The UpScale Tail: A Culture of Caring
By Jen Phillips April
The Upscale Tail grooming salon may be Chicago–based, but it counts clients from Washington, D.C., Dallas and Las Vegas as customers. After talking with owner Kendra Otto, it’s not hard to see why. She’s passionate about educating her human clients, soothes the pet clientele and promotes an atmosphere of wellbeing within her salon.
According to Kendra, “I have a wall of trophies, but the most important thing is helping the dog feel more safe and secure.” Many of her testimonials speak to her staff’s ability to groom dogs who have had negative experiences elsewhere.
“We have a different approach than old–school grooming salons. We don’t use muzzles. We try to build trust with the dogs and pet parents before we ever get to the grooming point.” In many cases, Kendra invites the dogs for short visits when they are not getting groomed at all, just to visit and get familiar with the salon, as it builds trust.
Kendra started grooming dogs when she was 19 years old. She’s shown dozens of dogs in the competition ring and now is a competition judge and speaker.
Kendra always pushes herself to do her best, continues to learn, and educates her clients and staff. “Even when I won Best in Show, I’d ask the judges what I could do better.”
She brings that attitude of learning to her salon. “We encourage pet parents to walk their dogs in on leashes because that helps boost confidence when they feel more independent.”
She also considers grooming part of the overall wellness of the dog. It’s feeling good from the inside out. “When you treat grooming as part of the pet’s wellness, pet parents appreciate it. They’re also more apt to schedule add–on services like spa packages.”
Due to a shoulder injury, Kendra doesn’t do much grooming herself these days. A typical day will find her working behind the reception desk. Here she’s able to greet her clients by name when they come in. “Building those relationships is so important. If I know they’ve had a recent surgery, I’ll ask about it. I’ll ask if Sparky is having any medical conditions or on any medication.”
She and her staff are all certified in Pet CPR and keep medical records on the animals in case of emergency. They also have Velcro tags that identify if the pet is reactive, crate shy, has medical concerns or anything else a groomer may need to know.
The culture of caring extends to her staff.
“We have a drama–free workplace. We work in close quarters and it’s a small industry. I have a large nail on the back of the building that looks out over a forest preserve. I say to my staff, if you’re stressed about something, hang it up here. You can pick it back up on your way out of work or let it blow away to the woods. A lot of times, that gets a chuckle and people think, yes, I’ll let it blow away.”
Animals are sensitive and can pick up on that stress and negative energy, so it is important that the stress gets left at the door for the rest of the staff and animals alike.
Kendra ensures high–quality clients by doing excellent work and building rapport with both human and pet alike. “I don’t want clients who are always looking for a discount. That’s why I don’t advertise in newspapers or coupon books. I do promote monthly spa packages but they’re not discounted. I want clientele who respect the work we do.”
She says they treat each dog as if they’re showing them in the ring. “Put your heart into your work; your work is a direct reflection of you.” ✂️