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Professional Grooming Marketplace: Emergency Procedures

Posted: March 28, 2012, 4:40 p.m. EST


Dealing with customers’ high-priority grooming needs can earn their loyalty, but exercising caution is important too.
By Sandi Cain

Groomers provide a variety of services, from simply bathing pets to elaborate haircuts, spa treatments and even dental cleaning. Generally, groom shops conduct business on a schedule and, hopefully, get to interact with clients by appointment. But busy groomers face a challenge when it comes to fitting in emergencies, and it starts with defining “emergency.”

“People think it’s an emergency if there’s poop stuck on the dog,” said Gladys Tay, co-owner of Bubbles and Ecouture in St. Paul, Minn.

While this scenario may not constitute an emergency, Tay said she deals with it by letting clients come in immediately if they only want a dog’s glands expressed.

At the Healthy Spot, a retail and grooming shop with two locations in the Los Angeles area, customers decide for themselves how big an emergency is when they call, noted co-owner Andrew Kim. Staff members might offer an appointment, but they also tell callers that they can’t guarantee what time the dog will be done.

“Sometimes when we say that, the customer will simply ask for a next-day appointment and that tells us how urgent it is,” Kim said.

Offering Aid
In general, groomers reported that they try to find a way to help customers with perceived emergencies. But they also set some rules. Some won’t take skunked dogs; others won’t treat flea infestations on a walk-in basis. Some suggest home remedies if they can’t take the pet right away, while others said they will even make an occasional house call.

dog fleas
Sometimes, big jobs involving emergencies such as pest removal or deskunking may seem daunting, but groomers can often charge more for difficult requests.

Flea infestations and skunk odor seem to generate the most cries for help, with nearly every groomer stating they will take a dog with fleas the same day the owner calls. In return, customers can expect gentle reminders to use flea treatments to prevent re-infestations, and shop owners take extra precautions to make sure the fleas don’t stick around the business.

“It would be a deal-breaker to pick up your dog at the groomer and find fleas on it,” said Dave Janowski, owner of A Green Dog Grooming in Oakdale, Wis.

Keeping pests out may be easier said than done, however. Julie Pilas, owner of Elephant Nose Pet Center in Morristown, N.J., said she has made house calls and bathed flea-infested dogs outside in summer to ensure pests aren’t brought into the shop.

“I feel bad for the dogs, so I’ll stop everything to help when they have fleas,” she said.

Heading the problem off before infested pets are brought in can help as well. Janowski hands out literature about flea remedies and suggests customers use Capstar before bringing their dogs to the shop to provide a safety net for the shop.

Helping Hands
Sometimes, emergency grooming is needed after natural disasters. After the Missouri River flooded last year, groomer Christie Jensen, proprietor of Pet Respect in Plattsburgh, Neb., was inundated with calls for help with dogs matted from river water, flea-infested and filled with cockleburs. Jensen stayed late, asked clients to wait longer to pick up their pets and generally went the extra mile to help flooded-out customers recover.
 
Fleas always are a problem near the river, Jensen said. Her staff uses vinegar for in-shop cleaning, and vacuum and remove trash frequently.

“If we know a dog has fleas, he goes straight into the tub and gets tea tree oil shampoo and the entire grooming session is done in the tub,” she said, adding that she recommends clients use Frontline Plus for the dog and Sevin Garden Dust for the yard.

Fleas are also the No. 1 problem in Chino, Calif., where Mutt Cuts owner Maria Ruezga takes flea-covered dogs on an urgent basis.

“They go right in the tub,” she said.

Then she disinfects the tub with Adams spray, has the customer purchase Frontline and flea bombs the shop.

Treatment preferences for fleas and other parasites vary by shop. Cindy Myrdek, owner of Bark Avenue Doggy Day Care & Grooming in Syracuse, N.Y., doesn’t use flea shampoos because they’re too harsh and don’t work, she said. But she does remind clients to use preventive methods such as Frontline.

When it comes to some types of emergencies, however, groomers aren’t always so eager to help. Skunk odor is a huge challenge for groomers, many of whom refuse to accept skunked dogs.

“It’s the No. 1 problem,” Elephant Nose’s Pilas said.

Industry Voices
What’s the worst type of emergency situation you get and what products save the day?

“We try to accommodate muddy dog customers immediately if possible and primarily use Show Seasons Down & Dirty. “
Dave Janowski, owner of Green Dog Grooming in Oakdale, Wis.

“The No. 1 thing is skunks. I use Skunk Off and Skunk Free, but it takes a couple of applications—two times a week and then once a week to get the smell out.”
Julie Pilas, owner of the Elephant Nose Pet Center in Morristown, N.J.

“We consider fleas a genuine emergency. We rush bathing to avoid getting fleas on other dogs at the shop and tell the customer to flea bomb the house while the dog is at the salon.”
Andrew Kim, co-owner of Healthy Spot in Santa Monica, Calif.

“The first thing that comes to mind is a pet that has encountered a skunk. We usually use a concoction of products that includes Coat Handler Deodorizing Crystals, but time is going to be the only thing that removes the odor completely.”
Liz Czak, owner of Yankee Clipper Pet Grooming in Rockport, Maine

How the smell can affect business is a big concern. A Green Dog Grooming’s Janowski won’t take skunked dogs.

“We’re a small shop and have a hair salon next door,” he said. “I suggest using Internet resources for home remedies like Dawn, and tell customers if they want to do the first bath at home, I’ll treat them after that.”

Getting customers to do the take the first step and initiate treatment at home may be the best option for some shops. Patty Rayburn, owner of Carol’s Grooming in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, said she also turns down skunked dogs, recommending a baking soda/peroxide recipe for use at home. Clients are rarely upset when she says no.

“They’re understanding, but it makes a difference if you’re nice about it,” she said.
 
Not every groomer will turn away skunked animals, thoguh. In rural Rockport, Maine, where skunks are plentiful, clients can bring their skunked dogs to Liz Czak, owner of Yankee Clipper Pet Grooming. Czak said owners don’t realize the skunk’s scent bonds to the hair shaft and that’s what makes it tough to remove. Her solution is to use a “concoction of products” that includes Coat Handler Deodorizing Crystals.

Pests and off-putting smells aren’t the only rush jobs groom shops have to deal with. Other common emergencies include mud-covered dogs, dogs that have rolled in something smelly, or dogs who have burrs or sticky substances in their fur. Groomers reported relying on regular degreasers, detanglers, shampoos and Dawn to resolve everyday problems, in addition to a healthy dose of elbow grease and hard work.

Going out of the way for clients can make a difference in the business relationship. Janowski will go the extra mile to fit in mud-covered dogs or those who have rolled in something smelly. He reported using Isle of Dogs conditioners to help restore their fur.

This doesn’t mean groomers have to offer charity, though. Ruezga of Mutt Cuts, whose shop is near popular recreation areas, uses Espree products on mud-covered dogs because they’re gentle and work well, she said. But if a client is negligent and the pet’s coat is often in bad shape, she charges more for grooming.

Still, charity can have fringe benefits, adding potential future customers in the case of helping potential rescue dogs. Matted dogs are regular clients for Bark Avenue Doggy Day Care & Grooming’s Myrdek, who works with rescue groups to spiff up dogs for adoption. She uses Dawn liquid, mat splitters, and the Tick Key when necessary.

Some of the most time-consuming and energy-intensive emergency grooming involves removing difficult materials from pets’ coats. Dealing with sticky stuff, for example, can present a whole other set of problems. Rayburn uses peanut butter and plain soap to remove gum, followed by dog shampoo. Czak said she likes Davis Degreaser for greasy and oily problems, and added that she uses Tropiclean’s iSmart for dogs with poop on their rear ends.

Regardless of the non-medical emergency, groomers often end up being the first responders.

“If you want to keep customers and keep them happy, you have to do whatever is needed,” Elephant Nose Pet Center’s Pilas said.

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