adage about the cost of keeping an employee versus finding a new one. Let’s have discussions as an industry about how to rethink business models, create even playing fields, and provide legal and sustainable structure for the betterment of employees, owners and pet owners. No one wins if a groomer burns out; no one wins if a shop owner is forced to close their doors. 

Skilled trades are seeing renewed focus, business owners can revisit their markets and restructure their operations to reflect legal structures abiding by federal state and local laws. Pet businesses can utilize this growth to ensure that they are operating with sustainability and profitability —providing benefits such as health care, paid time off and other once rare perks for employees. By building better workplaces, groomers and pet service employees can reduce injury, reduce career and compassion fatigue and increase their earning capacity to build stable, sustainable personal lives.

Let’s encourage and welcome new groomers to our ranks. All of those pets and their owners are going to come looking for a qualified, happy, healthy, educated pet professional—let’s help them find one. ✂️


References:

United States Department of Labor-Bureau of Labor Statistics https://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/animal-care-and-service-workers.htm