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Professional Grooming Marketplace: Good Pet Groomers Grow Business

Posted: July 12, 2012, 6:00 p.m. EDT

Finding the right candidates can boost success and build client lists for groom shop owners.
By Lizett Bond

Few businesses are exempt from the cycle of hiring, training, firing or losing, and hiring again, and grooming salons are no exception. Attracting a competent groomer for a perfect salon fit requires skill, forethought and persistence.

“The grooming industry is a high-turnover industry,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the National Dog Groomers Association located in Clark, Pa.

Hiring groomers
A variety of sources provide classified advertising for both employers and potential employees, Reynolds noted, including grooming websites, magazines and the association’s own newsletter.

Considering Education Levels
Education should be the first and foremost consideration in the interview process, according to Reynolds, whether the applicant is a graduate of a grooming school, served an apprenticeship under another groomer, attended educational seminars or is a member of a professional organization.

“Having a certification status under their belt can only be an asset,” he said.

Keeping an eye out for professionalism is a good practice, too. Mike Carmody, president of Cozy Pets, with two locations in Babylon, N.Y., noted that he looks for a candidate with a professional demeanor and the initiative to pursue certifications such as a grooming school or community college program. Once hired, employees are expected to continue that educational process by attending seminars and workshops.

“You just don’t stop once you are hired,” he said. “We probably have the highest trained staff in our area.”

Training and experience play a strong role in meeting the needs of the salon owner and client alike, agreed Sharon Panther, owner of The Academy of Dog Grooming Arts located in Arlington Heights, Ill. The 5,300-square-foot school accommodates 12 to 18 students per shift and requires 550 hours—16 weeks—to complete the course. Panther noted that first and foremost, grooming requires a genuine love of and compassion for dogs and for the safety of all involved. Common sense is also crucial when it comes to handling canine clients. 

“We don’t teach speed, we don’t teach shortcuts, we just make good groomers,” she said. “Owners are basically looking for groomers that empower safety, compassion and sanitation.”

Groomers who have taken the time and expense to attend grooming school can be good candidates, and may appeal to owners who have themselves been through grooming school. Page Medley, of Page’s Pampered Pets located in Kewanee, Ill., is a graduate of Panther’s Academy and a new salon owner. Currently the only groomer in her shop, she is planning to expand and noted that she would consider a grooming school degree a plus.

“Going to the college definitely helped me,” she said. “I don’t think I would have been able to start my own business so quickly if I hadn’t.”

Making the Right Selection
A resume indicating experience doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good salon fit, according to Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif. The interview process can identify applicant experience and traits that compliment the program of a specific salon. Along these lines, Grow will ask generalized, resume-based questions first while observing body language before moving on to more specific, salon-related queries. In addition, the manager of the Furry Face grooming department is invited to participate in the evaluation process.

“It’s a layered interview,” she added. “Just because they may have been grooming for several years doesn’t mean they are going to fit our standards. We have really high expectations.”
Simple, leading questions help to create a dynamic conversation in order to determine the strength of the prospect’s attributes, said Janene Zakrajsek, owner of Pussy and Pooch with two locations in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif. A portfolio of current work is also a plus and enhances a resume, she added.

Industry Voices
What is your opinion of California Senate Bill 969, establishing minimum standards for groomers and grooming schools?

“As a professional business owner, I am in support of the concept of establishing standards for groomers and grooming schools that would be in the best interest of all parties. Human spas and salons have certain standards for health, safety, and sanitation for the welfare of their clients as well as a basic level of trained skills – why should the pet industry be any different? There really needs to be a baseline standard that we are all held accountable to in maintaining pet salons. Having a licensed professional or a licensed facility that has demonstrated knowledge and/or skills will give the overall industry a professional boost and more credibility.”
Janene Zakrajsek, owner of Pussy and Pooch with locations in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.
“There are a lot of states that are trying to put bills together requiring certification through one of the three national organizations for an acceptable standard. In California the government wants to regulate groomers, but I would like to see some regulations within the industry.”
Lisa Menze, National Certified Master Groomer, Certified Feline Master Groomer and owner of Unleashed Pet Spa, with three locations in Largo, Fla.

“I think that groomers in the industry need to be more proactive because the vets don’t understand the grooming industry nor do politicians. I think if we don’t have somebody step forward in the industry to say, 'Hey, we also need to have a say in this' and to provide education about what we do, they are going to walk all over us and start laying down laws that we just can’t follow. We have put a lot of time and effort into our profession and right now people look at us and say, 'Oh, you are just a dog groomer.' However, it would be nice to be considered a professional and it would clean up the industry a bit.”
Kristi Colobella, owner of K9 Cuts and Pupkulture Boutique located in Woods Cross, Utah

“We look for a solid skill-set, experience, professionalism, respect for our business, the ability to work with a team and lastly, we hope for someone that can think out of the box and is open to creating a new grooming business standard,” she said.

Attitude and motivation are essential qualities and Andrew Kim, owner of Healthy Spot, with two locations in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, noted that his salons experience a low turnover rate partially due to a culture of continuing education, care for animals and an environment that fosters growth.

“We look for someone who can contribute to that culture and fit in,” he said.

In order to discern this mindset, Kim sets aside an entire day for a working interview consisting of grooming and bathing at least three dogs with different coats. This process serves as an indicator of grooming skills, performance under pressure and as well as attitude and personality.

“We throw them into the fire to see how they perform,” he added. “It’s easy to be someone else for 15 to 30 minutes in an interview, but much harder during a full day of grooming.”

Additional components to the interview and hiring process at Healthy Spot include drug testing and reference checks, a practice that has drastically reduced the number of applicants, according to Kim.

“I refer to groomers as the artists of the industry,” said Kim.  “Some are brilliant in their creativity but like all fields, there are also some bad apples in the bunch.”

Necessary Attributes
Once a groomer is hired, Zakrajsek said she expects the new employee to possess the ability to interact with clients to create a trusting relationship and inspire customer confidence in their ability to groom that client’s dog. These elements include solid verbal communication skills, in order to avoid miscommunication, and attention to detail. In addition, groomers are expected to conduct a thorough pre- and post-consultation with every client.

Finding suitable groomers may be a difficult task, but keeping them requires consideration as well. Lisa Menze, National Certified Master Groomer, Certified Feline Master Groomer and owner of Unleashed Pet Spa, with three locations in Largo, Fla., noted that continuing education and participation in grooming competitions helps add to the expertise of a groomer and creates loyalty to the shop.

“As a certified master dog and feline groomer, we have a little bit different environment,” she said. “Groomers come here for the educational opportunities.”

Along those lines, Menze said she looks for groomers who wish to pursue certification, and added that when considering a new hire, an applicant who is already a certified master groomer would definitely hold more sway in the final decision.

A well-rounded education and experience in the pet arena, including knowledge of nutrition, are expectations at Cozy Pets. Because groomers interact with four-legged clients and their owners on a regular basis, the ability to identify nutritional needs or allergy problems and convey that information inspires overall confidence.

“A lot of my groomers are vet techs or food nutritionists,” Carmody said.
Training and Retaining
Many salon owners prefer to hire and train groomers using their own methods. Dan Barton, creator of Splash and Dash for Dogs and author of the book “Stop Your Bitchin! and Start Making The Real Money You Deserve” noted that in his salon, bathers demonstrating talent and ambition are promoted and trained from within. He added that it is difficult to assess the skills of a groomer in a 30-minute interview, particularly regarding their common sense. Bathers demonstrating the desire to move up and the necessary characteristics of a groomer are gradually given more responsibility and training.

“Inevitably, certain bathers will rise to the top,” he said. “If they are passionate about learning and they truly want to be better, then you show them something, a technique, and they will continue using it.”

The benefit to this process is developing a groomer who understands the culture of the salon, Barton added.

Similarly, Kristi Colobella, owner of K9 Cuts and Pupkulture Boutique, located in Woods Cross, Utah, also prefers to train grooming personnel to her own specifications, often promoting from within and moving a competent bather to a prepper position and eventually a grooming spot.

“I like hiring someone with an open mind, and groomers who have been in the industry for 20 years tend to be not so open minded,” she said.

Compensation will inevitably be an issue, but the old adage “you get what you pay for” may prove true when hiring groomers.

“I want the best people I can get, and so I pay dearly for good quality people,” Furry Face’s Grow said. “And I get to watch them sing to the dogs and hear the giggling when they take time out to play with them.” 


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