Photo Credit Cedar + Moss Studios
“You develop a special relationship with the clients, whether it’s through a breed you’ve owned or have a lot of knowledge about. I have about 20 Portuguese Water Dogs now as clients,” says Heather Hudson, a pet esthetician, dog groomer and salon owner in New Lenox, Illinois.
Her dog grooming salon, Stylapet, celebrated its 10th anniversary on June 1st, just weeks after reopening following the Spring COVID shutdown.
Heather says, “We focus on the nicer aspects of pet grooming where we can get creative and do more than just maintenance trims. The groomers I hire are really interested in continuing education.”
Education is at the heart of the Stylapet mission. As an esthetician, Heather says, “Skin health is so important. It translates into the health of the dog’s coat. One of the hard parts of the COVID shutdown was that we have clients who rely on us for skin therapies. But for six weeks we couldn’t get them in. We sent sprays and products to these clients, but it’s not the same as a good bath. Some dogs have had years of veterinary care trying to fix skin issues where we’ve been able to make a difference in just a few weeks for these dogs with chronic skin issues.”
Heather says she was introduced to the science of skin health at a trade show. “I love the artistic side of grooming and the science side. I got drawn in via one of the trade shows and started using the Iv San Bernard products on one of my dogs.”
Now the salon exclusively uses Iv San Bernard products. Heather’s been through their training program on skin health and some of her groomers are working through it now too.
“There are maybe five pet estheticians in the state of Illinois. It’s fascinating to learn about the things we do that affect the animal. A bath is not just a bath. What you do can affect the dog weeks and months down the road,” shares Heather.
Besides continuing education, the staff encourage re–bookings. “We create that atmosphere of having regular maintenance because it’s healthy for the dog. I love the clients who come in on a regular basis because you get to know the dog and building the relationship is so much easier. You don’t have to focus on mats or dogs who are scared because they don’t know what grooming is,” concedes Heather.
One way they encourage regular visits is with their monthly Bath Club. The Bath Club is a new initiative since re–opening after the COVID shutdown. “Our groomers book out pretty far in advance. This is geared toward making it easy for people to get their dogs in for maintenance baths,” Heather says.
The maintenance baths are done by the bathers and include a nail trim and brush–out. When dogs are on a regular bathing schedule, not only do they feel better, but when the dog comes back for their next groom, they won’t be matted.
Stylapet’s staff includes a receptionist, three bathers and four groomers (including Heather.) They also have a retail space. “In November 2018, we expanded our salon and now have a full boutique. That’s when we hired a receptionist. She manages the phone, check–in and –out, and retail,” Heather shares.
The boutique grew organically out of clients asking for certain things. When people ask about what type of brush their dog needs, now Heather can offer it to them directly. New Lennox is a rural area and she also carries a lot of locally–made items. The 500 sq. ft. retail/lobby area offers treats and collars for the dogs, and shirts and décor items for the humans.
Heather says, “Business is an evolution. You won’t necessarily be able to start out with the $100,000 salon at first. But use what you have and keep at it.”
After hiring her first receptionist, Heather says that role is instrumental. “It’s a godsend to have someone managing the phones and rebookings. We always ask when they leave if they want to book the next appointment. I’d rather have fewer clients come in more frequently. I prefer having that relationship. The receptionist allows the groomers to work without interruption. Before the receptionist, they’d have to handle check–in and –out, and since dogs come in about every hour, there were a lot of interruptions.”
In her decade as a salon owner, Heather has learned a lot. She opened Stylapet after only two years as a dog groomer. “It was a trial–by–fire approach,” she says. “I didn’t understand a lot of the business aspects when I started out.”
However, one of Heather’s biggest lessons is being selective of your clientele. “A lot of time as groomers, we’re afraid we won’t have clients when there are so many dogs out there. I don’t think that’s so much of a worry as finding the right clients. Shoot for the clientele you want rather than trying to take anyone. There’s always someone who will value you,” Heather concludes.
Now that’s great advice from a successful business owner! ✂️