By Robyn Michaels
Most of us successful dog groomers are making a living at this because we not only love dogs and handling them, but because we have an aesthetic eye for the dog. We want to make the dog look as pretty as possible with the least amount of stress (for both the dog, and us). However, because we are doing what we love, and don’t dress like most professionals, or maybe because we are mostly women, many people—particularly employers, tend to discount our skills. After all, how much skill can it take to….give a dog a bath?
It’s not rocket science, and actually, learning to bathe a dog shouldn’t take more than 1/2 hour. However, that 1/2 hour of learning can possibly lead to learning more skills, making a person not only more valuable as an employee, but actually create more wealth for all involved. My job, as an employee, is to make my employer money. If my employer doesn’t appreciate that I understand that, all our communication might be discounted.
Another issue, however, is integrity. I have been a successful dog groomer not just because of my dog grooming talents, but because of how important I feel integrity is. There have been many times that a dog owner has come to me thinking his dog needs a haircut (for example, so the dog will shed less, or be cooler in the summer), and I’ve told the owner that either it is not a good idea, or it won’t make a difference and not to waste their money. Sometimes I’ve suggested a de-shedding treatment, or a ‘tidy’, but just as often I’ve said, “Were this my dog, I would not do anything. I cannot make this dog look better than he already looks.” Most dog owners have appreciated my honesty but some of my bosses have been really angry!
In an animal hospital or a kennel, the receptionists will be the first contact for clients seeking a grooming service, including bathing. These people are busy. They are good with clients and computers for the most part. Their work is tedious and often stressful. However, they often don’t know how to sell what groomers do.
Every service needs to teach receptionists how to answer the phone. They have to know in what order to ask questions to save time. The first question should always be, “Have you been here before?” If they have, you should have all their contact information in your database. Then, it is a matter of asking what service they need. If they say that the dog needs a bath (or grooming), the receptionist needs to ask what kind of dog (noting breed, or at least size), age of dog, and if the dog has ever been professionally groomed before. Usually then, the prospective client will ask about costs. The receptionist should be able to give a range of costs. Our minimum cost is $25 for a small dog, and our most expensive is $95, but the average is $55. So, without seeing the dog, that is the best information we can provide.
The client will ask what is included. The receptionist should state “A thorough brushing, cleaning of the ears and cutting the nails if necessary, and if the dog has more than 2 inches of coat or is matted, some sort of trimming or clipping may be required.” This is important. The receptionist needs to tell the client we cannot bathe matted dogs, as they will not dry thoroughly and we can’t guarantee rinsing out all the shampoo.
Often, the client will say that the dog is not matted. We can’t get into this discussion over the phone, as you know that they have either not brushed the dog at all, or have brushed over the top only. With the trend towards the ‘non–shed’ designer dogs, where they are sold with no grooming instruction, or the owners have been sold a pin brush, you can be sure you will see a lot of matted dogs. In any case, the receptionist should never say ‘shaved’ to a prospective client. If the client says shaved, that is one thing, but I prefer ‘cut short if necessary’. Then, if there are additional questions, the client has to meet directly with the groomer.
I always prefer meeting with the new client and the dog at least one day before the grooming, for two reasons: One is so the dog gets the experience of coming into our facility and leaving–with the owner, but also so the client and I have a better idea of what we expect of each other. If this is not possible, I always try to call if I have to cut the dog short (shave) for either sanitary or humane reasons. And if I have to do that, I will always remind the client that, if the dog does not have a serious health issue, the hair will grow back. I will also show the client how to brush the dog, if they want.
One problem I am running into is that many clients are afraid to ask for a grooming, because they think it means clipping the dog. So, they are asking for ‘just a bath’. Since we charge the same fee for a bath—whether I’m the groomer, or kennel staff does it—it is in my best interest to make sure the kennel staff doing the bathing is providing the service most dog owners expect.
I quit a job last year because I worked for a business owner who really thought that people looking to have their dogs ‘only’ bathed didn’t expect them to be brushed. This might be true for owners of Labrador Retrievers, Pit Bulls, Boxers, and Beagles, but it is not true for owners of Collies, Huskies, Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, or non-shed dogs. They may not say they expect the dog to be brushed, but at some point—even if it is not me—a better groomer with more integrity will do a better job and the owner will feel they didn’t get a good service in the past. I see this frequently when I ask new clients where they were taking their dogs for grooming, and why they are not returning to that business.
Since I am paid commission and kennel staff is paid an hourly wage, very often, a business owner won’t want to pay me for ‘just a bath’, as they feel it is cheaper to pay an hourly wage worker. This is usually a false economy. Our industry is very energy intensive. Good groomers learn quickly to conserve. We dilute shampoo, since it is generally not how much shampoo you use or how long it sits on the dog, but the agitation which cleans the dog. We don’t let water run, and we check dogs in cages that have blowers on them every few minutes. By teaching kennel staff to do this, they can bathe more dogs per hour and do a better job. However, what if they don’t want to do this? This is why we have to find employees who want to invest in themselves.
There are so many people who think they want to groom dogs, because either the pay is better than it is for an unskilled employee, or because they don’t have the patience to learn to train dogs. I attended a dog grooming school 40 years ago because I could not find a groomer to apprentice with. They taught either their own kids, or, in my area, immigrant adults. They would not work with teenagers. I was very lucky to be initially taught by Don Doessel, who had shown dogs for a very long time, and knew how to teach the technical skills. I learned to groom Poodles in grooming school because those were the only dogs brought in for grooming. I then had to apprentice with hobby breeders.
Many of us started our grooming careers as bather/brushers. Some of us were lucky to learn from very experienced, talented groomers. If you take this seriously, you will be a valuable employee, and will be on your way to opening your own business if you are considering this.✂