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Professional Grooming Marketplace: Successful Grooming Shop Owners Focus on Design

Posted: Jan. 24, 2012, 8:15 p.m. EST


Achieving balance between ergonomics, function and aesthetics is vital in planning salon layouts.

When it comes to groom salon design, practical and functional considerations outweigh the aesthetic or stylistic considerations, though both play a role, owners stated.

"There is often a battle between form and function,” said Andrew Kim, co-owner of Healthy Spot, with locations in West Hollywood and Santa Monica, Calif. "We wanted a beautiful salon, but if it isn’t functional, it defeats the purpose. However, if you focus purely on function and aren’t willing to spend on aesthetics, you lose your branding identity.” 

For many groom shop owners, function has to take precedent, but aesthetics have to be given proper attention as well.

Pet grooming salon design
Gone are the days of back-room grooming: Increasingly, shops are switching to an open layout, with grooming stations on display and dogs free to move about. Photo courtesy of Bubbles and Ecouture.

"Groomers need to be able to work in that space day after day,” said Gladys Tay, co-owner of Bubbles & Ecouture in West St. Paul, Minn. "At the same time, image is important because you only have one chance to impress people when they walk in the door. You can incorporate both, and have a successful and productive salon.”

Through maintaining elements of functionality and design flair, salon owners can achieve the balance many reported they desire.

"The space has to first be laid out for function, including work areas and systems,” said Zack Grey, owner of Moon Shine Pet Grooming Salon in Silver Lake, Calif. "Then you can get creative with the visual elements.”

Grooming Shops Up to Code
Shop owners should find out about building codes and landlord requirements before signing a lease and laying out the salon, said Maria Ruezga, owner of Mutt Cutts Dog Spa & Boutique in Chino, Calif. That way, they can prevent surprise costs and the need for retrofitting. For instance, Ruezga mentioned her water heater had to be a certain distance from the tubs, and she had to install soundproofing under the drywall separating her space from other tenants in the building. 

Ruezga also advised hiring a contractor to ensure systems are up to code and the electrical voltage can handle all the equipment running at the same time without blowing fuses. Using separate breakers for the dryers is a good idea, she added, and suggested installing as many outlets as possible so the space can accommodate various dog grooming needs.

In addition, climate control is an important factor to consider. Karla Addington-Smith, owner of A Fortunate Dog Spa in Maineville, Ohio, said she keeps a vent fan and a dehumidifier running at all times in her salon, and added that individual thermostats in each room are a must.

Besides regulating temperature, an air ventilation/exchange system helps eliminate odor and dander, and circulates fresh air, Tay stated.

Air quality is tied to pet dander and hair removal, as well. Without a system in place, groomers and customers may find the environment difficult to function in. Debbie Foster, owner of Debbie’s Pet Boutique in Windsor, Calif., installed a central vacuum system.

"It’s quiet and easy for the groomers to use,” she said.

Different options are available, as well. Rina Meyers, owner of A Paw Spa in Littleton, Colo., said she went for a clipper vac system in her shop to collect the hair as she grooms.

Healthy Spot Pet Grooming
Possibly mimicing aesthetics found in human spas and salons, modern design elements are appearing in dog grooming shops and facilities. Photo courtesy of Healthy Spot.

Plumbing is another consideration. Addington-Smith had to add a large water heater to handle salon needs, and installed a raised false floor with plumbing underneath for tub drainage. Some salons, such as Healthy Spot, have commercial floor drains so everything can be washed down easily at night.

In some cases, owners can improve conditions in-shop by taking lighting into consideration.

"Don’t skimp on lighting,” Tay said. "Put in as much white lighting as you can so you can see what you’re doing.”

Kim said he mixes ceiling fluorescents, natural light through large windows, warm spot lighting in grooming areas and built-in lighting on his high-end grooming tables.

"Our groomers appreciate the bright lighting because it eliminates shadows and helps them see the lines needed for technical cuts,” he added. "It helps us retain experienced staff.”

Map the Grooming Shop Floor Plan
In deciding how to divide up the interior space for efficiency, productivity and flow, the final floor plan depends on what shop owners think is important for a grooming salon. For instance, the issue of grooming visibility to clients can dictate space utilization.

"I didn’t want a salon where groomers take dogs to a back room,” Grey said. "My concept is visual and interactive.”

His 1,400-square-foot Moon Shine Pet Grooming Salon is a big open space, with grooming stations in one section and self-wash pods in another. See-through shelf units act as partitions between the grooming stations.

"There’s a feeling of separate areas, yet nothing is hidden,” he said. "People can watch what’s going on. When you make the grooming process transparent, you build confidence in your customers.”

Not all salons take the same approach, however. It’s the opposite at Bark Avenue Doggy Day Care & Grooming Shop in Syracuse, N.Y., where the bathing, kennels, grooming, daycare and lobby and retail areas are located in separate rooms with a hall and 10 doors keeping everything contained.

"I don’t want people to see too much,” said owner, Cindy Myrdek. "When dogs see their parents, they can go berserk.”  

Mutt Cutts’ Ruezga built in some visibility with two windows looking from the reception area into the grooming area for reassurance, but she said they don’t let the owners stay.

"The dogs get too distracted,” she said, adding that she has bathing and drying stations in a separate room from grooming to reduce noise, humidity, and also for cleanliness purposes.

Holding Options for Grooming Shops
How salon owners handle kenneling and monitoring dogs before and after grooming is another aspect that affects the floor plan.
 

Industry Voices
What’s most important to keep in mind when designing a grooming salon: The comfort of the pet, the customer or the groomer?

 

"Number one is the comfort of the dogs and cats. If they’re not happy when they leave the salon, the customer isn’t happy, and they won’t return. The groomers’ comfort is second, and the clients’ comfort is last.”
Debbie Foster, owner of
Debbie’s Pet Boutique in
Windsor, Calif.


"Ultimately, it’s all about what your clients prefer. I asked my customers what their ideal grooming shop would be like, and incorporated their suggestions into my salon design.”
Gladys Tay, co-owner of Bubbles & Ecouture in West St. Paul, Minn.
Gladys Tay Bubbles & Ecouture

"They’re all important. The baseline assumption is that the design must have pets in mind. Groomer comfort and safety is important too because if the groomer isn’t happy, the animals pick up on it, making them harder to groom, and that impacts on the quality of the groom, which impacts the salon’s reputation. Customer comfort is also important; without customers, you have no business.”
Andrew Kim, co-owner of Healthy Spot, with locations in West Hollywood and Santa Monica, Calif.

"Groomer comfort is No. 1; we stand all day. We provide beds for the dogs, but they often just sleep on the floor. We don’t want customers hanging around while we’re grooming; we took out the customer seating in the lobby and use it for retail displays now.”
Cindy Myrdek, owner of Bark Avenue Doggy Day Care & Grooming Shop in Syracuse, N.Y.

"You can’t emphasize one over the other; they all hold equal weight. That’s the challenge.”
Zack Grey, owner of Moon Shine Pet Grooming Salon in Silver Lake, Calif.
Zack Grey

"The client has to come first. Whatever makes them happy means they’re happy with the grooming results and the whole experience.”
Rina Meyers, owner of A Paw Spa in Littleton, Colo.

"The comfort of the groomers is most important—they’re here working up to 12 hours. You have to make sure groomers can do their job comfortably. Otherwise, it shows in their face and in the quality of their work, and that reflects on the business.”
Maria Ruezga, owner of Mutt Cutts Dog Spa & Boutique in Chino, Calif.

There’s a "Zen Zone” at A Fortunate Dog Spa, a separate room where pets are housed when they’re not in grooming. Lights are low, temps are cool and spa music plays in the background to keep the dogs calm.

"There’s no nose-to-nose contact between dogs,” A Fortunate Dog Spa’s Addington-Smith said.
 
Ruezga has stainless-steel cage banks in the bathing room for dogs awaiting their turn in the tub, and cage banks in the grooming room for finished dogs so they can be monitored at all times. That way, if a dog throws up from the car ride, gets diarrhea or has a seizure, they can deal with it immediately, she stated.

However, layouts differ and plans can be made to suit different goals. Dog holding crates are built into the shelving units in the open-air grooming stations at Moon Shine Pet Grooming Salon, as part of the creative décor.

On the other end of the spectrum, Bubbles & Ecouture has no kennels at all; dogs are free to poke around the workspace and mingle. There’s a couch just for the dogs.

"I wanted to create an environment for the dogs that feels like home,” Tay said, adding that she uses baby gates to block off areas for dogs needing their own space.

At Bark Avenue, dogs join the doggie daycare activities when they’re not being groomed.

"The dogs are far less stressed than in a kennel,” Myrdek said.

Factor In Grooming Accessibility
Equipment placement for efficiency and convenient access also impacts how interior space is allocated. At Mutt Cutts, clean towels and aprons are stored next to the tubs, and the laundry unit is nearby so wet towels can go directly into the washer. The supply storage area is next to the bathing room so the right shampoo is an easy grab.

"The location of design elements has to make sense,” Addington-Smith said.

While some people draw scale models of the floor plan with equipment footprints, she took large rolls of wrapping paper and cut out life-size shapes of her tables, tubs, equipment and fixtures, then dragged them around the salon space to see what worked best.

"We’re tight on space and wanted to maximize every inch,” she stated.

Mobility may play into some plans, as well. Bubbles & Ecouture’s Tay decided not to install everything permanently. Instead, she keeps her workspace flexible by putting a lot of equipment on wheels.

"I like to be able to move dogs and equipment where I need it,” she said.

Establish the Grooming Environment
Finding ways to deal with odor and noise helps create a pleasant environment for groomers to work in, plus it keeps the dogs calmer and enhances the customer experience, shop owners stated.

When a place smells bad, it makes customers think of something dirty, which doesn’t work for a business that cleans and clips dogs, Mutt Cutts Dog Spa & Boutique’s Ruezga said. Her shop has an air ventilation system and painted concrete floors that are easily cleaned.

Controlling odors is a concern for others in the industry, too. Addington-Smith said A Fortunate Dog doesn’t smell like a grooming salon. The key is keeping the space extremely clean, and ensuring that dogs use the potty park outside before they come in, she reported.

For noise, Tay recommended getting a solid, soundproof door going into the reception area so staff can better answer the phone and greet customers.

Moon Shine Pet Grooming Salon’s Grey installed acoustic ceiling tiles, and provides Bose noise-canceling headsets for self-wash customers, and groomers wear ear plugs.

Many shops reported handling drying in a separate, soundproofed room; a rubber strip along the bottom of the door can make a difference.

Meet Groomers’ Needs
Designing shops with details in mind will make groomers happier and more productive, Grey said. To create an environment that groomers want to be in, he incorporated accessible storage, easy-to-use systems such as a central vacuum system, and an upbeat, artsy décor. Grooming tables are automated, tubs have ramps, rubber mats surround work stations to save knees, and everything is within an arm’s reach.
 
Healthy Spot’s Kim said he provides lighted grooming tables for staff to help them produce high-quality technical cuts, an air filtration system for dander, back relief mats and climate control.

Moon Shine Pet Grooming Salon
Art elements and creaive layouts are prevelent in today’s grooming salons. Photo courtesy of Moon Shine Pet Grooming Salon.

"Together, they help attract and retain top grooming talent,” he said.

Bark Avenue’s Myrdek has a private area for staff with a kitchen, table and relaxing chairs for time between clients.

"It’s important to take breaks,” she stated.

Make Sure Grooming Salon Projects the Perfect Image
With all the systems and practical considerations in place, focus turns to the look of the salon.

"There’s no reason why a functional design can’t be aesthetically pleasing as well,” said A Fortunate Dog Spa’s Addington-Smith, who has opened seven grooming salons over 38 years.

Her current salon is finished in chocolate brown with French country white furniture and accents in the green color of money.

"Subconsciously, it allows people to loosen up with their cash,” Addington-Smith said.

The reception area features a granite desk with consultation seats, a leather couch that dogs are welcome to sit on, and a large chandelier that stays lit at night.

Color patterns and choices are numerous. Grey, of MoonShine, said he incorporated iconic paintings into his artsy theme, while Myrdek said she went for a fun and funky look with purple and green colors.

Healthy Spot’s Kim said he went for a modern, chic feel with vibrant green and white décor and frosted glass panels. In contrast, Ruezga wanted cheerful colors and chose bright blue and green.

"When a salon is cute and clean, it makes a big impression on customers,” A Paw Spa’s Meyers said, who used her favorite color, pink, in her décor to help cater to women. 
 
"In the end, the image you project depends on all the functional and aesthetic aspects coming together to form the customer experience,” Grey said. "Consistency is the most important thing, from how the dog is groomed to how the salon smells. You can’t overlook any single element.”

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