“It was sort of an accident. I saw these little St. Patrick’s Day hats at the Dollar Store. I thought it would be cute to put them on dogs and take pictures of them,” says Anjie Coates of Furry Tails Grooming Salon and Spa in Massachusetts. “This was pre-cell phone days. I brought my digital camera to work and took some pictures. I printed them up and gave them to customers. They loved them. They were nothing special; just the dog on the table wearing a green plastic hat.
“It wasn’t until November that I thought, ‘Oh, for Thanksgiving I could do something really fun!’ So, I bought a turkey tablecloth, hung it up behind the dogs, put some inexpensive orange satin under them, and took pictures,” Anjie continues. “For the last thirteen years, I have taken a photo of every pet I’ve ever groomed.”
This is how one groomer began taking pet pictures in addition to grooming. Others started because they wanted something to share on social media, or they had a background in photography and it was a natural step to add taking pictures of pets to the grooming service.
Having a pet’s photo taken when it is freshly groomed and looking its best lends this add-on service to groomers in a very natural way. It can be as simple as taking a photo while the animal is on the grooming table or going to more elaborate ends by setting up a dedicated area of your workspace with backdrops and lighting.
Deanne Morris of Purple Poodle Grooming in Mississippi says, “I take pictures of most dogs and put them on my Facebook grooming page. I have a simple backdrop behind my tool cart. At Christmas, we put up a background in the lobby so clients can take their own pictures. I started that last year because I did not have time to take pictures of all the dogs. I like to use a fabric backdrop because they can be washed if a naughty dog piddles on them!”
Heather Leeman of Hollyoaks Dog Spa and Studio in Maine says she gets her seasonal theme inspiration from walking through the local TJ Maxx store. “When a theme isn’t obvious due to a season change or holiday, I mosey around until a single item sparks an idea.”
She has a dedicated photo area set up right in her grooming area. “Once the background is set up, it only takes me about 30 seconds per pet to snap a picture. After the groom is complete, we wheel the grooming table to the backdrop and set up the rest of the photo props. Each dog is already used to being on the table at that point, so it’s a super easy transition,” Heather says.
“The real value of the portraits has become clear when I have had doggy clients pass away and their family has told me how much joy the portraits now bring to their family. That is when I know it is what I am supposed to do,” she adds.
Heather shares the pictures with customers via Facebook messenger, email or by texting full-sized high-resolution JPEG images.
Anjie Coates echoes this. Although she prints photos for her customers: “They cost me about ten cents each to print; how could I not print them? When we get that call that the pet has passed, the owner always tells us the best pictures they have are the ones we took. Those memories last long after the pet is gone. Those pictures are precious to them. It’s well worth the time, effort, and expense to keep themes fresh, new, and different yearly because we get far more back because of the pictures.”
So, how do groomers get the pets to pose?
Heather Leeman says, “Oh, gosh, this is the hardest part. Dogs get smart and bored. A wide variety of noisemakers helps. We use balls, kazoos, crinkly paper, and coins in cans. Treats work great for some, but getting their attention away from the door is hard when they know they are about to go home. We sometimes use noise apps or YouTube videos like ‘How to make your dog tilt their head.’”
While some groomers share their photos at no charge as gifts to clients, others charge a fee for the service, and some offer both. Christina Linsalata of Louie’s Bath House in New Jersey has a background as a professional photographer and is currently setting up a dedicated portrait space in her salon.
She says, “I have a ring light attached to my grooming table. It gives fantastic lighting when I use my phone to take quick groom photos. I also have several digital cameras. These take the best pictures, and I save those for paying jobs. When I take quick groom photos, I keep them looking like a groom session; hair or tools are on the table. I keep my beautiful, professional paying photos separate from the cute phone photos. Keeping the two different styles makes my professional images stand out and is worth the added money.”
When I ask how adding photography has impacted her business, Anjie Coates says, “We stopped taking new dogs within a year of being open. Everyone wants pictures of their pets in cute themes. I have customers that book by theme since I set up the calendar for the year by the end of November. They all book for the year and will come in every three weeks instead of five because they can’t miss the cowboy or superhero theme.”
Whether it’s plastic hats, elaborate themes, quick grooming shots or elegant portraits, adding photography to your grooming can be a creative outlet for you, add cash to sales and make lasting memories for your customers. ✂️