When I started my mobile grooming business 18 years ago I really knew nothing about the business. It was all based on trial and error. I soon figured out what was working and what was not. My business took off very quickly and I became so busy within just three months that I had to turn away new business. After four years in business I moved to another state and was able to start over and make changes that would help my business run smoothly as well as become more profitable. I improved my scheduling and routing, I changed my price structure and really improved my business overall.
After just two years in business I again had to relocate. Believe it or not I still found room for improvement and again was able to start over and implement more changes.
Not everyone has that opportunity. It is very hard to make changes to your price structure, routing and schedule procedures, etc. once you become established without losing good customers. I learned so much over the years. I also realized that people are the same no matter where they live, west coast, mid west or east coast. They all love their pets and want what's best for them. There are so many important topics to talk about when it comes to mobile grooming. I want to share with you a few topics that I feel are very important to know.
ESTABLISHING AND MAINTAINING YOUR CLIENT BASE
The most common fear that groomers have when wanting to go mobile is not getting the client base that will pay the higher rates for mobile grooming. I feel their pain as I, myself, was there at one time in my life. I can understand completely, but in a second breath, it makes me laugh because I know that three to six months from now those same groomers will be telling me that they are so busy and can no longer take on new clients!
Mobile groomers fill their client base very quickly. It is so important to keep track of how many clients you are taking on. When working 5 days per week while grooming 6 dogs per day you will only need approximately 120 clients if they are on a 4-week schedule.
When working 5 days per week, grooming 6 dogs per day that are on a 6-week schedule, means you can take on approximately 180 clients.
Taking on too many clients can create scheduling issues and unhappy clients. If someone wants to book an appointment in four weeks and you find that you have no openings, you may have taken on to many clients. Scheduling clients for three appointments at a time will allow for you to see what the availability is for adding new clients. My clients are only aware of their next appointment even though I have them tentatively scheduled for three appointments. Having one appointment at a time in your book makes it difficult to tell if you have openings for new clients.
Keep yourself in a comfortable place where you will continue to enjoy your business and not feel overwhelmed.
Your goal should be to get everyone on standing appointments. This is why it is important to give appointments out at every visit. When your clients have an appointment for their scheduled week, you will always be able to switch them around during that week if they find they have a conflict that arises. Accounting for everyone on the week they are due is crucial to keeping happy clients.
Most mobile groomers are booked solid within six months of starting up their business. It happens very quickly. This doesn’t mean that this will be your clientele forever. Clients may come and go. You may even let people go who are just not working out for you. It will take up to a year or two to really get the clientele that will most likely stay with you for a long time. After several years of starting your business you may want to condense your route and really fine tune your clientele. You may have chronic offenders of being a "no-show". If your phone is ringing and you are turning away clients you may want to start letting go the clients that are a problem and start taking on new clients.
It is very common that most people that start out in mobile grooming travel too far. Remember, we don't get paid for driving. Once you become in demand you may want to redefine your route to where the majority of your clients are located. It's hard to let good clients go that you have taken on several years ago. Although if it is costing you money to drive outside of your area then you have to make a business decision and let them go. I have had people offer to meet me within my route just to keep my services. This is why it is so important to define your route before you start your business because it can be very difficult to let good clients go that you now have a great relationship with.
The benefit of mobile grooming is that you can be very selective as to what breeds you take on. If you only need 110 to 180 clients, then why not make them the breeds you enjoy grooming? Some groomers only want to groom small dogs, where other groomers love to groom large breeds. If you prefer not to groom Bernese Mountain Dogs, German Shepherds, Old English Sheepdogs, Keeshonds, Malamutes, and similar breeds, then don’t do them. The large breeds can be hard to maneuver. They can be difficult to get into the bath tub, especially by yourself. Everyone has their own specialty. This is your business. Why not make this what you want it to be and enjoy every day of grooming.
The summer months can be challenging to keep things running smoothly. There are several things that I would like to share with you to help get you through the heat of the summer.
Keeping windshield sun screens in the front cab of your vehicle will help keep the heat down inside your truck. If you have a pass-through door from your cab to your grooming area, your a/c will always be compromised by the cab heating up. Always crack the windows in the cab area so the heat can dissipate.
If you have a generator that is mounted in a box, you may want to open the box door during hot summer days to let fresh air into the generator to prevent overheating. Just don’t forget to close it before you leave your appointment.
Many vehicles have a passage door from the cab to the grooming area. It is next to impossible for dog hair not to get into the cab area. When using the air conditioning in the cab area, never turn it on the re-circulate setting. This feature allows the cool air in the cab to be re-circulated throughout the vehicle. This will draw dog hair through your a/c system, which can cause damage over time.
Grey tanks can develop a sour odor if they are not deodorized, especially during the hot summer months. You can use bleach to deodorize the grey tank. After emptying the tank, add a couple of gallons of fresh water and a cup of bleach, and let it sit for about 30 minutes, then drain. Taking a quick drive around the block will swoosh the water around. Vinegar is another form of deodorizer that you can use that is noncorrosive. I have also heard that some groomers use bromine, which is the same chemical that is used in hot tubs.
Vehicles that have the HV dryer located in the back may tend to blow at a higher temperature during the summer. The back of these vehicles will heat up due to the high temperature outside. In most vehicles the a/c has no way of reaching that area. The HV dryer is pulling hot air from the van and re-circulating it through the motor. It heats up very quickly and can become very uncomfortable for the dog. Opening the back door to the vehicle while working to allow fresh air in will keep the HV dryer running at the proper temperature.
During the winter months when temperatures drop below 35 degrees, you must plug your shore line into your home in order to run space heaters when you are not working. This will prevent the plumbing in the vehicle from freezing. Over the years I have used a ceramic heater in the back of the van where the plumbing is located and also in the grooming area to regulate the proper temperature. I found that I was replacing ceramic heaters at least twice throughout the winter. This is because ceramic heaters run with a fan and heating coil. The fan pulls in dog hair, so these heaters quickly burn out. I started using an oil-filled heater many years ago. Because these heaters are filled with oil, there are no fans or electric coils to burn out. This type of heater will keep your van nice and warm throughout the night. Oil-filled space heaters run on a thermostat which you can set to whatever temperature you choose. I will use this heater during the day when it is extremely cold out while I am grooming. It does pull a lot of amps, so you must remember to turn it off when using dryers. This heater projects a nice natural, even heat that really warms you to the bone. They are available in a low-profile model which I prefer, as it stays put behind my grooming table without having to secure it in place.
You should always keep hot water heaters on during freezing temperatures. This will prevent them from freezing, which can cause extensive damage.
Weather can be a challenge for mobile groomers. Being prepared and taking precautions will help make things run smoothly and will prevent down time.
Finding the Right Trim and Schedule
The first thing I like to do when starting with a new client is look at the trim the dog is in. Is it flattering to the dog? If it is a pure breed dog, was it groomed correctly per the breed standard? Is there something that I can do to make the dog look cuter? I will talk to the client about the dog and make suggestions that I feel would benefit the dog.
When you prepare a dog properly, the trim will last longer for the client. When dogs come back in 4 to 6 weeks and you wash and dry them, they should look just like they did at the last appointment, just longer. That is when you know you have done a good job. If their coat looks very uneven, then you know you need to work on your preparation and scissor work.
Look at the dog’s schedule. Is this a good grooming schedule for this breed? Is it a good schedule for the trim that you are doing? Cocker Spaniels, for example, are one breed that can be difficult to maintain unless you have them in nice short cute trims and they are on a 4- to 5-week grooming schedule.
If the client likes the trim and the dog is coming back matted, then you have to change the schedule and recommend the dog be on a 5-week schedule instead of a 6-week schedule (or whatever schedule you have; just bump it up a week). If the client does not want to change the dog’s schedule, then the trim should be modified. Tell the client that you will tighten the trim to make it last a bit longer so you won’t have any problems with matting. You can also spot condition. If you see that the dog is matting behind the ears or tail, you can condition those areas heavily.
Make sure you are not leaving too much hair in the wrong places, especially behind the ears of Bichons, for an example.
Look at the lifestyle of the client. Many breeds love to be in the water during the warm-weather months. Many people love to bring their dogs to the beach and even camping. You have to take all these things into consideration when putting trims on their dogs. In these situations I will tighten my trims for the warm-weather season. Leaving hair in the wrong places will only contribute to matting. You can add style to your trims by leaving hair in the right places and taking hair off in the right places.
I like to have summer trims, winter trims and vacation trims. I will change the trim a bit based on what is going on. During the winter months if we are getting a lot of snow and the dog’s legs and feet are coming back matted I will tighten the trim up a little. If I know the clients are going out of town and the dog will be boarded, I will tighten the trim. If I am going away and I know the dog will have to wait a week longer than normal, I will tighten the trim. During the holiday rush I will tighten everyone just a bit in October/November so I am sure I will be able to get in and out of my stops quickly during the hectic month of December. All of these things go unnoticed by the clients. They never realize that I have done anything different. They trust me 100% and let me do whatever I feel fit. That’s the great thing about this business, which you will see.
The bottom line is if the owner doesn’t want to change the pet's grooming schedule to eliminate matting, then you must modify the trim. If the owner likes the trim just the way it is, you should recommend a more frequent schedule. You must do this to prevent you from de-matting at every visit. Maintenance is the key here; maintaining a good trim is my goal.
Adding style to your work is easier said than done. It takes an artistic eye. It also takes time, experience and practice to develop that artistry. It is very important for groomers to visit dog shows to see how these breeds should look as well as how the breeds are being stylized in the show ring. Just as our hairstyles are always changing, so are the breeds’ styles.
The show ring is where all the new trends are happening. Dog shows are fun to watch and you will most likely see breeds that you have never seen in person before. It is a great learning experience.
My new book, "Dog Grooming Simplified" includes full color photography of actual dogs. It is a great reference manual that is available at www.jodimurphy.net.
The most important thing that I have learned in the contest ring is to be methodical when I groom. Always start in the same place and end in the same place on every dog. If you tend to jump around, you will lose time. When you have a system when you groom you will become faster and the dogs will know what to expect every time.
Everything from bathing systems, dryers, clippers, blades, brushes and scissors all play a major role in your efficiency. Investing in good equipment is vital in grooming. Bathing systems will save you time, shampoo and water and are worth every penny.
Keep your equipment sharp and in good repair. If you are fighting with faulty clippers, dull blades and dull scissors, you are wasting valuable time. Be sure you always have backup equipment in case you need it. I always carry at least three or four of each blade with me. I have several clippers, several combs and a huge variety of brushes. I have many shears as well. If you ever drop your shears by mistake, they may become nicked, so you will need a backup.
Quality shears will improve your grooming time. Shears can be expensive; however, they are one tool that will make or break your finished product. Shears are something that you really need to invest in. If you ever use a good quality shear, you will see the difference immediately in your work. Inexpensive shears will not do your work any justice. Your work is only as good as the equipment that you are using, so save your money and invest in good equipment.
We sell our business as being convenient for our customers. When your grooming appointments become lengthy, you will lose money and your service becomes inconvenient. Having the right equipment will help you to be efficient.
For more information on Mobile Grooming please visit www.jodimurphy.net.
Everything you need to know about Mobile Grooming is available in my book "Mobile Pet Grooming" and Mobile Grooming DVDs.
Good luck and drive safe!