We get it. We love dogs and cats so much that we chose to make caring for them our life’s work. We groomers truly understand why this worst–in–our–lives crisis of the pandemic has caused so many people to turn to pet ownership for comfort.
Science has shown that the human and dog species are co–evolved—connecting us physically and psychologically. We are both deeply social creatures; we need connection with each other. Studies confirm that the isolation and stress made worse by the spread of COVID–19 has improved for millions of people because of their relationships with their pets. And thank goodness for these precious pets who are providing comfort and joy for so many at such a difficult but historic time.
So many people embracing so many new pets is making news just about everywhere. Even The Wall Street Journal has published a series of articles on “Pandemic Puppies,” documenting how this aspect of life has changed for us in the last year, including the psychological benefits these pets have on the wellbeing of their owners.
However, The Wall Street Journal also reported that some people have been so desperate to buy dogs that the paper had to publish warning articles about online puppy sale scammers. They have also written warnings to first–time pet buyers about the expenses of owning a dog that people were unaware of. This includes grooming expenses.
Statista.com published numbers on February 9, 2021 showing how COVID–19 affected pet ownership in the U.S. from May to December of 2020, demonstrating that growth is continuing even as the pandemic grinds on: “The coronavirus (COVID–19) pandemic has affected many industries in significant ways, including the pet industry. During a survey carried out in December 2020, ten percent of respondents reported acquiring a new pet. This is an increase of three percent compared to May, when seven percent of respondents got a new pet.”
Let that sink in. Of people surveyed, ten percent more bought a new pet in just the month of December 2020!
The American Pet Products Association (APPA) said, “Over 63 million households in the United States owned at least one dog according to a 2019/20 Pet Owners Survey, making them the most widely owned type of pet across the U.S. at this time. Cats . . . [ranked] second. . . with around 42.7 million households. . . Sixty–seven percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet . . . This is up from 56 percent of U.S. households in 1988, the first year the survey was conducted.”
And, APPA reports pet ownership numbers increasing globally, not just in the U.S.
While the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and consumer surveys report somewhat lower ownership numbers, they all show increases this last year. The AVMA says that veterinarians are reporting that they have had similarly high numbers of new clients in the last year, even while they have been restricting their hours and operations due to COVID.
At my grooming shop, Love Fur Dogs in a suburb north of Chicago, we now often see two or three new clients a day. Many are first–time pet owners. I have been open seven years and each year averaged one or two new clients per week. Now, it is two to three each day. Like everyone else, we lose some each year to old age or a change in the family, but the new clients now far outpace any of what previously was considered normal attrition. I have hired more staff and am working to train my bathers to groom, but I can see the issue ahead of me.
January and February had always been my slowest months, but this year they were busier than my previous December—usually one of my peak months of the year. I clearly see what the warmer spring and summer months are going to mean for my well–respected business.
Not coincidentally, I am also seeing more job listings trying to hire groomers in virtually every group that will post these listings. Grooming shops, desperate to hire more groomers, are offering sign–on bonuses and benefits. Yet, there are not as many available groomers to fill the growing gap as there are new pet owners wanting our services.
This is the state of our beloved grooming industry. Let us take a moment to reflect on this historical seismic shift and choose to see the good that will come from it: Competition between groomers will be a non–issue. People will appreciate the importance of what we do. Plenty of business will keep us as busy as we want to be. We can charge more and pay better. In more populated areas, customers may actually begin competing for our services.
So, what do we do when the demand for our services outpaces the supply?
1. Prioritize your regulars. Those clients who have faithfully and regularly supported your business over the long–term should be your top priority. Start politely telling your less–than–perfectly–regular clients about this new reality.
2. Pre–book most of your clients. It has never been easier to get my clients to book ahead for the entire year. When I tell them that I have more new clients than ever before because of the pandemic puppy phenomenon, and that they may not get in if they do not book ahead, they now believe me.
3. Raise Your Prices. During the total shutdown of my grooming shop in spring 2020, one of my favorite every–other–week regulars with a big, long–haired doodle named Dewey texted me a picture. Dad was outside on the picnic table trying to brush Dewey out, per my home–care video instructions. The caption read, “You don’t charge me enough.”
He was right. Few of us do. Our industry has long been filled with people who work very hard for only a moderate income. The Pandemic Puppy Phenomenon can change that for all of us. Now is the time for you to raise your prices. You might lose a few clients, but there will be many others to replace them.
4. Train More Groomers. There are lots of people out of work because of the pandemic—people who worked in restaurants, theaters, entertainment venues, etc.—and they need work. And, lots of them love dogs. Consider adding to your team. Train them first as bathers, then pick the most dedicated and train them all the way up to cutting hair. Tell them it will take a year or more but that you will give them a skill that will be a great meal ticket for the rest of their lives.
We know that hiring groomers right now is difficult at best. Yes, training someone to groom takes time, patience and good supervision on your part, but it is the only way our industry is going to move ahead. There are not enough schools, and most grooming school graduates still need a lot of training and experience. There are a lot of great online videos, webinars, remote learning courses and training opportunities from top teachers available to supplement what you teach them at work. Everyone who has the knowledge, patience and resources to teach someone else to groom needs to do so.
This pandemic has been soul–crushing and devastating, with millions affected worldwide. It also has created the potential to take our grooming industry to a whole new level. The rest is up to us! ✂️