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February 6, 2019

BY: AMY CASTRO

As a customer, I’m all about convenience. I don’t want to make five different stops to shop for groceries or to take care of my pets’ needs either—and I’m not alone. Customers these days love one-stop shopping, which is one of the reasons why many pet retailers and veterinarians have added more services, such as grooming, to their offerings.

For many pet businesses, the ability to offer customers additional services isn’t just a convenience, but an effective way to attract customers who might not otherwise frequent their businesses. Thirteen years ago, when she opened The Petropolist in New York City, owner Tazz Latifi envisioned her entire store filled with wall-to-wall coolers stocked with raw foods. She quickly realized it was going to take more to get people to come through her doors.

“Offering grooming was a huge part of getting new clients in and getting them to understand their pet’s health because it’s all interrelated,” she said. “Also, it definitely adds to our bottom line. On quiet days if we have grooming scheduled, we make our numbers.”

At Odyssey Pets in Dallas, owner Sherry Redwine knew from the beginning that services would be key to her success. “When we first opened in 2006, we offered grooming. Since then we’ve added boarding and day care. By offering these services, we give a reason to come through our door for people who might not have otherwise,” she said. Today, Odyssey Pets is a full-line pet store that specializes in holistic, natural pet foods, grooming, boarding, day care, aquarium service and custom installations and more.

Bernadette Cruey, hospital manager at Academy Animal Hospital in Baltimore, has been with the facility for more than 43 years. She says they added grooming services more than 20 years ago. “It started because our technician, who at the time just did shave-downs on animals who were uncomfortably matted, needed the space. We would also get animals who needed sedation to be groomed.” She says they later added a professional groomer and started getting a lot of referrals from other groomers who would start to groom certain animals and then couldn’t finish. “They wanted the animal to go to a hospital that could not only sedate, but could finish the job well.” Today, the hospital offers regular grooming for clients and non-clients. When asked about the benefits to their practice, Cruey says the number one thing was revenue. “We’ll get new clients for grooming and then it turns out they need vaccines or need to see a vet. It’s also part of the overall health care of the animal, so it makes sense to do it.”

Hire the Right Groomer

As a consultant and trainer, one of the success factors I stress to my clients is their hiring processes. Considering the amount of time that it takes to find, interview and “onboard” a new employee, you don’t want to waste it by using ineffective processes and bad interview questions that end up causing you to make a bad hire. One tip I always give to employers is to “hire for attitude and then train for skill,” because technical skills can be trained, but attitude cannot.

“In grooming, you have a lot of people trying to work together in a small space. They’ve got to be able to get along with others,” she said. When asked about her interview process, Redwine says they spend a lot of time in the interview getting to know the applicant, getting a feel for the applicant’s personality and identifying how he or she will fit in.

In hiring their first groomers, Latifi and Cruey took a different approach. Rather than trying to find groomers, they started with great employees with great attitudes and turned them into groomers. Latifi’s first groomer was her best dog walker. “I told her I’d put her through grooming school if she’d make a commitment back to me of three to five years. She’s still with me 13 years later,” she said. Cruey said her hospital’s first groomer started as a kennel tech but she was interested in grooming. “She was taught the basics here and then she went to a professional groomer to intern. It all starts with someone who is very interested and patient,” she said.

People are often surprised that the person they interview turns out to be very different once hired. This is a phenomenon I call the “Interviewee Façade.” Oftentimes, the people you interview have researched the “right” answers to common interview questions and they’re on their best behavior at the interview. With proper interview questions (see my article on Behavioral Interviewing in the April 2018 edition of Pet Age), you can break through the façade. However, a trial period allows time for you to see the “real” person. Redwine says she always hires with a trial period of a few days that also gives her time to talk to her staff to get their thoughts about the new person.

Latifi also requires a trial period. “We have to test everyone out for the first two months. We get many people who have gone to online grooming schools and then they have to intern somewhere. Many times they don’t have good technique, which can be dangerous, so we have to really be on top of the people we hire.” Even when people do have experience, she said they may need more time to develop technique. “You’ve got to be willing to bring people in and nurture them and to walk them through the processes and safety measures. It’s a commitment.”

Awareness of Other Challenges

Beyond hiring staff, if you’re considering adding grooming services it’s important to do your research beforehand. Complying with health department regulations and maintaining required records, as well as your policies on health and vaccinations, are just some of the challenges people don’t think about when adding grooming services.

Cruey says one of the issues that has come up at their hospital is the policy that animals have to be up-to-date on vaccines to be groomed. “Some places only require rabies vaccines for an animal to be groomed. We require distemper and other vaccines. You need to make sure people know your policies before they come in.”

For retail owners whose interactions with customers have been limited to purchase transactions, dealing with different customer personalities and managing their expectations can bring a whole other set of challenges. Latifi says that not only is grooming work exhausting and labor-intensive, dealing with customers can be frustrating.

“You get animals who aren’t being properly maintained and that’s a very emotional issue to us. Also, customers who have unrealistic expectations, like a customer that has a dog that looks like a Chihuahua who wants you to make the dog look like a Shih Tzu,” she said. “However, we also have amazing clients who travel from all over the New York and New Jersey area to be with us, so that makes it worth it.”

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