By Melissa Viera
Pet groomers are not just stylists; they often act as consultants too. As a pet care professional, your clients will look to you for advice and recommendations when it comes to the grooming and coat care of their pets. They may also ask you questions pertaining to other aspects of pet care. Providing clients with not just tips, but homework tasks that they can do for their pets between grooming appointments, will further build your credibility, and can even shift clients from the occasional customer to loyal fans of your work.
When you visit your own hairstylist you will likely leave with tips and hair care advice to go along with your new style. Hairstylists know the importance of building personal relationships with their clients by giving them trusted advice. If you feel good about your hair for weeks after your appointment, and you get rewarded with positive feedback on your hair, you will be very likely to continue booking appointments, and will gladly refer all of your friends.
“Making realistic recommendations ensures trust in you as their stylist,” says Joanne Pacheco, a hairstylist and owner of Avalon Hair Studio, in Acushnet, Massachusetts. “They always leave happy and comfortable knowing their hair will always look good, and never give them issues,” says Pacheco.
Pet groomers also can provide advice that will help clients keep their pets looking their best, and encourage them to care for their pet’s coats between appointments. Additionally, pet groomers can offer homework that helps to improve a pet’s behavior for grooming time.
Communicating with clients about at home care, when done with tact, can be the foundation for a strong personal relationship. Giving a few simple homework exercises will show your clients that you care for, and understand the individual needs of their pet, and can make a real difference in the pet’s coat condition and behavior for grooming.
A lot can happen in the few weeks between grooming appointments. Pets can quickly become matted without proper maintenance. One of the most common homework tasks you will find yourself giving to your clients is how to properly brush and comb their pets. For clients who want to keep their pets in any style other than a shave down, brushing homework is especially important.
Many clients will claim they brush and comb their pets daily, and in many cases, they actually do take the brush to their pet’s coats on a regular basis. The problem is that without knowing how to properly brush their pets clients are wasting a lot of time; and they do not understand how their pets are still full of mats. If they truly want to keep their pets in a longer style, clients must either commit to daily brushing or make more frequent appointments with you for brush and comb work between full grooms.
As their groomer you can help clients decide which approach is best for their schedule, style requests, and budget. To avoid making your clients feel embarrassed, or putting them on the spot, it is important to use non-judgmental wording that shows your clients you are sincere. Your goal is to draw out your client’s potential, not simply tell them what they should be doing.
Your client will be more likely to succeed with your homework recommendations if they feel good about doing it. Be aware of your wording, along with your body language, gestures, and tone as you bring up sensitive subjects with your clients. Keep in mind that most clients view their pets as valued family members, and if you accuse them of not brushing their pets at home it could make them very defensive.
To initiate a conversation about at home care with a client, Roy Laferriere of Roy-L Groomingdales, in Centerville, MA, has an alternative way of asking them about brushing without making it seem like he is accusing his clients of not doing the work. Laferriere will ask, “How are you maintaining the coat at home?” This will get the conversation started with less chance of offending your clients.
In many cases, clients are brushing their pets, but just not properly or frequently enough. “You can show them how to properly line-brush if they were not previously doing it,” says Laferriere. If your clients decide to take your recommendations, they will see the results of more productive brushing, and if they find that brushing is just too time consuming, they will be more likely to understand when you have to give their pets a shorter style.
Not every client will comply with your homework on the first attempt, and some won’t at all, but giving them personal recommendations will show them that you care about their individual pets.
“If ninety-nine percent of my clientele refuse to budge and want shave down after shave down, I do what they want. I will suggest my ideology, never force it”, says Riza Wisnom, a groomer of 30 years located in Maryland, who specializes in unique creations and pattered cuts. Wisnom believes that taking the time to provide homework recommendations helps to build personal relationships with clients.
“It fosters a very healthy respect for what I do as a professional. They feel that you’re invested in them personally”, says Wisnom. To further encourage clients to follow her advice, Wisnom displays a big wall of full colored mounted photographs that she calls her «glamor work».
“With this wall directly behind me as I’m engaging with the client, he or she gets a visual for what their dog could look like if they put in the necessary effort at home or pay me to do it. It has worked wonders, having that wall. Because of that wall the client seeks me out for advice on maintenance tips and proper scheduling, I don’t have to prod or cajole,” says Wisnom.
Another technique for encouraging clients to comply with your recommendations is giving them real life examples of clients who were successful. “I tell them about clients that have used our tips and now have a happy, healthy pup, and the pet parents are now happy,” Says Michelle Conlan, owner of Go Fetch! in New Bedord, Massachusetts.
Conlan finds that the conversation about at home care can go smoothly when you are a good listener. “Ask questions and show you are offering advice because you are generally concerned about the welfare of their pet. Let them know that the situation has happened with other pet parents. For example: they are not the only one with a dog that has skin issues,” says Conlan.
Learning how to encourage compliance, and set limits at the same time is an important skill to have as a pet care professional. It is exciting to see clients taking your advice, but you will also encounter the occasional client who always seems to flood you with questions, concerns, or just needs your constant attention in some way. It is important to know how to manage these types of clients too. Be very clear and upfront with your clients. The more experience you have managing different types of clients, the better you will become.
Homework for the behavioral side of grooming is just as important as the upkeep of pet’s coats. Pets who are fearful for grooming need many positive experiences with the aspects of grooming that are triggers for them in order to change their response. By requiring more frequent appointments, and giving clients areas to work on with their pets at home, you can help pets who were once very difficult to groom become calm and well-behaved for the experience.
Even pets you have considered turning away can become some of your most well-behaved clients with work. In some cases, it might just be one aspect of grooming that makes a pet nervous. This can result in the entire groom being stressful. If a pet is fearful of the sound of the clippers, having their paws handled, or their face trimmed for example, you can give your clients some counter-conditioning exercises that they can do at home.
Provide a check list of simple exercises and encourage clients to show you how many they can check off by their next visit. You can even offer incentives like a special add on service, a wall of fame with all of the pets who have completed the check list, or even a onetime discount for checking off all of the items on your check list.
A few examples of things clients should give their dogs positive experiences with include; paw handling, sounds of clippers and dryers, pressure applied to nails, face handling, and ear cleaning. Even if your clients don’t have access to grooming tools they can find items that make similar sounds at home or even use recorded sounds.
Show your clients the most effective way to expose their pets to these experiences by having them pair the experiences with high value rewards, and keep exposure to a very minimum. These exercises should never make a pet nervous or anxious because they are exposed to these things in such small doses. Not all pets will be good candidates for this type of work without the guidance of a professional trainer or behavior consultant, so be sure you understand which pets need a more in depth approach with a professional in this area.
It is especially important that young puppies are introduced to all aspects of grooming early on to ensure a future of enjoyable grooms. You might find that your clients not only enjoy these training exercises, but are very excited about showing you how many they can check off before their next appointment. Always let your clients know how appreciative you are for them putting in the effort to help their pets learn to love, not fear grooming time.
There are many forms of homework that you can give to clients. A quick spoken tip at pick up time, a printout, a newsletter with general tips, or a demonstration are all options. Whichever types of homework you choose to give, be sure that it not only helps your clients, but it’s also in the best interest of your business.
Use all of your tools wisely to save time and better your business. For example; if you decide to put out a monthly newsletter with grooming tips, also use this as a marketing tool. Email marketing programs allow you to run special promotions which can be especially useful during slow seasons.
You can’t give every client a twenty-minute private grooming session at pick up time, or you would never get any work done, and you would inevitably lose money. Consider keeping printouts on common tips that you can hand to clients, or hang instructional posters in clear sight. If you enjoy giving more in depth recommendations you could try offering an at home grooming tips workshop every so often that you can charge for.
When you do give personalized recommendations be sure to jot down what you recommend alongside your grooming notes, so when the client returns you know what they have been working on. There are even options for scheduling software programs that allow you to add notes alongside client information for a quick visual, and less time wasted flipping through index cards.
When giving any homework, only do so if you are completely confident with the results of your recommendations. It’s easy to get caught up in conversations and start giving tips that you might only have a vague knowledge on. Never give tips that are outside of your field or knowledge base. Always have a list of professionals you can refer clients to for questions on behavior, nutrition, training, and anything medical.
The tips that you give should be ones that you have had a lot of personal experience with. Keep in mind that in order for homework to build client trust it must pay off for the clients. Unless you are sure that what you are advising works; don’t share it!
Your clients will look to you for your expertise and they will respect you even more when they see the difference in their pets from following your advice. Homework helps to encourage clients to take part in their pet’s grooming. For the clients who dream of clean, flowing coats, but just don’t have the time, starting a conversation about at home care can open the door to getting their pets on a more frequent schedule at your salon.
Clients will always surprise you. With your guidance, tips, and motivation you can turn the client that came to you for the first time with a matted dog that had only been groomed a handful of times into an every six week customer who combs regularly between appointments.
Talk with your clients positively, and be careful not to place blame on them if they are not keeping up with their pets. Every person has a different situation, and if you take time to listen and help them be successful with at home maintenance you can have a huge impact in the lives of their pets.