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5:33 PM   November 24, 2014
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Grooming Shop to Day Spa

As demand for services grows, groomers respond with multiservice facilities.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

Grooming dogs has become styling dogs, with added services and higher-quality products. (Courtesy of Poochini)
Grace Woodford could be considered a pioneer of sorts. A professional groomer since 1973, Woodford decided to transform her salon into a dog day spa and boarding facility in 1988— well before current market trends.

“I went from just grooming dogs to styling dogs, and that’s a big difference” she said. “It has changed in 30-some years. We styled them; we did them in such a way that the dogs left here looking like their breed instead of just shaving them down.”

Back then, Woodford had her work cut out for her. Not only did she shake up the grooming concept, but she also had to determine if her market was ready for it. She had to evaluate her services. And she had to change the products she used.

Today, Woodford owns and operates The Dog House Kennel & Grooming in Newnan, Ga., and she has seen demand for spa and day-care services explode. Thirty-five years ago, she offered basic wash and clip. Now, by popular demand, she’s adding suites, a day-care room, brand new kitchen, garden with a water fountain, play area and dog park to her already-expansive facility.

“People kept asking for more,” she said. “First they ask for an inch and then they want a mile. And you can’t help but get bigger.”
     
A Niche to Fill

Space: The Final Frontier

Space can be an issue for groomers looking to expand their salons into day-care or boarding facilities. Before you break ground, first check with your town, city, county and state government for zoning ordinances.

“There are a lot of zoning and other regulations that you get into with the boarding and the day care,” said Lori Cawood, owner of Canine Classic Spa and Resort in Bloomington, Ill. “In most states, you can usually squeak in day care with your salon, depending how large you want to go.

“They should definitely check into space requirements for whatever they’re going to do,” she says. “Even the day spa takes some additional space to do it right.”
 

Dog spas like Woodford’s are popping up across major metropolitan and suburban areas throughout the country. As humans treat their animals like family members, they lavish their pets with things that they would like, including a day at the spa, said Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Assn. in Greenwich, Conn.

“People are rewarding their animals in terms that are meaningful to them as humans,” he said. “As a result, anything—any trend, any type of product or service—that you may see that’s really hot among humans, if there’s a way to adapt it to pets, you’re going to see that adapted to pets.”

Groomers style pets, so many of these canine cosmetologists are transforming their salons into day spas. But that’s not all. They’re adding day-care facilities and high-class resorts fit for royalty.

“Businesses are getting much more sophisticated,” said Joseph Lyman, executive director of the Pet Care Services Assn. in Colorado Springs, Colo. “When we look at the industry, groomers are starting to move more toward multiservice facilities, whether it be spa services or hydrotherapy, that weren’t straight-line grooming five to 10 years ago. They’re starting to emerge because people are looking for the one-stop shop when it comes to their pets.”
     
Check Your Market

Join the Club

Looking to add day spa services to your salon? Resource regional and national associations for guidance, said Malissa Diener, owner of Poochini Pet Salon in Mesa, Ariz., and board member for the Arizona Professional Pet Groomers Assn.

“If groomers would actually join and become a part of national or state associations, they could get good continuing education and keep abreast of what’s going on in the industry,” she said.

When Diener opened her dog day spa last year, she networked with other groomers and spa owners, learning as much as she could about the trade.

“I’ve found that groomers I network with that are of a like mind are more than happy to share information,” she said. “They want the same thing: They want to educate the public and offer the best services for the dogs.”

Grace Woodford, owner of The Dog House Kennel & Grooming in Newnan, Ga., also encourages groomers to invest in their future.

“Do get certified,” she says. “Do belong to associations. Do spend the money. Where can you get the knowledge but through an association? Where can you go for continuing education but through an association? There’s no other place.”

Before transitioning from a grooming salon to a day spa or multiservice facility, experts recommend shop owners first evaluate their market. Will the community support a day spa or day care, or will grooming services suffice?

“It depends on where the groomer is and the normal traffic in a given shop,” Vetere said. “For a groomer sitting in the middle of Ames, Iowa, I’m not so sure that there will be high demand for a spa or resort. But if they’re in downtown Manhattan or Los Angeles or some other very trend-induced area, you’re going to find a very strong audience for that.”

No matter a groomer’s location, if customers are asking for pet massage or boarding, for example, it should be something to consider. Lyman said that trends in the pet service sector point to convenience and value-added services.

“Consumers say overwhelmingly that convenience is one of their priorities,” he said. “And as consumers go, so do the businesses. You have to keep up with the trend toward added-value services, which can generate more revenue.”

Take time and determine what the community needs, Woodford said.

“Research the market,” she said. “See what’s not available in your area. If you’re going to spend money, you need to be sure you can pay for it afterwards.”
     
Check Your Expertise
Day spas evoke images of relaxation and beautification. When expanding grooming services to include these indulgences, savvy salon owners inventory their talents and use them to benefit their clients.

Malissa Diener, owner of Poochini Pet Salon in Mesa, Ariz., is a certified canine massage therapist. She uses her skills to calm arthritic joints or comfort dogs with hip dysplasia. Woodford is a certified Dermatech specialist. She uses her skills to analyze coat and skin issues and recommend treatments to soothe hot spots or brighten lackluster coats.

Groomers don’t have to attend hours of rigorous training, however, to develop specialized skills. Massage, paw pedicures, facials and other such spa services can be easily learned, Diener said.

“Massage is an easy addition for a groomer to make in a spa, and you don’t even have to get certified,” she said. “There are tons of videos and books that teach you what to do.”

When Lori Cawood began to offer massage services at Canine Classic Spa and Resort in Bloomington, Ill., she made it clear that her services were a luxury rather than a clinical remedy. It’s an important distinction to make.

“Our massages are strictly for relaxation,” she said. “We don’t pretend that we’re something we’re not. We have some old basset hounds that come in every two weeks for their whirlpool therapy, and we work in a massage with their bath. They love it. And the owners love it, too, because the dogs are getting some relief from their arthritis. But they know we’re not doing a medical treatment.”
     
Check Your Products
Gone are the days of grooming shops with one or two shampoos, flea dips and shave-downs. Whether in a day spa or a salon, groomers use a range of natural cleansers, aromatherapy-infused conditioners and tonics to make coats shine. They work well, and because they’re specialized, the salon can raise its prices.

“We can charge a little more for the spa products and natural products,” Cawood said. “People feel better about it. They read the ingredients on the bottles and say, ‘Wow. There’s not much in this, but it’s still doing a good job.’”

In addition to shampooing and conditioning their clients, dog day spas also offer canine pedicures, special conditioners for dogs’ faces, hot oil treatments, paraffin wax for paw dips, natural vegetable dyes and sparkly sprays for that added panache.

Diener found her spa products online and at trade shows. As a veteran groomer and cocker spaniel breeder, she has seen the product variety increase every year.

“I did a lot of Internet research, but I got a lot of information last year at SuperZoo in Las Vegas,” she said. “The great thing about those is you get samples to try and then you can see what products you like. They keep coming out with more and more stuff, and that’s great for us because they keep improving.”

Turning a grooming salon into a day spa isn’t hard, but it takes some careful planning and a genuine love for the trade, Woodford said.

“It takes time,” she said. “It takes patience. It takes education. It takes networking. And a love for what you do. You have to grow your business and you have to be a gambler. You have to trust that you know what you’re doing and believe in yourself enough
to do it.” <HOME>


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