Grooming Is On A Roll
Mobile pet groomers are in greater demand than ever before and have no trouble finding owners who value the convenience of home service, even at a premium.
A lot of mobile pet groomers report that they face one big challenge in this booming industry: having to say “no” to new customers because of such high demand for their services. It’s a nice problem to have, especially in an economy that has only just recently begun to show signs of real growth.
“With people working longer and harder, the demand continues to surge for the convenience of having a pet groomer roll into your driveway, even though the cost is higher than a groom at a brick-and-mortar salon,” said John Stockman, national sales manager for Wag’n Tails Mobile Pet Grooming Conversions in Granger, Ind.
On average, between 12 to 15 pet groomers are investing in his company’s vehicles per month to launch a mobile business, he added.
Even as many pet owners embrace the more personal convenience of mobile grooming, interviewed mobile groomers said they don’t feel traditional grooming salon owners view them as a threat.
Judy Hudson, owner of Grooming Tails, a mobile service in Kingston Springs, Tenn., said there are still many pet owners who prefer to drop their dog off at a salon for an all-day board and groom.
“And then there are the customers who love mobile, particularly those who have an anxious dog or a dog that gets carsick,” she said. “Many clients who prefer mobile are young, very busy and have a healthy income.”
There are times that a dog will not do well with a mobile service, said Jodi Murphy, owner of The Puppy Spa, a mobile grooming service in Stanhope, N.J.
“Many dogs require two groomers: one groomer to securely hold a dog that dislikes the grooming process and another groomer to do the job,” said Murphy. “Another situation where shop grooming is the better choice over mobile is for dogs that have health issues that make standing uncomfortable for them, say, hip dysplasia or arthritis. In a mobile unit, dogs are standing most of the time, and at a shop, they have a chance to rest between bath, drying and grooming processes. So, in these situations, a shop groom is best.”
There are groomers that offer both mobile and brick-and-mortar salons, said Nancy E. Hassel, founder and president of American Pet Professionals, a Babylon, N.Y.-based networking group dedicated to the pet industry.
“However, I’ve seen many decide to change their business model and go completely mobile,” said Hassel. “It helps their bottom line when they don’t have the overhead of a store to worry about. It’s also true that more people increasingly want their pet to have individualized attention.”
Additionally, as cities become more dog friendly and dogs are more involved than ever in their owners’ social lives, grooming is no longer just about keeping dogs clean.
“Pet grooming has become a regular spa treatment that can be compared with the services previously available to humans, bringing home grooming to the top of the list of premium services,” said Jorge Bendersky, celebrity groomer and consultant at Planet Jorge in New York.
Getting Ready to Hit the Road
One major perk of grooming on the go is startup affordability, said interviewed sources.
“The biggest cost is the grooming van,” said Wag’n Tails’ Stockman. “With good credit, that’s around a $9,000 down payment, and our vans are ready to go, equipped with tub, tables, a power generator, water tanks, vents, fluorescent lighting and more.”
A skilled mobile groomer who averages at least six dogs per day, five days a week, can earn more than $70,000 after subtracting the monthly overhead van payment, electricity and fuel costs, Stockman added.
“Finding clients is the easiest part,” he said. “There’s a big demand for great groomers.”
New groomers can purchase a used van to save on startup costs, said Lisa Leady, owner of Primp My Pooch, a mobile service in Genoa, Ill.
“Depending on what type of van you purchase, a new one can cost between $60,000 and $80,000,” she said. “You can find a used van for half that price. I started my business many years ago with a used van. It ran great and enabled me to get my business off the ground. This lowered the risk that, if the business didn’t go well in my rural area, I would be out a lot of money. Fortunately, I’ve been successful.”
Standing appointments and schedule flexibility are more job perks.
“Most mobile groomers have their clients on a six-week schedule, booking three to six months out,” said Grooming Tails’ Hudson. “There’s security in having those regular appointments. And once your clients trust you, they tend to be very loyal. I didn’t have any slowdown during the recession whatsoever. The other great benefit is the flexibility I have as a business owner. I’m a mother, and mobile grooming gives me more control over my life.”
When entering the mobile grooming business, it’s key to build a clientele by targeting a well-defined geographic area.
“Ideally, you want to shrink down your territory so you’re not wasting time by driving great distances all over the place,” said Stockman. “Time is money.”
When Leady first went mobile, she said her biggest challenge was routing.
“Trying to get my clients that live in the same area to all book on the same day and the same weeks, that was the goal,” she said. “This makes everything so much easier.”
Freezing winter weather poses another challenge, said The Puppy Spa’s Murphy.
“It’s very important to prevent water lines and the hot water heater from freezing,” said Murphy. “Professionally manufactured vehicles provide plug-in capabilities. Most vehicles, however, do not handle snow and ice well. Re-scheduling clients can wreak havoc on your schedule, especially when the weather is bad for several straight days.”
Cross-market your services with other local pet care providers, such as boutiques, veterinarians, dog day cares, dog walkers and pet sitters.
“I have not seen mobile groomers partnering with shop groomers, but I have seen shop groomers refer the dogs that require mobile to mobile groomers they know and vice versa,” said Murphy. “Many times a dog will come into a salon and be very nervous and scared of other dogs. These are the dogs that do better with mobile service. If you’ve forged relationships with your community, a shop owner will recommend your mobile service.”
When a groomer is professional and highly skilled, word gets around, Hudson said.
“In terms of pricing, people will pay $15 or $20 more for mobile grooming than they would for nonmobile,” she said. “You’ve also got to figure in the breed of dog and the time it takes.”
Other ways to rev up profits and reputation are to expand your spa menu offerings, advertise locally, spread the word on social media, and offer your clients reliable and exemplary service.
“Besides expertise and a great reputation, your van will be a billboard advertising your service prominently,” said Stockman. “The top three keys are do a great grooming job, keep your route tight and price your services correctly.”
Whether a groomer decides to join a franchise mobile grooming fleet or go the independent route, telling stats offer insight into why this industry is trending strongly upward.
According to Packaged Facts’ U.S. Pet Market Outlook 2014-2015 Report, many 2014 trends will continue into 2015.
Pet ownership will grow. Between 2009 and 2013, pet ownership increased from 53.6 percent of U.S. households to 56.5 percent, placing pets in 66.8 million households. The percentage of households with dogs has been on a steady increase.
In 2013, Gen Y owners had the greatest increase in dog ownership, reaching 49 percent in 2013 versus 37 percent in 2011.
Changes in the population of dog owners have begun to mirror shifts in the U.S. population as a whole. Dog owners remain predominantly non-Hispanic white, but growth in the population of dog owners is coming mostly from Latinos, Asians and other multicultural population segments.
Between 2004 and 2014, the population of Hispanic dog owners nearly doubled from 7 million to 13 million, and the number of Asian dog owners more than doubled from 1 million to 3 million. Latinos accounted for 36 percent of the growth in the number of dog owners, while the multicultural population segment as a whole was responsible for 55 percent of the growth.
Because pet populations, especially dog populations, continue to grow and more owners nowadays treat their pets as members of the family, pet service needs will rise.