It's Okay to Start (and Stay) Small | Groomer to Groomer

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It’s Okay to Start (and Stay) Small

Do you think you need a glamorous grooming salon or a spectacular mobile van with all the bells and whistles to be successful in the pet grooming industry?

Starting at the top with the best of everything is seldom an option for anyone who is just starting out—and that’s perfectly okay. 

When you start small, you can grow at a pace that is right for you. You don’t need to spend $75,000–$100,000 on a vehicle to go mobile. You can buy a used grooming van or trailer, or even convert one yourself. If you want your own business, you don’t have to go deep in debt for a fancy salon in an upscale location. Some groomers have a salon in their own home, which often eliminates a separate rent payment. You can also become a house–call groomer. You still need to have equipment, supplies and insurance, but there are not a lot of other overhead costs.

I started small, and I’m glad I did. When I opened my business many years ago, I converted an enclosed porch on my home into a grooming salon. I bought a used cast iron bathtub for twenty dollars. For a grooming table, I found an old wooden desk with drawers for storage. And, I purchased a brand new stand dryer. 

I got my little area ready to groom, but I had no idea how to run a business—or even how to get new customers to try out my services. I took donuts and a stack of my business cards to each of the local veterinarians and introduced myself. Then I went to the county courthouse and left more business cards at the office where you buy dog licenses. In the beginning, I advertised in the local papers and the yellow pages (I told you it was a long time ago.)

From the very beginning, I was determined to do the best grooming job I could on every pet that came in to my shop, and to give the world’s best customer service. To help me achieve that, I attended every seminar and trade show that I could. I took classes that would help me improve my grooming skills, and ones on customer service and business building. I talked with other groomers at the trade shows and learned about the products and equipment that they used and loved.

My business grew, and soon I had a really nice clientele. I began to form wonderful working relationships with them and their pets. Today my clients all call me “Aunt Kathy,” and that’s a connection that money can’t buy.

Over the years, I have remodeled my salon, put in beautiful cage banks, and installed back–saving equipment like my electric grooming tables and hydraulic bathtub. I would never want to groom without my clipper vacuum system, my bathing system, and all the other time and labor saving equipment I have. But, these improvements didn’t happen all at once. It took time. And, I never went into debt to obtain them. When you have debt, you may be only one injury or one pandemic away from losing a business that took years to build.

Always remember—you are special! Every groomer has or does something that sets them apart from others. Are you a whiz at hand–stripping? Or, is creative grooming and coloring your forte? Capitalize on what makes you and your services unique. As the owner/operator of a small salon, I promote myself as “elite and exclusive.” My customers really love that I am able to give them personalized, one–on–one service in a low–stress atmosphere.

My decision to start and stay small was the perfect choice for me, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I have all the business I can handle and no longer accept new pets. It’s not unusual for one of my clients to come in and tell me a story like this…“I was at the veterinarian with my little Bella last week for her checkup, and a lady came in with her Bichon and immediately began raving about how beautiful Bella is, and she asked me who grooms her. Of course I told her that Bella gets groomed by Aunt Kathy. The woman’s face fell as she said, ‘Oh, I tried to get in with her, but she is not taking any new pets.’”

That’s exactly what you want for your business and yourself. To be in demand. You want people to value you and to feel that it is a privilege to be one of your clients. They appreciate your skills and even get to brag a little because their pets are groomed by you. And, they usually never complain when you have a price increase.

Over the years, I have had other experiences which confirm that you don’t have to be a big business to be recognized as an important fixture in your community. Like the day I was surprised to see Debbie, a teller from the bank, enter my lobby. A woman I didn’t know was with her. Debbie said, “Hi Kathy. This is Carol, the new manager of our bank.” 

Then Carol said, “Kathy, I have heard so much about you. I wanted to stop and meet the famous Aunt Kathy in person and bring you my business card and this gift basket. And if you need anything at all, please call me.”

I was floored, but I tried not to show it. 

When I first opened, pet grooming wasn’t considered a “real” business, and the higher–ups at the bank didn’t even know my name. Now, the new bank manager came to meet me—and she brought me a gift! As I thought about her visit, I recalled the day I took donuts and business cards to all the local veterinarians, and how well that worked for me.

 I have been blessed to have a wonderful career that I truly love. I am still happily grooming in the same little salon where it all began, and I still look forward to each day. I have found my niche and I am not budging from it. Starting (and staying) small can be the best business decision you will ever make.✂️

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Kathy Hosler

Kathy Hosler opened her shop in 1971 when she was just nineteen years old. She has built a terrific business and is still actively grooming today. Kathy is also a feature writer for Groomer To Groomer and Pet Boarding & Daycare Magazines, and has been nominated twice for the Barkleigh Honors Journalist of the Year Award as well as a Cardinal Crystal Achievement Award for Grooming Journalist.

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