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Category: Starting Up Starting a pet grooming business

Many pet grooming businesses deal exclusively with dogs. Image courtesy of: ppach/sxc.hu

Starting a pet grooming business

Pet grooming is a great business if you have a passion for animals. With no formal training requirements and low start-up costs, it can also be a good choice for first-time entrepeneurs. There’s also the option to go mobile, with a modified van, to extend your market penetration. You can also choose from a wide range of animals to work with, and a range of products to help make your business stand out.

What animals will you work with?

Dogs are the obvious choice but you can increase your potential revenue by extending your services to other animals, such as cats and guinea pigs. Every species has unique qualities that present challenges when grooming so make sure you’re aware of these.

Make sure you don’t extend your services to animals just because you like them. There needs to be a market otherwise your investment in grooming products and training for that particular animal will offer a poor return on investment.

You’ll also need to consider whether to groom all breeds, as the time and financial investment for a larger dog, or one with a high-maintenance coat, can be vastly different than for a small dog. The same goes for rarer cats. You can either indicate exactly what breeds you cater for, or decide on a case-by-case basis. You may need to charge more for some breeds.

Will you start your business at home?

Starting your pet grooming business from home is a good choice as you’ll be able to test the waters without a significant capital investment. There are many advantages, such as reduced overheads (rent, signage, dedicated utilities). There are disadvantages too, such as finding the space, the constant presence of hair, and the difficulties that can sometimes arise from having your work and personal space so entwined.

However, because it’s relatively easy to move your equipment and products to dedicated premises, starting up at home is often the best first step.

If you want to move into dedicated commercial premises, there are number of things you must think about, including location (is it easily accessible for pet owners?), cost of rent and overheads, suitability for storing and using your products, ease of parking for you and your employees, and whether you can expand there with additional services, such as kennels.

Mobile pet grooming

Mobile pet grooming offers pet owners an advantage – you come to them, reducing their costs and making it easier to fit grooming into busy lifestyles. But it can spike your overheads (petrol, purchasing a vehicle, upkeep of vehicle and converting it for purpose) and so you must raise your prices to ensure you still turn a profit. It’s also important to drive the most efficient routes to get the best possible return from the miles travelled.

Mobile pet grooming is certainly a growing business, and increasingly appreciated by pet owners in today’s ‘time-poor’ society, but you must be sure there’s a market before you invest in the necessary equipment.

What services will you offer?

At the base level pet grooming means cleaning, and this is the basic level of service you’ll provide. As you become more confident and want to diversify revenue streams, you can increase the number of services offered. This may involve an extension to grooming e.g. specific styles, nail clipping and treating fleas. You could also branch into other areas like obedience training, holiday stays and product sales.

If you do add an additional service, make sure you fully understand its effect on your current operations, including cost and profit, as well as any legal compliance issues. You may need follow-up training, particularly for more complex and subtle services such as obedience training.

Domestic and commercial clients

The majority of your customers will be members of the public who own pets, but there are opportunities to service relevant businesses, such as dog kennels or catteries. Developing relationships with these can be worth it – they may be able to put regular and lucrative work your way.

Find all possible commercial clients before you set up your business; it may be useful to locate your business within easy reach, although you should weigh up the potential benefits with the disadvantages to ensure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Animal welfare

The health and wellbeing of the animals in your care will be your number one concern. Aside from the emotional and physical suffering (to both pet and owner) that can come as a result of an accident, the reputational effects will likely be impossible to recover from and your business will fail.

There are a number of areas where you need to consider the potential harm that can occur and take steps to mitigate the risk:
  • Transporting pets – traffic and other animals can be a risk, so you need to use leads at all times
  • Using products – chemicals can aggravate sensitive skin which makes your product research (e.g. organic v non-organic products, which chemicals can be harmful) very important
  • Specialist devices – pet groomers may use specialist equipment, such as dryers. Pets must be supervised at all times when using these. They may have been certified safe and have been used successfully on other pets, but one animal may react differently
  • Nail clipping – many species have very sensitive nails that can bleed heavily if blood vessels beneath the nails are nicked. Effective training can help prevent this happening.

Key skills

Aside from important business skills (dealing with money, maintaining cash flow) there are number of specific skills that contributed to make an efficient and successful pet groomer.
  • Patience - many animals are nervous when leaving their owners. Giving them room to settle and adapt is important because it’s easier, and less time-consuming, to groom a settled pet
  • Empathy - pet owners can get very attached. Understanding their concerns is essential, as is knowing how to make them feel more comfortable with the idea of leaving their pet with you
  • Grooming - it sounds obvious but many pet owners have a specific ‘look’ they want you to achieve. Although cleanliness is the end-point of grooming it is not the only motivation. You must be able to meet the client’s expectations using the appropriate tools and techniques
  • Animal-lover - people want to leave their pets with people they trust, and in this industry trust is often conferred if the groomer is an obvious animal lover, and by extension will therefore emphatically care for the pet’s well-being.

Courses and training

Dog grooming is a recognised skill; there are many beginner, intermediate and advanced courses available. Advanced courses often result in well-known qualifications, such as City & Guilds.

You are not required to have formal qualifications to start a dog grooming business. However, people are very attached to their pets and will often want to see evidence of your proficiency and professionalism. Make sure that any certificates awarded through your training are displayed overtly in your grooming parlour, and also that promotional materials mention your qualifications.

Insurance

Insurance is essential for any business but especially so when you are dealing with pets because of the often extraordinarily strong bond between owner and pet. If something were to go wrong, there can be considerable anger and hurt on the owner’s part which can easily turn into legal action. You need to be covered.

The basic insurance policies you’ll need are public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance, which cover you against allegations of third party damages and allegations of wrongdoing respectively. However, pet groomers should really take out insurance from a company that specialises in animal-related industries.

This is because you are accepting responsibility for the animal’s care when they are in your possession, and these specialist insurance policies cover you in very specific and unique circumstances. For example, what happens if the pet contracts an illness and dies after you’ve picked them up? If they escape? Make sure you discuss in depth with your insurer (before you buy the policy) what is covered and – perhaps more importantly – what is not covered. If you are unsure, speak to other insurers until you are happy with the policy.

If you grow your company to the point where you hire staff, you must have employer’s liability insurance in place.

Compliance

Animal welfare legislation is one area you’ll need to be familiar with – this is contained within the Animal Welfare Act, which makes you responsible for the welfare of all animals you groom while they are in your care. Further information is available from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in England and Wales, the Scottish Government Rural Affairs and Environment Department and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland.

Hazardous substances may also be a concern depending on the types of products you use, and you need to be aware of your responsibilities under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH). More information is available from the Health and Safety Executive.


Start-up costs

The cost of starting up will depend on two main factors: whether you begin working from home, and the level and type of services you provide.

Working from home is a good choice, as you’ll be able to judge whether pet grooming is a feasible long-term career for you, and also whether you can make it work economically.

It’s better to start with a pared-down service to see if there is sufficient demand; in the future you can expand to offer additional services and increase your revenue streams.

By making these two choices, your start-up costs can be minimal – under £1000 – and still include buying the relevant equipment, insurance and basic promotional materials. If you want to rent premises and also offer more complex services from the start, your costs could easily reach the £20,000+ mark.