By Daryl Conner
“I estimate that 60 percent of pet stylists are not properly insured,” says Jeff Reynolds, executive director of National Dog Groomers Association of America, Inc. (Clark, PA.) “Several factors contribute to this industry-wide problem. Also, many groomers do not know that there are agencies available that specialize in the pet grooming industry and can offer both guidance and proper insurance. Another reason is that groomers think that they cannot afford coverage.” According to Dave Thompson of PetBiz Insurance, “Most business owners think the right insurance may be too expensive, but policies that include all of the coverage a pet business would need are the same price, if not better than a standard business policy.”
On internet forums and at trade shows when groomers gather, the subject of insurance comes up frequently. What types of coverage to have and how much insurance is needed seems to be a topic that confuses many of us. A good place to start your insurance education is to learn what liability insurance is. “Liability protects against any harm or damage caused to others. In the grooming profession, the ‘others’ would refer to both humans and pets,” says Mark Clark, an Allstate agent. “Liability protects your assets; your business. If a groomer causes harm or damage to a pet or property, they could be sued. Proper liability coverage will pay the injured party in the event of a claim. In simple terms, this means that if you do not have adequate insurance coverage, you could lose both your professional and personal assets if you are sued because a human or pet is injured on your property or while you are working in a professional capacity.”
As professional pet stylists, we deal with moving animals, sharp tools, water, chemicals, and electricity. Combine these factors and it is clear to see that accidents can happen. No one plans on having an accident, but if one occurs, it is important to have liability insurance in place to protect your assets.
“With affordable coverage and payment plans available today, there is no excuse for groomers not to have the insurance they need,” said Reynolds. “It is a shame when someone loses a business they have invested blood, sweat and tears into because they were not insured against an accident.”
How do you know if you need insurance? If you have anything to lose, or the potential to ever have anything to lose, you need to purchase liability insurance. If you own or rent a grooming shop, have a mobile business, make house calls, or operate as an independent contractor, you need liability insurance. There are four types of coverage you should know about.
This is the main coverage that will protect your business from injury claims and damage to others’ property. For example, if someone slips and falls while on your property and they are inured, general liability will cover it. *Important note: General liability does not cover animals. Pet groomers must ask for this specific coverage.
This type of insurance protects you against accidents that happen while you are working on the pet in a professional capacity. For example, if you cut a dog while grooming it, or it leaps off your table and breaks its leg, professional liability insurance will be your friend.
Animal Floater or Bailee
This very important coverage will pay for the loss of an animal while it is in your care, custody, and control. “Loss” in this case means death, destruction, theft, or escape. It covers the pet both while on the business premises and in transit. For example, if a dog in your care clearly has to have a potty break, and chews through its leash while you are walking it, and bolts for the road and is hit by a car and killed, the floater policy would come into play.
If you sell or manufacture products, this type of insurance will protect you in the event that someone is injured as a result of using those products. For example, if someone purchases a pet shampoo from you and their pet has an adverse reaction to the product, this coverage will help cover the cost of veterinary treatment.
Mobile groomers and stylists who make house calls incur special risks that need special coverage. Since they often go into customers’ homes, they need to be certain that they have coverage that will protect them if they cause a problem; such as accidentally breaking a valuable object. This coverage would also be needed to protect mobile groomers in case they need to plug in their rig and something happens to damage the home owners’ electrical system, or if they borrow the garden hose to fill up their tank and accidentally leave it running, flooding the yard. In addition to liability insurance, these professionals need specialized auto insurance, said Ron Shearouse, an agent for Shearouse Insurance Group (Pembroke Pines, Fla.). “We offer packages designed especially for mobile stylists. Our policy includes coverage for the vehicle, as well as the conversion
package and permanently attached fixtures. Groomers need to make sure that they are not buying insurance for just the van. The expensive conversion needs to be covered as well. We also offer an inland marine policy that will cover tools such as dryers, clippers, and scissors.”
While most insurance companies sell liability insurance, it is suggested that groomers look into policies designed for our specific business. Working with animals, we have unique risks and needs. Robert Thompson, president of Governor Insurance (Vienna, Ohio), which has specialized in the pet industry since 1986, echoes this advice. Thompson says his company was the first to offer professional liability plans for groomers, as well as the first coverage specifically designed for mobile pet groomers.
“Some groomers are told by their agents that the pets they work on are covered when they purchase policies, but find that they were misinformed when faced with a claim,” Thompson said. “It is common for insurance agents to write policies for groomers that are similar to those purchased by human hair stylists,” Thompson added.
In fact, the risks presented are quite different. Although both industries involve cutting hair, grooming shops offer up a wealth of risks never encountered in a beauty salon. How often do human hair stylists get scratched and bitten? “Get a clear explanation of what is covered in the policy you purchase, in writing,” Thompson suggests. How much liability insurance should a groomer purchase? “Million dollar limits are typical,” said Thompson.
Although all groomers should carry liability insurance, not all insurance carriers will sell a policy to all groomers. “Insurance is all about risk,” said Clark. “If a person has had multiple claims, has no experience or training, or is operating out of a vehicle or building that is viewed as high risk, an insurance company can choose to deny coverage.”
We can help reduce our chances of accidents and claims in many ways. One obvious way is to keep our business area clean, neat, and in excellent repair. It may seem obvious that slippery floors should be wiped up to prevent falls, but take a look around your work space to see if there are potential dangers you have overlooked. Power cords for tools should not lie in walkways. Flooring should be in good repair and slip resistant. Clutter, trash cans, and any other tripping hazards need to be out of the way of where people walk. Furniture should be free of wobbly legs and sharp edges.
Groomers can also reduce risk by constantly increasing their knowledge and skills through education. A well-educated stylist is more aware of the dangers present in our industry, and can better prevent accidents. I recently had a conversation with a groomer who favored using a certain product on cats that he groomed. I pointed out to him that studies showed that one of the ingredients in that product could cause damage to felines. “But it works great,” he insisted. I showed him scientific articles which backed up the information I shared. “I will continue to use it, because I like it and I have never had a problem,” he told me. This attitude saddens me; and I fear that he will regret that choice sometime down the line when a cat pays the price for him turning a blind eye to the education I attempted to share. If this happens, I hope he has insurance.
As our society becomes more litigious and lawsuits abound, insurance rates climb and coverage restrictions become more common. This affects all businesses, not just the pet grooming industry. Fortunately, the grooming industry rates quite well when insurers determine how hazardous an industry is. Grooming insurance plans can be purchased at reasonable rates, and many companies offer flexible payment plans.
If you have questions about insurance coverage, start by calling the agent that you buy your home, rental, or automobile coverage from. Next, consider calling agents that specialize in the pet industry and compare the coverage they offer. Being an informed consumer can help you choose the best polices for your business.
In the end, having proper insurance coverage is not expensive, it is priceless. I just got out my calculator and did a little whiz bang math. For the cost of grooming 8 Cocker Spaniels a year I have top of the line coverage through a pet industry insurance specialist. I hope I never have to use my insurance policy, but I sleep better at night knowing I have it.