When Torrance, California–area dog owners look for a groomer, they’ll likely come across Lucky Dawg. That’s because the family–run business is one of the largest in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area—with ten mobile pet grooming vans and a luxury brick–and–mortar location.
Owner Mike Butler says, “As a dog and cat groomer myself, I am passionate about raising the standards within the pet grooming industry. Our goal is to provide the best customer service experience for our customers and ensure the pets receive one–on–one care and attention. Ninety–nine percent of our grooms are completed and picked up within two hours.”
A native of England, Mike was a certified automotive mechanical and electrical engineer and area manager of the service and parts departments for 13 car dealerships in his previous career. However, he loved animals, and a family visit to California inspired his career change.
“My sister had married an American man and been living in California for twenty years. In 2004, we came on vacation and fell in love with the weather. My sister called a mobile groomer to groom her dog, and I got talking with the groomer. The groomer wanted to retire,” Mike shares.
Mike says he went home to England and worked out the finances. “I discovered I could buy the business and operate it on an investment visa. It seemed like a good opportunity. The previous owner had about 75 customers on his books and offered four weeks of training. Unfortunately, that training only lasted two weeks until he disappeared.”
Fortunately though, Mike was a dedicated student. He was able to live with his sister while he learned grooming and the dog grooming business. She answered the calls and booked appointments. After a year, his wife and two young sons came to join him. Mike’s wife, Alison, took over the appointment scheduling and they built up the work until Mike was grooming seven days a week.
They then bought a new van and added a new groomer. Since then, they’ve added a new van and a new groomer every year until now, with their current fleet of ten. In 2012, Lucky Dawg added a physical location, too.
According to Mike, “We needed a space to park our vans and maintain them.”
Maintaining a fleet of mobile grooming vans requires space not just for parking, but also for daily maintenance. Part of the daily maintenance includes plenty of water.
“We carry two tanks, one 75–gallon of fresh water for bathing and a tank for the collection of dirty water. We have to empty the dirty water via a sewage drain each day according to local regulations. With the building, we could create a sewage drain in the back,” Mike says.
The building is in a small shopping center with an abundance of parking. At 1,800 square feet, it was bigger than the business needed, but it’d been empty for two years due to the recession, and they decided it was worth the investment.
Now they had ample parking space and a building. It seemed natural to open a physical location for Lucky Dawg, but Mike didn’t want to take away from the mobile business. Therefore, he had to think through opening a physical salon while still maintaining the best parts of the mobile industry.
“We decided to model the positive comments from mobile,” Mike shares.
Besides the convenience of a come–to–you service, people appreciate the one–on–one attention the groomer is able to give their dog.
“With our mobile grooming, we groom the dog and give it back within 90 minutes. We wanted to replicate this one–on–one and quick turnaround time in the physical environment,” he says.
A former mortgage office, the building lent itself well to individual grooming.
Mike says, “The building had six 10’x10’ glass–enclosed rooms with glass doors. I walked in and thought we could turn these into individual grooming rooms and give dogs uninterrupted attention. It would be a great environment for groomers too because they could work on the dog undisturbed.”
The Butlers invested $30,000 into upgrading the electricity and plumbing, and on permits, paint, tiling, grooming tables, tubs and other equipment to get the salon up and running.
Since they didn’t have a business for a physical location and didn’t want to take away from the grooming vans, they had to think of possibilities. They converted two of the existing offices to self–wash. That provided some revenue as they built up the salon business. After two years, they converted those self–wash stations to full–time grooming spaces, as that was more profitable.
“We also built out a salon reception and mobile office. It was important to me to have a receptionist. That way, the groomer can focus on grooming. It’s best for the dog and the groomer that we have a receptionist who handles the phones, schedules the appointments and payments,” Mike continues.
Because the groomers aren’t interrupted, most of the grooms are started, hand–dried to achieve the perfect finish, completed and picked up by the customer within two hours.
“Another benefit,” he adds, “is it reduces the number of dogs we have in the salon at any one time. We have no more than ten dogs at a time in the salon. It creates a calmer environment.”
Not only are there fewer dogs in the salon, but those dogs don’t wait in kennels or cages for their turn. Because of Lucky Dawg’s appointment policy, dogs who come in at 8 a.m. are out by 10 a.m., dogs who are in at 10 a.m. are gone by mid–day, and so on.
Plus, while many salons put the pups into a kennel or cage pre– or post–groom, Lucky Dawg doesn’t. Instead, they can take advantage of their ample space to minimize the use of kennels and cages.
“We have a large space in the center of our grooming salon where we can tether the dogs ten feet apart with anchors in the floors. Once tethered, they can rest on the dog beds and interact with staff walking by,” Mike shares.
As Lucky Dawg grows, its operations have become more complex. While they started with a customer index card system and a weekly appointment planner, they’ve now adopted technology to make things run smoothly.
Hayden is Mike and Alison’s youngest son. In 2019, he graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a double major in Business Management and Operations and Supply Chain Management. Hayden upgraded their record–keeping and scheduling system by implementing a software program to manage operations.
Mike says, “We’re more efficient with [software]. We use it for scheduling, client and pet information, text reminders, medical and vaccine information, and photos. We can color code for different services and add important information to make our day more efficient. It also produces specialized reports for each groomer and helpful financial information. We run a seven–day–a–week operation, so there’s a lot to keep track of.”
Hayden also assisted in training a lot of the staff, which currently totals 21 individuals, including groomers, bathers and receptionists. Their groomers groom 30–35 dogs per day at the salon and 45–50 per day between the 10 vans.
These days, Alison helps cover gaps in any shifts and usually starts the day early by opening the business at 7:30 a.m. but leaves once the workday is underway, though she fills in as needed. One of the family members is always available to ensure each day runs as smoothly as possible.
While Lucky Dawg had to close for several weeks due to COVID, their reopening was pretty simple.
“We were lucky because of the salon layout,” Mike shares. “The groomers are already separated more than six feet apart. We were able to dedicate four numbered parking spots outside with signs that had our telephone number. Once customers park, they call to let us know, and the receptionist informs the groomer. Then, the groomer goes outside to meet the customer and discuss the dog’s groom and any health issues.”
The American Kennel Club recognizes Lucky Dawg as a S.A.F.E. (Safe, Assurance, Fundamentals, Education) Grooming Salon. This designation requires special training via an online course with an exam.
Mike says, “Part of the S.A.F.E. designation is an oath that has 16 requirements for us to follow on a daily basis. For example, we can be inspected at any time by a member of the AKC without notice and we must have an approved disaster plan in place in case of an emergency.”
This promise fits within Lucky Dawg’s philosophy of providing the best customer service experience and ensuring the pets receive the one–on–one care and attention they deserve.
“We’ve won a lot of awards. We’ve been voted best business locally with many five–star ratings. We’re very community–minded and donate to local schools and nonprofits. Overall, we want to create a high standard of recognition for the industry,” Mike concludes.
Their customers are truly “Lucky Dawgs.” ✂️