Expected Industry Changes Based on National Covid-19 Grooming Survey 2020

Bath Dogs: The Gravy of Profit-Ability


Article by Grooming Business in a Box ®

In 1961 we opened our first grooming business on the West Coast. It was a two-person operation, husband and wife. With 5 children the pressure was on to maximize grooming and bathing quality and demand to afford a modern family home. Opening one of the first shops on Main Street was a challenge. There were no road maps for moving grooming largely from kennel departments to standalone operations along commuter expressways. Grooming industry books were rare let alone publications on the business side.

In the Sixties pet grooming businesses were often stereotyped as “poodle parlors.” We noticed some men on their first visit felt uncomfortably shy visiting one of these new beauty parlors for dogs. Seeing a man grooming at our business helped and pleasant customer service by a dedicated attendant on the front desk helped a great deal too. Everyone was put at ease immediately, and soon the place became the talk of town. Thousands of cars drove by daily and drivers couldn’t miss our billboard.

Ninety-five (95) percent of the demand was for full grooms, with Poodles and Terriers being the most popular. Bath-only dogs were far fewer. When we did groom them most customers were keen on having nails done without visits to their vets. Word spread about our equal focus to groom dogs not normally associated with full groom styling.

Aha! The trigger was pulled. Bath dogs doubled, tripled and quadrupled in less than a year. Our advertising featured Shih-Poo, Cockapoo and similar mixes, plus doxies, beagles, shepherds and labs. Boomtown! We actually had to move the entire business to a larger location just two blocks away to handle the demand. In the first year we gained about 1,000 new clients.

Other groomers in the region also adapted their advertising with not only pictures of beautifully groomed purebred dogs like poodles, cockers and terriers but a myriad of bath-only dogs. Today, most groomers do not realize the boom of commercial grooming on Main Street started in the Sixties. The message was every dog, tall and small and every breed and mixed, could benefit from professional grooming. It gave the industry the viability of to prove grooming in shopping centers and along major road routes would work.

Now 2020, the first step of any grooming business planning to grow into a small or large staffed operation is to communicate they are “family” groomers, meaning they groom them all, tall and small (as long as you have the will and capable staff to safely serve the large breeds). Cat grooming is an added plus of course.

At first we did not realize bath dogs could be almost twice as profitable as full grooms! Here is where the financial genius begins of The Madson Management System. Remember, this knowledge was largely unknown in the industry in the Sixties. Business books and articles were relatively unknown.” The void led us to 29 years later publish the original edition of From Problems to Profits: The Madson Management System for Pet Grooming Businesses which went on to sell over 30,000 copies, followed by 4 more titles in the Grooming Business in a Box® series.

Now 2020, the key to above-average profitability, what we call the gravy in the business of grooming, remains bath dogs strictly groomed in a humane, safe manner of operation we describe here.
We counsel a large number of operations with one full-charge stylist, assisted by 3 bathers. These stylists/owners earn net operating incomes up to and exceeding $100,000 a year without another full-charge groomer. That is take-home income prior personal taxes. Some do even better adding a fourth bather/assistant groomer. Get this! The bathers are paid well over the hourly average of other businesses. The best wages in town!


Come get your gravy! Pay close attention. We know pet owners pay more to have their pets not only bathed, but styled by professional groomers. It seems logical to expect your business would earn more net operating profit by selling higher-priced full groom services. Not so. Profitability per grooming service soars 30% or more with bath dogs.

It is critical who grooms the bath dogs! You must establish your pro Bathing Department that solely serves the bath dogs. Staff it with what we call Pro Pet Bathers. They can neaten feet, bun and bow, ours could even touch-up clean-faced poodles, and other scissor neatening here and there, and an advanced pro bather could do a basic sanitary and deshedding. While we did hire and train assistant pet groomers documented in our books, they did some finish work too. Therefore, we did not title our Pro Pet Bathers as assistant groomers who did some level of finish styling.

The premium financial purpose of a bathing department is 1) to employ pet bathers to bathe all pets, even the complete grooming pets finished by stylists is possible, and 2) to boost profitability by having only pro pet bathers complete the bath-only dogs.

When a full-charge groomer bathes a pet, the business loses its profit edge on that service order because a professionally-trained pet bather could do the bathing duties for less wages, and still be paid quite well too. Your gravy boat empties its potential. Think about it. Pet bathers earn wages typically lower than stylists. We had our stylists only do finish styling every work day. They did not do bathing and drying, ears and nails duties; that was assigned to pet bathers. Accountants hire bookkeeper employees and attorneys hire paralegals to maintain competitive prices by reducing labor costs. Similarly some hairstyling salons hire shampoo staff.

Want More Gravy?

The savings for one bath dog service may not seem like a lot, but when you annualize hundreds even thousands of bath dog services over a year the savings in wages can be many thousands of dollars, even tens of thousands. Take a closer look at another example.

If a full-charge groomer earns 60 percent commission and grooms a $50 bath-only pet without the help of a pet bather, the groomer earns $30 gross wage (assume 1 hour labor). It is the same as saying the owner paid the groomer $30 in wages to groom the bath-only pet.

If the same pet is done by a pro pet bather paid well at $18 an hour, the pet bather earns $18 in gross wages. The pet bather reduces gross wages from $30 to $18 for just one bath dog. That’s $12 reduction in gross wages, and nobody took a pay cut. Multiply that by 3,000 bath dogs in one year and the business saved $36,000 in gross wages and further reductions in employer contributions and employment taxes. Thousands of shops walk the knife’s edge using disputable 1099 classifications. Couldn’t they resolve their profitability issues leading them to avoid employer contribution taxes by filling up their gravy boat with our bath dog system?

Large operations could perhaps use some gravy for benefits not common in independently-owned grooming businesses. Don’t overlook the gravy! Employees have no valid issues to balk. Our bath-dog system pays well, no commission cuts. Pro bathers should be among the best paid in your region. Keep the best by paying them the best.

Do train bathers to earn that tag “pro” on their job title. Your full-charge stylists should not have to worry about the quality of the bathing assigned to pro pet bathers. Certainly there are stylist that do experience this worry. There is no excuse! This is a management issue!

In our shop stylists had the right to respectfully return dogs to bathers who did not stretch dry every curl on a poodle. Immediately the bather got a spray bottle of water, wet the curls, stretched dried them and returned the dog to the stylist, post haste. No kidding, and that ends that problem quickly. Never allow anything less than perfect bathing.

Gimme Some More Gravy

Here is another great solution. Our lead bather was given the title, Bathing Department Supervisor. This position bathes two less dogs a day, and with the time saved supervises the quality and safety of the department. Supervisors provide reinforcement training and initial training. Stylists never have to worry about returning pets not meeting their standards for properly prepped, bathed and dried pets. Business owners enjoy the peace-of-mind from knowing their supervisors are also safety experts.

Bath dogs should only groomed by pro pet bathers. It’s a no brainer for experienced business owners with financial acumen. It does not take long for the gravy boat to add up to many thousands of dollars a year without cutting pay levels. Learn more with Grooming Business in a Box® products. To learn more specifically about wages for groomers, see our book title Groomer Wage Systems. Get your gravy! ▀


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