By Missi Salzberg
One of the most satisfying experiences from working closely with people that love pets is helping them solve problems with their four-legged babies. Whether it is a simple recommendation for a safe chew toy or completely changing the diet of a pet that suffers from allergies, as professional groomers, each and every day we willingly and lovingly share our “groomer’s intellectual property.” This is the vast knowledge base we have accrued and absorbed from years of caring for pets, networking with veterinarians and other alternative therapists, and simply having our hands, ears, noses, and eyes on dogs and cats every day of our working life, all day long.
My customers will frequently remark, “You should have been a vet!” Honestly, I don’t think I could handle the level of loss my vet friends face every day. I know that the loss is offset by great triumphs and successes, but I’m a crier, okay? I’m a disaster those few times a month we lose one of our grooming kids. All of my respect to the life savers out there. I’ll stick to making them gorgeous and keeping them healthy in the first place!
I do, however, have a lot of solid knowledge floating around in my noggin, and I try to educate and support my customers whenever possible. I know that many of you do the same thing. Our customers look to us for guidance and information every day. They turn to us for help because we already have an established relationship based on trust and connectivity with their pets. I cannot stress to you enough that a person consciously choosing you to care for their baby is not a decision they make lightly, for our ideal customer is that pet owner that consider their dogs and cats members of their family. Whether it’s the lady with the Bassett with terrible ear funk or the nervous little Italian Greyhound that gets sick every time his owner takes him out for a ride in the car, we listen closely, share our own experience, and recommend possible solutions.
On one level, I highly recommend that you give away your knowledge! Share your ideas, your solutions, your stories, and the things you have learned over a career lifetime as a professional groomer. On the other hand, once you offer up all of that wisdom, what’s next? When the customer responds, “Thank you so much! Do you have that ear cleaner in stock?” do you reply, “Of course. Let me get it for you,” and make an extra $10 in profit, or do you say, “Uh, no, but Joe’s Pet Paradise down the street has it.” Worse even still, send them to the box store down the road that has no connection to them and their pet whatsoever, unless, of course, they happen to be a stockholder! You may as well send Joe your regards and a gratuity for taking such good care of your customer while you’re at it!
All right! Settle down, Miss! I am serious, though, my professional pet care sisters and brothers! You have everything every business in the world wants! The secret to success! The key to the city! You already have a clientele that loves you, and no amount of market research, analysis, or advertising can buy that kind of devotion. So what are you waiting for? Why aren’t you retailing today?
Here are the top four excuses I have heard over 20 years of teaching business classes to groomers:
I don’t have time! I’m on the clock, and I have a dog going home every 3.5 minutes!
I don’t have the space!
I tried it, and no one bought anything!
There are no distributors that will do small deliveries!
Let’s take these on one by one.
Like anything else worthwhile, you have to make time. Your hands will not last forever. At some point, you will want the opportunity to possibly man the front room and have a grooming staff caring for the animals. There is also this to consider: grooming one dog makes a certain level of profit. Once you factor in all of your overhead, including utilities, shampoo, staff (if you have other people working with you), advertising, rent or mortgage, etc., figure out how much you are actually making. Figure out the amount of time it takes to make that profit. Then consider this: this morning I had customer ask about a good supplement for her Golden with dry skin. She then wanted a Red Sox collar and leash (World Series Champs!). Before she left, she also picked up some treats and Pill Pockets. Within less than five minutes, I rang up a sale for over $90.00, of which over $40.00 was pure profit. Huh. Retailing BOOSTS the bottom line. Poor Joe at Pet Paradise is out of luck!
You can be very creative with space, even a minimal amount, to add a little retail. Whether it is a simple slat wall behind the checkout area to display some collars and leashes or a spin rack with tasty treats next to the register, every little bit of income stream helps. A small selection of impulse items priced below $10 are what I call “no-brainers.” A little toy or bag of snacks for the guilty pet owner picking up is a great little add-on. If I were going to choose a selection of “must-haves” on hand, I would think about those things that are most commonly brought up in our grooming shops (e.g. nail clippers and styptic, breath products, brushes, teething toys, eye stain products, etc.).
Perhaps the things you offered weren’t really what people needed and wanted. My dad used to have the worst, most gaudy faux diamond, gold metal collars at the old shop. They looked like they belonged in a museum! I think they may actually be in a museum now as artifacts. One groomer I visited in Connecticut had every breed of little dog statues taking up an entire display case under her register. Wonder why she wasn’t selling anything? A dear friend with a very high-end boutique was psyched when she sold one of her $100 sweaters, but with one sale each month or so, it just wasn’t adding up! You have to put in front of people product that they want, that they identify, and hopefully that they will need again. I sell an enormous amount of dog food, and they have to come back week after week after week to keep feeding their babies. Really effective breath solutions are another product people will come back for over and over again. Eye stain products, as well as ear solutions, are another repeat product. Topical flea and tick products are sold in many areas year round. Give the people what they want!
There are plenty of small distributors and catalog companies that cater to smaller businesses. It may take a little searching, but they are out there. As a matter of fact, if you attend one of Barkleigh’s trade shows, you can meet them in person! Many offer free shipping if you meet a minimum, and inside sales reps can even talk to you about their more popular products. Some of these catalog companies even cater to small businesses by offering consumers products they’ll never find in box stores. If you’d like some suggestions, shoot me an email at [email protected] and tell me what you’re looking for.
As an independent business that already offers your customers so many things that are rather hard to find in this day and age, like compassion, familiarity, first-name recognition, and a genuine love for their bestie, cashing in on your own “groomer intellectual property” is, to me, an easy choice. How many times have your customers called you first—before the vet, before a friend—to share a concern with a health problem with their pet, a complaint that their dog’s appetite is off, or their cat is huckin’ up hairballs? Each and every day, on some level, at some point, you are putting it out there. All that you know can really help your business grow!
As far as Joe down at Pet Paradise, I wish him all the best, but he’d best keep his paws off of my customers!