By Missi Salzberg
The following story is true. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent, because it was me and this guy that came to give me a quote on doing some work at my house, and I don’t remember his name anyway. We’ll just call him “the guy.”
The guy came to the house after a hurricane damaged some windows, and we had some water damage. I was taking quotes on the work, and a dear friend referred the guy to me. My friend Bruce is a master carpenter, and he’d worked with the guy before and said he was reasonable and did a great job. Good enough for me.
The guy came out to the house, and we walked through the punch list of things that needed to be addressed. He told me he would be in touch with a quote, and we went our separate ways. Days and days passed with no word from the guy. Finally, I called and got his voice mail. “Hey there. It’s Missi, Bruce’s friend. I was wondering if you were able to put together that quote for me. Let me know as soon as you can, because we need to get the work started as soon as possible. Thank you.” Figuring that was fairly clear, I assumed (uh-oh) I would hear back from the guy. Nothing.
Another week or so went by, and I had a few quotes in hand, so I gave it one more shot. This time he answered. I will quote him as best as I can from memory. It went something like this: “Hi. I’m sorry it took so long to get back to you, but I really struggle with pricing my work. A lot of times, I underprice myself to get a job, and then I end up really selling myself short. I have a ballpark for you, but it could go up or down 10 or 20 percent. It’s something I’m really trying to work on and be honest with my customers about so I don’t end up undercharging.”
Immediately I recognized two things: 1) I would not be hiring the guy for the job, and 2) the guy needs therapy. I use this as an example of how not to approach raising your prices! Raising your prices is, however, what I would like to discuss. It is a new year, the economy is finding its feet, and my guess is that for many of you, it has been a while. I can hear the trepidation in your collective voice already.
“I must say I hate money, but it’s the lack of it that I hate most.”
– Katherine Mansfield
These are the fears that keep us from raising our prices:
My customers will leave.
My clients are my friends, and I feel guilty about charging them more.
My customers will get angry.
My customers will get their dogs groomed less frequently.
I will end up sitting alone all day with no customers and no business, and my entire world will crumble into the abyss.
In reality, there is a possibility that some customers will flinch at a price increase but not nearly to the extent that you think. I had a store owner call me once and tell me that it just wasn’t worth working this hard as a groomer to always be struggling. She told me that the only way she could stay in business was to raise all of her prices $10.00 across the board. We discussed her current pricing (way low at the time), her booking (no appointments available for weeks), and her relationship with her customers (they love her). After looking at her expenses and addressing her fears, she decided to go ahead and raise her grooming base by $10.00—every dog, effective immediately.
The reaction she got from her customers might just blow your mind. They commented that they thought it had been a long time since she raised her prices. They offered great support and told her they wouldn’t trust anyone else with their babies. They were genuinely concerned that she might close her doors, and then what? Admittedly, a few customers left, but she told me that by charging what she was actually worth, it didn’t hurt her income to lose a few people. It really helped her confidence to be able to say that she understood that they needed to go somewhere else, but she really deserved not to struggle anymore, especially offering the level of service that she did. In the end, she ran her business for a few more years and then sold it to one of her groomers and retired. Of course, her business was more valuable at the time of sale!
Losing a few customers across the full spectrum of your clientele will not adversely affect your business. As a matter of fact, in my mind, the grooming bargain shopper may not be a customer I want in the first place. When the phone rings and the first question is “How much to groom a dog?” I am often heard to respond, “Well, it depends on whether it’s a Chihuahua or a Newfoundland, but let me tell you a little about who we are.” Honestly, if they interrupt me and just want a price, I won’t spend too much time on the call. Who we are, what we do, and what we offer has got to be part of the bigger picture, because there is no one else like us around! Thankfully our new customers are almost 100% referral, so this doesn’t come up very often.
I acknowledge the fear regarding price increases. However, let me state a few facts about your business:
You actually deserve to make a profit! Many of us base our price structure on our comfort level around dealing with money. Especially in an industry that is still overwhelmingly female, it is not surprising that there is a certain level of discomfort around asking for a decent wage. It is, after all, something we are still struggling with as a society. Our lawmakers are debating actual legislation to make the earnings between men and women more equal. Listen, girl! You’re a great groomer! You deserve to make a good living!
If you are “branding” your business properly, people are not going to run screaming if you raise your prices a little. Your customer base is far more loyal than you may think. They trust you. They know that you understand the connection they have with their baby. Sometimes I don’t think groomers understand the connection they have with their customers!
As I mentioned earlier, the customer searching for a “bargain groom” can find one, trust me! When you lower your prices once to seal the new customer deal, they will expect a lower price for the long haul. Right out of the gate, state your prices and be confident in them. The person willing to fight you tooth and nail over $5 may not be your dream client!
If a customer does not see the value of the service that you offer, then you may not be doing your job! A big part of the dynamic between pet owner and business owner in this industry is demonstrating dynamic—making your connection to the animals a palpable experience. How you greet them, how you pick them up, how you deal with issues that arise, and how you express your care for that pet all comes into play. If you are not offering something special, if you truly have to explain why there is a price increase, and why you’re worth it, then perhaps that dynamic is dynamic enough!
“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”
– Andy Warhol
Once you wrap your mind around raising prices, here are a few suggestions to make the transition easier:
Explain your price increase to the degree you feel you need to, but do not apologize. If you have proven the worth of your services, your customers will stick around.
Be forthcoming about the increase. Whether it is a verbal notification or something in writing at the front desk, let them know it’s coming. People don’t like surprises.
Be confident in your decision and your delivery. Everyone is in business to make money and earn a living.
If you provide benefits to your staff, be proud of the fact that you are supporting the people that support your business. Doing the right thing by your staff is one of the best reasons to raise your prices! If you don’t offer benefits, maybe it’s time to reconsider.
Remind yourself that you deserve to make a living—not just survive—in a trade as physically demanding as professional grooming. You deserve the security that extra money in the bank provides, both professionally and personally.
Play favorites! For your old-time customers or seniors that you know are living on a limited income, take this opportunity to pull them aside and let them know this doesn’t apply to them. A little extra lovin’ for the people that you know need it is fine, and it feels good.
And a final thought: If you are one of the hold outs that still doesn’t charge for extras, now is the time. New year, new plan, new income! Remember, anal glands at the vet are three times what most groomers charge.
Medicated shampoo is considerably more expensive than stock shampoos. Dematting is more work, more hassle, and more damaged coat for the next groom. Brushing teeth is also more time, more cost, and a great convenience service, but I know many of you are still not charging for these add-on services.
Just out of curiosity, I ran a report for the last five days to tally the charges for the add-on services. The grand total is just shy of $600—anals, medicated baths, a few flea baths, dematting, and teeth. I am not sure what bills you could pay with an extra chunk of change or something special you’d just like to do for yourself or your staff, but I would be happy to make suggestions!
“Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.”
– Helen Gurley Brown
As you stand here at the beginning of the new year, stop and make a decision now. Do I want to be more successful? Do I want to make more money? Whether it’s baby steps with a slight increase across the board or charging for all of the extras for the first time in the history of your business, your professional destiny is in your hands. Be courageous and be successful!