A Career In Dog Grooming
I’m so excited about this blog! Some amazing dog grooming students who are just starting their careers have messaged in some of their questions and I can’t wait to answer them and hopefully help.
What made you start a dog grooming career?
I always wanted to work with animals since I was a tot, at first, I wanted to be a veterinarian but after work experience, I released I didn’t have the heart to do such a tough job as I’m a bit of a softie! I then had a few jobs in kennels and although I enjoyed it, something was missing. I got a job in a large chain store in dog grooming and fell in love. I found a job where I could work with dogs and release my creative flare and I haven’t looked back 11 years on!
Do I have to be certified to be a professional dog groomer? Is it better to learn through working or to take a course?
I fully support qualifications but working on the job is also really important. I know a lot of groomers who have come straight from level 2 or 3 and set up alone, then give up after a few months. This is not because they’re not good groomers but because working in a salon day today is VERY different to college. It’s a hard job and I feel like if you work in a salon first you gain a lot of experience and confidence from it, not only in grooming services but also in terms of customer service skills, pricing and dealing with complaints.
I learned on the job and only did my qualification when I was 9 years into grooming. I would always recommend both, getting a qualification and on the job learning. Dog grooming is unfortunately still an unregulated industry, and I would love to see it regulated in some way in the next few years. There are some amazing “unqualified groomers” which is what I was for 9 years but there are also some terrible ones as you can quite literally do a 1-day online course and say you are ‘fully qualified’. For this reason, I feel really strongly that if you are already grooming and established it's very easy to get qualified. This is not so much for personal reasons as like I said some top groomers are unqualified, but it means we can move our industry forward and hopefully get it regulated.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced?
Oh, where do I start! I have learnt a LOT of things the hard way, to be honest. When I first set up, although I knew a couple of groomers, I had no idea where to start or where to ask the silly questions like where do I find my water meter or where do I even order shampoo from. I was a complete novice coming from a chain store where I didn’t have to do any of the ordering or stock checks, employee health and safety or risk assessments so I learnt as I went. This took a huge toll on my physical and mental health until I was more established and knew the ropes a bit more. One of my biggest challenges was when my sister lost her child (my niece) Skyla at 2.5 years.
My sister worked with me and now owns one of the salons, I trained her to groom, and we have always been really close. Having to continue to open the doors to my still new business, was very hard. I had to pretend to be happy and smiley as I was still new and gaining clients when all I wanted to do was be with my sister. Ensuring my business still thrived whilst we were juggling hospital/hospice visits and then grieving was hard but taught me a lot and taught me to appreciate the small things.
This time also taught me that clients unfortunately aren’t our friends. Clients pay us for a service and will happily find someone else if we cannot do it. It was at this point I reduced my 12-hour days to 8 hours, made sure I had lunch, upped my prices, and started booking time off. It was a good lesson for me to rectify my work/life balance which I was really bad at before – I always said yes to everyone.
When I start up for myself, how many dogs will I be able to groom each day? If I can groom more, should I?
When I first started training, I did 2 dogs a day, I quickly moved to 3 dogs then 4 then 5. I have never been able to groom more than 5 a day and I know many groomers who only groom 2. I would say don’t compare yourself to others. You do what you feel comfortable doing. I found it useful when I first started to work out my “cost” per day, so I knew in my salon I had to groom 3 dogs a day 5 days a week to pay my overheads. I found it helpful to know that if I did that, I would be safe, so I didn’t have to put pressure on myself to groom loads a day when I first started. Now I can do most dogs in an hour and 15 mins but that’s taken years of experience to get to that level - I used to take 2.5 hours per dog. For a lone groomer 4 dogs a day with no bather is a nice steady amount but if you’re not at that level yet don’t push yourself. Quality over quantity.
Dog Grooming Client Complaints
How do you handle complaints, especially if they come through your Facebook page? Eg someone left a 1-star review?
I worked in HR and retail for a while when I was younger, so handling complaints is second nature to me now to the extent that all my family and friends get me to write complaint letters for them! It is hard learning to deal with them but here are some of my top pointers:
Don’t take responsibility if you haven’t done anything wrong. It is easy to apologise when someone complains but make sure by saying sorry, you’re not accepting responsibility for something that isn’t your fault. If you have shaved fluffy off because they have neglected to brush fluffy that is not your fault. If fluffy gets a haematoma because of matting that’s not your fault. Whilst I still apologise, I say something like “I’m sorry you feel that that”. I would obviously apologise profusely if the complaint was in relation to something which was my fault, sometimes accidents happen.
Be sympathetic but also professional. I see a lot of childish replies to complaints which makes the business looks unprofessional to other people reading those comments. No matter what the customer is saying always remain professional, potential clients may read what you have written.
Don’t take them personally. Complaints will always happen and sometimes people just like to moan. We have to remember for a lot of people their dogs are like their children, so they are automatically very protective as they are their dog’s voice. Clients don’t often understand that fluffy hates grooming because he is always matted, and they make it your fault. Others just like to moan so don’t take is personally. If your happy customers are outweighing your moaners, you’re doing something right. We can’t please everyone.
Always reply but don’t argue with them publicly. If someone leaves a review about me, I will always reply with a long and professional reply to share our side of the story so other people can read it and make their own decision on our business. If they continue to reply and get aggressive, I just block them.
Try to avoid complaints in the first place. Have matting policies, terms and conditions, matting disclaimers, and no-show fees. Having in depth admin will eliminate a lot of your complaints. By being honest with customers from the beginning and explaining things like pricing, behaviour, and matting, you save yourself a lot of complaints simply by being upfront.
Always be honest with customers. ALWAYS tell them everything from the little hole you found to the grass seed or the knot in the ear. Telling the customers will cover your back. It’s also important to be honest about the dog’s behaviour. It is so hard when groomers sugar coat bad behaviour because then the owner has no idea that they need to work on desensitisation and then goes to a new groomer who they’re bad for and the owner turns around and says well he was always fine with the last groomer (when he was not). Just be honest with your customers.
Have clear terms and conditions. Cover EVERYTHING in your terms and conditions including things like matting fees, your price, late collection fees, your matting policy, and your general policies and display them clearly in your salon and send them to customers upon booking.
Don’t offer refunds but offer a discount but offer to rectify the groom instead. I never give away free grooms unless it's for charity. You have still done the work, so they still have to pay for it. I do however offer the options for them to return within 2 days of the groom for me to rectify what they’re not happy with. If I have genuinely made a mistake on the groom instead of offering a free groom or refund, I offer a discount or a free tooth clean in their next groom. If someone isn’t happy and gets a refund the chances, are they won’t come back ever again and may leave negative feedback. If you offer to rectify the groom, they’re not happy with and discount on their next groom it ensures they know you care about their views and their business, but also means it is more likely that they will come back to you.
Do I have to compete at grooming competitions?
In short, no. Competing is not essential. If you don’t feel you want to compete that is completely fine. You should do what makes you happy and if competing isn’t for you then that is fine. You can be an amazing groomer and have a thriving business without the trophies. I do find competitions, even just watching them, a great place to learn new techniques, however, so even if you don’t want to compete, I would always advise going to watch a few.
Where can I go to learn more after I finish my course?
Seminars and competitions are the best places to learn. At competitions, you can watch a little bit of everything and also get product recommendations too. Seminars are more targeted so if you want to become a breed specialist or learn a certain trim then seminars are the way to go. After a college course, I would also say any salon-based experience is amazing and will help you hugely if and when you decide to set up on your own.
What policies should I have in place in my salon – shave down and safety policies?
It depends if you work alone or have employees as if you have employees there your business will require more policies but here are what we have in our salon:
- Matting policy
- Shave down disclaimer
- Late collection policy
- No show and cancellation policy.
- Health and safety policy
- Risk assessment
- In-depth terms and conditions
- Client forms to sign on their first visit.
Do I need to do a pet first aid course?
Yes, a pet first aid course could quite literally save a dog’s life whilst in your care. For the £30ish its money well spent.
Can you describe a typical day?
I work in a busy grooming salon so my days are pretty full-on, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We usually have 3 to 5 people in each day and between 12 and 24 different breeds of dogs in. I start at 8:30 am once I’ve dropped my children off. The assistant starts bathing and we have a full groom booked roughly every half hour and then baths in between. The stylists will help bathe the first dogs, do the check-ins, and check the voicemails, oh and the most important bit - make everyone a coffee! The assistants are then bathing back-to-back until lunch and the stylists groom one dog after another. We roughly have an hour to trim each dog, so they get plenty of time and care.
We all stop for a half-hour lunch break and do the same again in the afternoon. Our last dogs are in between 2:30 pm and 3 pm and then we are finished by 5/5:30. We have built up to this over the years when I first started the salon I was on my own and I did 4/5 dogs a day on my own and then when I got an assistant, I did 7-10 dogs (breed dependant). I would say work your day how you need to work it, I know salons that work the same as ours and some that work differently. There is no right or wrong way if the dogs are looked after and cared for, and the team are happy that’s all that matters.
What types of scissors would you recommend I buy when starting out and from what brand?
I personally love the Groom Professional Luminosa and the Geib Kiss Gold Rainbow for starting out they are a great general use scissor that are great value for money and long-lasting. I still have my first pair of Geib kiss curves from my first year open! I have only recently started using the Luminosa range and I use them ALL the time in the salon now.
If a dog has licked a pair of scissors – what do you recommend using to stop the bleeding?