Please note that some this article was previously published in Groomer To Groomer magazine, but to begin a new chapter of articles relating to all things pet spa, I am re-introducing it to set the foundation for a series of subsequent articles.
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A bit more than 3 years ago I opened the fifth salon I have owned- this one being the third one from within my home. With my family and my dogs to care for as well as the extra space available to utilize, it seemed perfect sense to save on the overhead and be available for my family as much as possible while operating my business.
One of the biggest needs I had to meet was the needs of my clients to be sure my salon was easily found, and easily accessable--which could create a problem! I am tucked away in the woods, a mile off a majoy highway, but still, advertising would need to be effective and the driveway to my home needed seasonal upkeep for sure!
My home in the summer
When I began to sit down and draw up my plans for this new salon, I took a lot of things into consideration. I went to the town municipal offices and library and looked into the area’s demographic facts. I looked at new businesses in the works for opening in this area, at average household incomes, at property values and taxes, I looked at the amount of enrollment in the local schools, and of course I looked at the licensed dog reports and spoke in depth with our local vet about their patients. I did not want to open up what I wanted to be a specialized pet spa & boutique in an area that wouldn’t have enough interest in this special level of pet care to support my business endeavor. Luckily Mazomanie is quite a growing area and takes great pride in being voted one of the “Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America”, with a great art and gallery district downtown and many special nooks for antiquers and those in search of local color. So a pet spa has been well received, and indeed, word of mouth has been my greatest advertisement.
Personally, I have owned both retail and home based salons, and to me, home based is the way to go in this market. However, I firmly believe that if you work from your home, you have to really give your all to your salon front and to your clients, to make it as professional and specialized as possible. When offering grooming from your home, many people tend to not take a business as seriously as when they come in to a retail space for the same services. So I wanted my clients to step into a salon that had all the amenities, and one that was attractive to the senses as well as that demanded respect from my clients for how well their pets are cared for. I knew that I wanted an uncluttered, open and welcoming spa, with a homey feeling and one that hid away all of my grooming equipment as much as possible from clients’ view. As much as I store my tools away in my workstation, I wanted my dryers and kennels and other equipment to not dominate the space and affect its feng shui. I really wanted a salon that did not look like a typical salon, and I felt that not only did I need this for my own sense of accomplishment, but that if I did this, my clients would take notice, and indeed they have. I have gone from a handful of clients that made the move with me and still drive from as much as 2 hours away, to over 700 clients within the nearly 4 years I have been open.
I chose an open floor plan to best utilize the space I had (only a little over 300 sq. feet!), and for the safety of pet clients with regard to seeing them at all times. I also chose a room in my home that had some of the best natural light because I think it beautifies any space and is emotionally calming to work in an area with as much sunshine as possible. In fact the natural light and beautiful view out of the seating area windows makes it hard to keep my eyes on my work sometimes! I recently put in a small pond in the courtyard where my clients enter, and with the sound of bubbling water and the flowers coming into bloom I now have a host of wild birds and butterflies to watch and for my clients who stay and visit to enjoy.
Inside my salon, it is all about the experience my clients and their pets get with each visit. I took a good look at how I felt in the past while working at my table under fluorescent lights with the drone of the HV dryer in my ears and the nervous barking of dogs in the holding kennels, and I knew I had to follow my heart and create a salon for pets that offered them a peaceful setting for their grooming. A salon with added services that offered encompassing grooming on a holistic level that respected each animal’s need for grooming to be a positive and rewarding event as part of their lives. I wanted no muzzles, no loud noise, no anxiety and no fear for my pet clients. I wanted to cater the fearful, geriatric and aggressive pets that had been turned away from other salons. And the great thing about owning your own business is that you can take what you yearn for in your heart, and work hard enough to make it happen in your career. So, I did it. I decided that I would give my would-be clients a salon like nothing they had ever seen.
Well, here is the space I had to work with!
Aside from the obvious relaxing music being played at all times, softening candles burning and using aromatherapy and flower essence therapy to set the atmosphere for my space, I also took the time to study feng shui and color therapy, and looked at this when designing the space. I knew I would be offering canine massage and other modalities of therapy to my clients in addition to my grooming, so this spa had to be appealing to my pet owners for them to see that I take my efforts seriously.
I chose wall colors that were energizing in the morning light and calming in the afternoon light- alternating colors on each wall to catch the sun at certain times of the day and to cast a glow in the room that would be bright yellow and green in the morning hours and golden orange and deep red in the afternoon and early evening. I also chose these colors for my fixtures and furnishings to signify strong presence with a warm and inviting feeling.
Photo from last year
Photo from this year
Obviously substantial light is one of the most important elements of any salon, but the RIGHT type of lighting is important also. Poor lighting quality can cause headaches, fatigue and even depression! Over my table I hung positional lighting lamps with active UVB bulbs for a warm and yet intense light to make my table the focal point of the salon. These bulbs can be turned up or down and on their highest setting, they do create a bit of ambient warmth to keep the chill away from older dogs and puppies while they are HV dried. I wanted my table to not look mechanical or “sterile”, so I applied a layer of vibrant yellow Poly-Coat to the work surface. Not only does this provide a beautiful “pallet” for my dogs to be groomed from, but it also has a great texture that helps the dogs from slipping and one that I can scissor smoothly across. I also hung a large mirror on the wall next to my table to allow me a place to look at my finished dog for critiquing and to add the softness to a room that a nicely framed mirror gives. About a hundred times a day I look in that mirror! And last but not least, I spent out the money for WONDERFUl gel anti fatigue mats for either side of my table and in front of my tub. These mats not only save my feet, but they are great at saving dropped clippers & scissors!
For the floor I chose recycled textured wood grain cork tiles. I wanted to use as much recycled and refurbished material as I could when designing and furnishing the salon because in line with this being a spa and thus being environmentally conscious, I also wanted to feel good knowing that I was doing something non detrimental to the environment and working in surroundings that gave off positive energy. The cork helps keep the floor toasty warm in the Wisconsin winter months and cool in the summer months. It also is easy for elderly dogs to keep traction on and to avoid slipping by the pets and myself if there is hair on the floor. I have also found that it too, is extremely forgiving of my dropped scissors!
Soon after opening I decided to install a central vacuuming system to cut down on both noise and dust particles. Now all I have to do is flip the switch and I can barely hear the hum of the vacuum and I am not breathing in particulate matter every time I clean up.
I also took the time to design a sound dampening containment system for my high velocity dryer in my drying area. The noise from the machine is deafening as any long term stylist will tell you, and I did not want the calm tranquility of my spa to be broken by the high pitched whine of a dryer motor, but I wanted the power of a double motor dryer to speed drying time and didn’t have the money to purchase an entire new drying system. This dryer I have is now contained in a separate area of my overhead duct work that also holds the hose for the vacuum system. All tucked discreetly away from the client’s eye and to not deter from the overall open appearance of the salon.
Since I wanted the salon to be visitor friendly, I added an open seating area across from my table, (complete with a digital photo frame to serve as my styling portfolio). Some groomers may think this is nuts, but I do use discretion when allowing owners to stay. Not many owners do, but for those who want to watch their pet being groomed, are there to learn massage techniques or for personal grooming lessons (yes, I do teach some owners how to groom their own dogs!), this gives them a comfortable space and makes them feel welcome. I also recently added a small coffee and soda/water bar to have on hand for when I know a client or group of clients, association members, or dog show friends will be staying for a session and this has been well received!
My view from the table and the client seating area
The pond outside and the feeders attract much wildlife!
In my bathing room I installed an antique porcelain tub that I found at a market and installed the tile walls and slate flooring as well. I wanted a functional tub that was also inviting and not your typical stainless. I had fell in love with a European designed acrylic pet tub showcased at a pet trade show, but simply could not afford it, so I am still saving up for that renovation someday! I almost always burn a scented candle or two in the bathing room, I also use aromatherapy essential oils in most baths and I have a large power head to use for hydrotherapy aquassage and skin treatment sessions. I hand mix my shampoos for my skin & coat care clients and the other regular shampoos are mixed via a shampoo system hidden underneath my sink cabinet. Again, everything is tucked away from my client’s view. (What looks to be glass in the bath and salon photos is actually all acrylic for safety!)
Storage space under the vanity sink
The black pump is what I use to create a circulating bath for my massage clients as well as to supply skin & coat care services that require warm soaking and exfoliation.
A client pet recieves a skin & coat care hydrossage & circulating bath.
Followed by a moisture wrap treatment
While I was short on space for my kenneling area, I knew that I did not intend to groom more than 5 or 6 dogs on any given day, so I did not need many kennels. I purchased the sturdiest stackable open kennels I could afford and instead of keeping them a dreary black, I painted them with brightly colored hues of non toxic crib paint to cheer up the holding area that is in plain view of my clients. I also added brightly colored rolled beds to help lessen the stigma that some pet owners relate to kennels.
If you have any nice photos, awards, certificates or continued education plaques, be sure to post those on your wall for your clients to see. I also have a set of canine pyisiology charts that I often refer to with clients for both grooming and massage.
Last year I decided that I wanted to offer some specialized boutique type items and a few basic grooming tools to have for clients who often asked me about how to groom their pets at home. I feel that if a groomer is looking at adding ANYTHING for retail- grooming tools are the first thing they should keep on hand. Of course we do not want to give our trade secrets away, but we also want to give owners the tools to make our jobs easier and to help make the pet’s lifelong grooming less stressful for both them and the owner.
With respect to grooming being a significant part of any pet’s life and to offering grooming as what I feel personally to be “holistic”, I also began carrying certain nutritional supplements that I personally chose for my own dogs and to carry dog food samples of both kibble and freeze dried, organic and whole foods. I also have knit a very close respect for my local vet and out small town pet supply store to not only help other local businesses, but to also form am network of care and supply providers for my area’s pets and their owners. I believe that what I like to call “encompassing” pet grooming is steeped in a stylist educating themselves not only in their art of grooming, but of how their grooming touches every other aspect of a pet’s life.
We need to provide the best and most knowledgeable care we can for our grooming clients and for the care we cannot give, we should be a source of direction for clients. I feel this keeps your clients close and coming to you with their needs for not only grooming, but for your trusted professional opinion.
A pet recieves a massage and bonding session
On average I work 4, 8 or 9 hour days each week. I groom anywhere from 4 to 6 dogs each day. By offering not only truly specialized quality grooms a cut above the average, but also extra services and spa treatments as well as day care and supportive dental care and referrals, I can groom fewer dogs and make higher revenues. All the while doing good things for the clients in my care by addressing skin & coat, health and behavioral care. The idea is to work smarter not harder. But to also work passionately with your clients for the best experience that they can recieve. This creates a niche for both you & your business.
I should mention that in some demographic areas, a website can be of tremendous value to a business! Be sure to include all of the services that you have to offer, and whatever photos of your work and/or your salon that you are willing to share to entice new clients.
A link for pet parents to visit my site:
I also make revenues from training grooming interns thru a hands-on certification program, teaching canine massage therapy classes, doing design coordination with stylists redesigning their salon and their service menus, and doing training sessions for stylists who are beginning their competition grooming career.
Summer Grooming Class Grads
I also breed and show Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and am active in my local kennel club. All of this variety keeps me fresh and feeling challenged, and the added revenues help me remember that I can still have a career in this industry even after I am physically not able to groom full time any longer. It gives me peace of mind and fills my need to help others as well!
Most of all,,being active and continuing to learn has rewarded my with not just career rewards, but rewards of the best kind--inner happiness and friendships across the states with so many wonderful people!
Discussing skin & coat care with fellow pet professionals at my Canine Spa Therapies center at the ShowSeason booth. Canine Spa Therapies are an entire line of skin & coat care products that I personally designed and formulated. These beneficial products rely on simple and whole ingredients from natural sources, and they allow today's groomers & stylists to address and help care for the pet client skin & coat issues commonly seen in our salon. You can view this entire line of products on my website at:
and you can order directly through ShowSeason at this link:
Some of my bestest friends and peers!
~Within my salon, in addition to my regular grooming and bathing services I also offer these special services to set me apart from the rest:
Only all natural or organic grooming products
My own line of canine spa therapy products for skin & coat care (sold only to the professional pet trade)
Spa treatment product services (pawdicures, sugar scrubs, Dead Sea salt soaks, moisture wraps, hot oil treatments, mud wraps, color revitalizing, etc.)
Locally made pet boutique products, supplements and treats
Full hand scissored trims
Show grooming and handling services & breeder referrals
Basic behavior training counseling & referrals
One on one basic pet owner grooming classes
“Breed Meets” days (I schedule many dogs of the same breed and have both specialized grooming that day as well as a class for basic grooming techniques, and a meet & greet for fellow dog owners to see others dogs of the same breed that they own)
All day spa stays
“Stay & Play” days
Skin & coat care & counseling
Light Dental care
All natural flea & tick care
Canine massage therapy (deep tissue, active sports recovery, pathway, light touch, craniosacral, and Swedish), aromatherapy, hydrotherapy, acupressure, energy therapy & Reiki, and T-Touch (teaching sessions available as well)
Boutique type gifts and retail grooming care products available nowhere else.
I also took the leap to answer my genuine need to network with other groomers and launched this state’s only formal pet stylist association. I started this Assoc. because I wanted to be part of something larger than myself and my single business- for all groomers interested. I wanted to be part of a positive and friendly group of professionals, with networking at its foremost goal. I wanted certification and educational opportunities closer to my state for all groomers not able to take off work or from their families or to pay out many fees and travel expenses to still have the chance to become certified and to attend grooming competitions and educational forums if they so chose. I wanted member benefits that were important, like our group's health care plan and independent business and legal counseling, leasing programs for affordable and quality grooming equipment so every stylist can afford to work safely and with less physical stress, and in line with this, I also started our career placement program so that good stylists could find good jobs with reputable salons to provide for them more financial stability and joy in their work. I wanted to lead by example and to show others that helping one another and networking and continuing our individual educations are the only things to make our industry flourish, our careers to be taken more seriously, and for us to stay fresh and felling motivated in our daily work. So, with time and getting the word out about what we have to offer and what I am working to get for all members, out roster has grown incredibly. We now have nearly 400 members and over half of them are from other states including Ohio, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Maine, and many others. Even British Columbia, Hawaii, Australia, Alaska & two from Japan! Of course, I have met all of these wonderful people by offering my hand in friendship. I love the company of other groomers!
Learn more about our wonderful organization at: www.WisconsinPetStylists.org
I also have now finished a book on competition grooming for our industry and I made the ballot this last year as a nominee for the coveted Cardinal Crystal Achievement Award in three categories! I am so proud! So it has been a VERY full year and I have loved every minute of it!
To add, you can order this book directly from me, or visit the Groomer's Mall site as well!
I really feel that my grooming career has come full circle. But I could never have done it without the love and support of my family and especially my Husband. He has seen to it that I had the opportunity to open my own salon and to pursue my dreams of doing all that I can within my field of work. And being a working Mother of 3 is a lot easier when I can work in my salon and hear my kids playing happily upstairs!
Coincidentally, I wanted to add that I also have grooming students from time to time and every one of them comment that this is the most relaxed they have ever been while learning and they hope to have this environment to work in someday. It makes me feel very good to share this possibility with other groomers because grooming is historically a very stressful career. But it doesn’t have to be- with specializing in your certain services, you can create a niche for yourself that allows you great reward not only financially, but also emotionally.
Many days I go through a full day of grooming and it just doesn’t seem like much work at all. This industry has grown in leaps & bounds for the quality of our tools and the equipment is so much more physically respectful of our labor, it is senseless to not utilize new products available to help us work smarter instead of harder.
Please visit my most recent article featured in Groomer To groomer magazine at:
And be sure to keep an eye out for the introduction of my very own line of professional pet grooming shears available in the winter season of 2010!!