My Journey to Becoming a Professional Dog Groomer
I knew I wanted to work with animals since the day I could even walk. I remember asking my mum constantly if I could have 10 dogs,2 turtles, a dragon, rabbits, chickens, and a lot more. She thought I was joking but my flare and passion just continued… I’m still waiting for the chickens though and I am minus 8 dogs. I would play vet nurses with our old cat Dusty most days and even enjoyed making Lego houses for the ants and worms to take cover in. My passion for animals was eery as my parents actually named me after Michaela Strachan, a very well-known TV presenter who has worked on many animal-related shows.
When I grew up and realised it wasn’t really practical to have 10 dogs, 2 turtles, a dragon, rabbits, and chickens I looked into jobs where I would get to meet hundreds of different pets and help them where I could. I have always enjoyed looking after and helping both people and animals and am a strong believer that when we do good things and help others it not only helps them but creates positive energy and makes us feel happy in ourselves too. Originally, I wanted to work on a farm, be a vet nurse or an RSPCA inspector.
However, as I did more work experience and volunteering, I soon realised these jobs were too heartbreaking for a softie like me. I carry my heart on my sleeve and I just couldn’t switch off from some of the things I saw in that brief time. I couldn’t handle the animals being in pain, neglected, or dying. A huge shout out to anyone in these roles, it takes such a strong and amazing person to do these jobs every day.
At this point, I was starting to question if working with animals was for me and whether I could hack it, and then we had to do 6 weeks of work experience placement at college. I did 2 weeks at a veterinary surgery, worked at the wolf conservation trust, and my last choice at a rescue kennel which fell through at the last minute, and I was given a “back up” at a dog grooming salon, a place I never really knew existed. Within my first week, I knew this is what I wanted to do. It was hard work, it was fun, fulfilling and it was creative. I was helping animals to feel better without daily heartbreak whilst being able to release my creative flair.
Dog Grooming Community
As an outsider in the grooming community, I had NO idea where to start. I was already studying for a National Diploma in Animal Management; I then went off to do my Degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare. Once I left, I was very unsure of how to get into dog grooming. Getting a job in a salon seemed impossible no matter how many times I applied and at the time I wasn’t in a position to go to college again to do a dog grooming course.
After floating around in office jobs for a year or so I just couldn’t see myself in those jobs long term. That is when I found a position as an assistant stylist 50 minutes from home with a large company. I applied and was told they had a high volume of applicants, so I wasn’t hopeful. I drove home feeling disheartened that I might not get this amazing opportunity to get my foot in the door. Then as I walked through the door the phone rang and the job was mine!
I can’t even explain the feeling that I had finally found a starting point. I worked hard for 3.5 years with the company, I was trained in-house and then I left to set up alone in 2014 when I was just 21. I wasn’t the best groomer at this point, to be honest! I look back at my pictures from when I first opened up and cringe, but I love looking at them to see how far I have come as a groomer. This is what I love about the job: even 10 years in I still learn new things all the time.
Before I opened my first salon, I volunteered to be a judge at a local charity dog show, this day changed my life. I met a lovely lady who showed her Briards, and she asked me if I would like to come for dinner and discuss me grooming them and helping out at champ shows and Crufts. I took her up on this offer and became good friends with her and her husband. A few months into our friendship they offered to invest in my business. My passion for my venture was almost as much as my passion, and I owe where I am today to them. We are not from a well-off family so I could have never afforded this on my own. They changed my life, they are like family to us now.
I got the bug for showing, I loved handling the Briards, and learning all there was to know about them, the history, and why they have the long flowing coat really did help me understand why we groom dogs in certain ways. I would also walk around Crufts and learn about the other breeds. It was only at this point that I learned about conformation and angulation. I saw first-hand how a groom could alter the whole appearance of a dog, just from the haircut. I watched as dogs ran around the ring and could see where they had left longer/shorter hair to accentuate the good points and hide the faults, I was fascinated. I watched top groomers show their dogs with pride and I wanted to be just like them. I followed their pages, looked at their pictures, and jumped at the chance of any seminars.
Seminars are worth every penny and even now I still regularly attend them to gain and update my knowledge. Groomers all groom differently and it’s important to take everyone’s little tweaks in and then create your own flair. This is what makes us unique as groomers and those small innovations are how styles change throughout the years. With these forever changing styles (and breeds) it’s important to constantly be up to date. As a dog groomer, you never stop learning. Every time I go to a seminar, I learn something new whether it is a more efficient way of bathing or accentuating good conformation.
Dog Grooming Competitions
From here I started to compete. I remember my first competition like it was yesterday. it was Mastergroom 2016. I felt sick to my stomach as I groomed in a beginner’s class with my Toy Poodle, Baloo. We placed first in that competition and I was so proud of myself. Even with no placing the feedback from the judges is valuable and throughout the years the feedback I’ve been given at each competition has given me something to think about and practice meaning I can be better next time.
I also find the feedback helps in my day-to-day grooming as I can take what they’ve said and put it on another dog at the salon. For example, my Standard Poodle, Maverick, has a fairly flat chest so I was given feedback to leave a little hair there and scissor it to enhance the chest area to create his depth in chest. In the salon, I do exactly the same. With these little things, the customer won’t have a clue what you’re doing differently but they will comment that it’s the best they’ve ever looked. Just that small tweak could be the difference in someone recommending you to all their friends and family, not because they know that you’ve created depth of chest but the fact you’ve made their dog look more handsome/elegant/proud than ever before.
For years I was technically an “unqualified” groomer. Our industry isn’t regulated at all, so I never thought it was a big deal until about 5 years ago. I was an “okay” groomer, but I wanted to be better. Being trained on the job meant I didn’t have any official qualifications, so I got my OCN level 3 and signed up to ICMG to become an International Master Groomer.
I didn’t NEED these qualifications to run my business, but they have paid off ten times over in custom and reputation. Not only have they taught me so much, but they have also opened me up to a whole new world of amazingly supportive groomers. CPD (continued professional development) is especially important to ensure you continue to learn and adapt your ways to ensure you’re reaching your full potential and running a safe and successful business.
When you set up a business it’s a minefield of what products to choose, there are so many you need and so many you don’t. Firstly, always stick within your budget, you can always get new things later. Don’t go all out and buy every single thing on the market. Each groomer has tools that are special to them which wouldn’t be useful to anyone else, so you do need to sit and make a list of all the things that YOU need to groom a dog. Christies Direct do so many bundles now which are amazing as they have everything you need to set up at an affordable price. It also enables you to try different products and find what works for you.
Before you set up you need to determine what type of “service” you will offer and specialise in. Will it be a pet grooming salon, will you cater to show dogs, do you want more of a spa setup and spa treatments for dogs? Finding out your clientele will help you with the decision. If you live in a more affluent town, you would be better off opening a spa type salon, whereas in the country where dogs get extremely muddy in fields, lakes, and up the hills then more people will probably just want a short back and sides.
Work with your clientele type and use it to your advantage. Figuring out your clientele type will also help with what products you need to start up. If you’re going to be mainly shaving dogs off then you likely won’t need 5 litres of scissoring spray, invest in a deep cleaning shampoo or flea shampoo instead and offer it as an upgrade. On the flip side if you cater to fluffier, designer breeds you will need to think about scissoring sprays, lifting shampoos, lifting combs, etc to enable you to do the best groom. If you are ever unsure of what you need always contact another groomer to ask for advice or feedback on products to enable you to make a decision.
Once you’re set up and raring to go it’s good to advertise. I have spent hundreds over the years on different advertising platforms. I have found social media and word of mouth have been my most effective advertisements. We offer a spa package that includes a picture of the customer’s dog on the social media pages which works wonders as people come to us specifically for this package. We use backdrops and change them regularly and it has now become a bit of a competition to whether their dog gets onto our pages!
It is an amazing advertisement and people love sharing and commenting on them. Customer service is very important in our salon and we are recommended because of how we make customers feel. They want to feel as if their dog is the one and the only dog you groom. Have you ever been to the hairdressers and they remember your hairstyle choice? Makes you feel good right? Well, people are exactly the same with their dogs. Go above and beyond for every single client and the recommendations will come flooding in. You can also offer incentives or competitions via social media which are also valuable advertisements.
. These are my top tips for your business when you open:
- Arrange an open evening: Personally, we did an open evening which enabled the locals to come to visit us for a toast and a doggie bag. This got people talking about the “new salon on the block” before, during, and after we opened. We offered a free tooth clean on people’s first booking which really enticed people to book.
- Social media is one of the strongest selling and advertisement platforms you can use nowadays. With so many people having pages for their pets it is a fantastic way to advertise and get people to share your pictures. We try and post up to 10 times a week on the business pages. People are always so proud of their dogs they often share pictures with friends and family. Word of mouth is powerful.
- Customer service - Always go above and beyond for your clients, it’s very important to make every customer feel like they are your one and only customer.
- Set your boundaries early – I’m talking terms and conditions, late fees, matting fees, flea charge, kennelling fees, matting disclaimers, contracts, policies the whole works. Make sure you cover yourself, this way clients will know where they stand from the start and if they question it, you have the bit of paper to back it up should you need to. All these boundaries set early will reduce the number of people thinking you’re just doing it for a hobby, they will respect your business and your time and be confident in leaving their dogs with you.
- Value your work – it’s important to work out your prices accurately. You will need to work out the hourly rate you want to work at, VAT/TAX, staff wages, products, time, rent, insurance, etc, and all your other costs. You can then divide this cost into a weekly figure and divide it between how many days and dogs you wish to do. This gives you the minimum prices you need to charge to run a successful and profitable business without running yourself into the ground. We are all guilty of doing this at some point as we love the dogs to bits but we need to look after ourselves so we can groom for longer. Work smarter not harder.
- CPD – Always continue to learn and grow as a groomer, I promise you no matter how many seminars you go to you will always learn a new way of doing something.
- Be Original - Try and offer something different than the other salons such as a VIP pay monthly scheme, spa treatments, a pet taxi, natural products, a good retail selection, sell raw food. The key is to find something you are passionate about and believe in so that it is easy for you to talk about it to your customers.
- Make People want to Rebook. I know it sounds silly but when I first started, I made it seem like I was busier than I was. It might sound bizarre but if people have their pick of the day and time and can get an appointment that very same day they will never feel the need or urgency to rebook as they know you will be able to accommodate them. I always made myself seem quite booked up from day one, making people rebook to get the slots they wanted. To this day people book Christmas appointments with us in March just to ensure they get a slot.
I hope this has helped other groomers in one way or another and I am always available for any questions you may have.