By Khris Berry
In the past few years, pet stylists have become more informed than ever before when it comes to pay, income, pay types and wages. Topics such as employment status, workplace rights, benefits and even succession planning have crept into education platforms; groomers are paying attention to the business aspects of pet styling on new levels.
Beyond pricing, service structures and add–on’s, there is a new brand of discussion emerging which centers around establishing personal value to your skill set and ensuring that you, the pet stylist, are earning wages which are fair, sustainable and reflect the value you offer pet owners.
That’s a fancy way of saying: Are you making enough to sustain yourself in a changing world? Are you providing for yourself with your talents and ensuring that you can afford proper housing, health care, savings and other necessities which help navigate the challenges which life often throws at us all?
To understand the importance of this issue, let’s take a look at Mary. Mary is a groomer in a small town in the Mid–West. She has groomed since her first divorce—a decade or two ago. Through the years, Mary provided for herself and her son as a single mom. They didn’t live in a palace, but she always had reliable transportation, food on the table (and plenty of meals eating out!) and her son enjoyed a comfortable life. Mary is now approaching the end of her career, and she hopes to eek out another couple of years grooming. In keeping with federal guidelines, her employer recently changed her employment status from Independent Contractor to Employee. Heralding all the wonderful protections she would now receive, such as Workers Compensation, Mary accepted the changes because she has no other choice.
Through the past two decades, she has filed sporadic tax returns, using the money she earned to support herself and her son. Now, she is bringing home fewer dollars, and although her independent tax burden is relieved, she is finding it difficult to manage the “pay cut” in her bring–home pay. Do you know a groomer like Mary? Are you Mary?
As groomers like Mary learn to navigate new workplace guidelines, and grooming business owners/operators learn to navigate new financial parameters to keep their business profitable and sustainable, everyone should keep their focus on a few important numbers.
Perhaps one of the most important pieces to know and understand is “Living Wage”. These numbers can serve as a roadmap to ensuring that you, your employees, your employer and the entire industry are indeed thriving and managing changing financial climates successfully.
What is “Living Wage” and why does it matter to you?
This is where it gets a little tricky. There is a different Living Wage established for every single county in every single state in the United States. You can research the Living Wage in your state here: https://livingwage.mit.edu/
By entering your location, you can learn what is considered to be the wage YOU should be earning in order to maintain a normal standard of living. This is also sometimes called a “Cost of Living” wage and differs dramatically from a minimum wage. A minimum wage is the lowest wage permitted by law (or special agreement in the cases of labor unions). One source states, “There is no county in America where a minimum wage earner can support a family.”1
And now we get back to grooming, and why these numbers should matter to you (and groomers like Mary). When you factor what you are earning per hour, where do you stand against the Living Wage for your area? By measuring your own progress, you should be able to assess how you are doing financially. Should you have enough money to provide sufficient savings for emergencies? Should you have enough money to secure affordable housing, transportation and health care?
For many years, groomers lived in a gray area where they did not have access to benefits, paid time off, or even basic medical care when necessary. Where you fall on the Living Wage calculator will be a great starting point to determine if you are utilizing your own skill set to the best financial advantage.
Why is it important for an employer to understand the difference between Minimum and Living Wages?
If your employees are not able to maintain a normal standard of living, they may not be able to function as stable, long–term employees. It’s not as simple as determining to pay your staff more—you must ensure that your pricing structures support Living Wages and the long–term financial health of your employees.
The key to understanding Living Wages lies in understanding how to utilize them to create long–term, stable work environments. Besides investing in education, tools and equipment, it’s important to invest in ensuring that your staff can return to your grooming shop, day after day, knowing that they can afford to live on the wages they earn. (Now, personal budgeting is a whole different subject. Ask Mary, she also learned this lesson after many decades of being a groomer.)
Your clients will benefit by having experienced, regular staff members taking care of their pets over the course of time, and in turn see the value in your grooming establishment and services. Advertising that you support Living Wages for all staff members is a great way to help your clients understand your pricing structure as well.
If the Living Wage in your area is $14/hour, and the minimum wage is your area is $8/hour, can you attract new talent, hourly staff and support entry–level positions when you are hiring at $9/hour? By finding a way to hire and establish the financial footing for pet service employees to earn Living Wages, you are helping pave the way to a new wave of talent to enter the field and establish careers.
By ensuring that your existing wages measure up—which will mean taking a hard look at your pricing, overhead, and every financial aspect inside the grooming shop—there will be room to stabilize and create a sustainable financial future for all. So, the next time you contemplate the prices you charge and your paycheck, let the Living Wage for your area be an index to begin the journey. ✂️
1Minimum Wage and the Cost of Living. https://www.citylab.com/life/2015/09/mapping-the-difference-between-minimum-wage-and-cost-of-living/404644/