The pandemic has changed many things in our lives. Even while we are still in it, we are seeing the dramatic impact on our world and in our economic lives. One thing we pet care professionals know for sure is, there has been a huge increase in the companion dog population in the United States and throughout the world because of the pandemic. While this has been great for homebound people and pets, it has also made the existing groomer shortage seem even more severe.
THE LAWS OF SUPPLY & DEMAND
Actually, there isn’t exactly a groomer shortage; there are more groomers now than ever before. We are living, however, with a supply and demand problem. Various statistical sources track the pet population increase at 24%–30% in dog ownership just in the last year in the United States alone. And because there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in groomers, veterinarians, kennels or trainers to staff the needs of all these new dogs and cats, our pet care industry is feeling the impact of this sudden population growth in pet ownership.
The Charlotte Ledger published an article on June 24, 2021 that stated, “The dogs are scruffy, with no end in sight: Charlotte dog groomers are overloaded as a worker shortage collides with an increase in dog ownership.”
Charlotte–area radio station WFAE ran an interview on the topic in which the reporter said, “Well, we called five different pet groomers in Charlotte and the first five that we called rolled over into voicemail and said they weren’t taking new clients. But the ones that you can find, it’s taking several weeks to get in…So, there are big problems in the world. Having to wait a little longer for a pet groomer maybe isn’t one of them, but it’s an interesting trend.”
In an article published by Daily Voice from New Rochelle, New York on May 23, 2021, they shared about the subject: “With the rise in new pet owners has come a demand for veterinary, grooming, and training services for the millions of new animals being adopted during the pandemic that some businesses are struggling to keep up with.”
On July 26, 2021, The Berkshire Edge published an article with the headline: “Pet Services Hammered by Pandemic Puppy Boom—Increased pet ownership has ratcheted up the need for daycare and training.” The article discussed statistics from the ASPCA: “The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates that 23 million U.S. households acquired a new pet between March 2020 and May 2021 and, according to Rover.com, 13 percent were first–time pet owners.”
The pet industry has to make rapid adjustments, just like other pandemic–transformed industries such as restaurants, school systems, businesses, and the sports and entertainment fields. Almost everyone has had to learn new ways of doing their work. Many veterinarians are in triage mode almost every day. People with new dogs and cats are having to go to extraordinary lengths to wait for, and even to find, a veterinary appointment, a trainer or a groomer. Groomers in more populated areas everywhere are scrambling to hire more help, train up new staff, and learn new and better ways to manage our scheduling demands as best we can.
Hopefully, you have already raised your prices, prioritized your best regular customers and taken steps to manage your own schedule to prevent burnout. We are running a marathon, not a sprint. We must protect our own wellbeing for the long haul.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
Now more than ever, it is important that you take some quiet time to self–assess. What can you realistically manage long–term that meets both your financial needs and also those of your own physical and mental health? Stress can be bad for us—unrelenting stress is even more so.
While this bubble in the size of the pet population progresses through the next decade, we will be coping with the increased demand for our grooming services for years to come. We should look ahead ten years to when we will all see a huge spike in the number of geriatric pets. It is foreseeable that this may be unlike anything we have seen before and will require advanced planning to address how we groom more special needs seniors, how we book our schedules, price our time, and how we train our employees or work with our co–workers and supervisors.
A HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY
I choose to see this time as a historic opportunity for our industry. It has long been said that necessity is the mother of invention. When it is required—as it clearly is now—we groomers can be a very creative bunch. We can step up with inventive ways to cope with this transformed industry. We can all find ways to improve our efficiency. We absolutely must learn self–care. We must talk to and educate our clients—even more than before. We must raise our prices. We must plan ahead better. We must train more groomers. And we must make difficult decisions as to when to say “no.”
Start with you. First, look inside yourself. Have an honest conversation in the mirror. Even better; write down a list of issues and challenges. Putting things in writing often helps to clarify one’s own thinking. Create a quiet place and time where you will not be distracted. Give yourself at least 20 quiet minutes alone. Then take a deep breath, relax and focus. List your priorities. Identify where you need to make changes in your life and your work to stay healthy, make a good living and handle exterior pressures. Only after you have created the private space to truly reflect on your own priorities can you then have the necessary conversations with clients, co–workers, bosses or employees.
LEARNING TO SAY “NO”
Learning to say “no” is especially important for groomers right now. Saying it with kindness, respect and while educating people with care is always the right way to do it. This isn’t about being confrontational—it is about educating, practicing self–preservation, and being wise in planning and management.
Now is a very good time to set the high standards in your grooming that you have always wanted to set. No groomer right now has to work for a very low wage or illegal financial arrangements, or in an unhealthy work environment. And no groomer, from this day forward, needs to ever do things we know are wrong for the dog or for our businesses in order to cater to an unreasonable client.
Remember, you are the professional; you are the expert. A client who urges you to do something that you know is not in the best interest of the pet is no longer someone you have to accommodate. We don’t tell our doctors how to treat us, or dictate to any other service professional how to do their job. You can, for example, as I have recently done in my own shop, require every client to come on a four– to six–week or monthly schedule. This is, of course, what is best for the dogs.
You can tell the clients what services their dogs need and then tell them that is what you will be doing if they want to come to you for grooming. Always explain why, what you are doing and how often you have to do it. The best interests of the dogs must be communicated in a way that they understand—especially if you are making a change in their grooming protocols.
Instead of worrying about how much work we now have to do, see this as a time of opportunity. We should all feel good about how the increased demand for our services can translate into better care of the dogs, better earnings, better self–care, and greater respect for how hard we work and how skilled we are. ✂️