Groomers in theory and in practice

With the economy still sluggish, one way to attract new clients and increase revenue is to integrate a groomer into your practice. In addition to the income from grooming itself, it may prompt impromptu wellness visits for patients.

But it can also create some challenges. We asked Wendy Thompson, practice manager of The Parkway Veterinary Hospital in Lake Oswego, Ore., to talk about her experience with hiring and keeping a groomer in the practice.

In-house groomers: Should you have one?

The vision of being a full-service hospital brought the service of grooming to our practice in 1999. The grooming service requires a designated room that allows bathing, drying and styling for all pets in a location free from distraction.

What are the benefits of having a groomer in house?

Groomers see patients more frequently than doctors do. They have their hands physically on the patient’s entire body, allowing them to notice abnormal skin conditions, lumps, sores, tender areas, anal gland issues, toenails, teeth and ears, as well as general health and attitude changes.

A trained groomer will recognize an abnormal haircoat and choose appropriate bathing products. When pets are clean and free of tangles and matted fur, they feel better. Hygiene is a part of good health, and our groomers play an integral role in providing that.

What are the challenges of having a groomer in the practice?

Currently, certification is voluntary and standards are not enforced, so anyone can call themselves a groomer with little to no credentials. This leaves you with interviews and references from both previous employers and clients for your screening process.

While grooming schools exist, they are uncommon and tend to focus only on skill sets; they often fail to emphasize the importance of professional communication and teamwork. As an AAHA-accredited practice, we have struggled with our groomers participating in our customer-service and teamwork standards.

How we recruit

We talked with the reputable groomers in our area to educate ourselves on the professional groomer. What attributes are we looking for? How do we perform working interviews? What education and training is important?

Having some insight was helpful, but it was still a complex task. We met with our applicants in person and screened them for professional appearance and communication style. We asked them why they chose grooming as a career, how they believed grooming impacted pets, and what their challenges and goals were. We called client references and previous employers when applicable. We ran background checks and drug screens, but our biggest screening process was scheduling select grooms and having applicants demonstrate their abilities in both skill and service. Client feedback was the main influence affecting our hiring the right person.

Choosing between employee or independent contractor

We chose to hire our groomer as a paid employee of the practice. Salary was based on commission, and full benefits were offered. This allowed us to control the standards of care, service and core values we expected from our groomer. With the groomer as an employee, we could enforce employee policies, control fee structures and costs, influence the schedule, and oversee customer service and satisfaction. Being an employee of the practice can also offer a groomer the sense of belonging to a supportive team.

What to consider before offering grooming services

Having standards in place before opening your doors can ensure a smooth introduction. Service protocols are needed so that appropriate appointments are made. It takes longer to groom a cocker spaniel then it does a golden retriever. Without diligent scheduling you might book your groomer a 16-hour day.

The fee structure should support the groomer’s commission and benefits, overhead, cost of goods, equipment and repair, and room maintenance. Protocols for the pets who receive grooming services are also necessary. We implemented the same health and vaccine requirements that are in place for our boarding ward.

Some pleasant surprises

Not only were clients enthusiastic but we immediately filled our schedule with grooming appointments. Plus, because of our health requirements for grooming, many pets received needed services along with the grooming: yearly exam, vaccines, blood screens, and parasite testing. In addition to these services, our groomer finds infected ears, ingrown toenails, impacted anal glands, hot spots, growths, and tender areas that need veterinary care.

The actual service of grooming isn’t necessarily profitable, but the secondary service it brings is. Despite the economic downturn, our grooming schedule remains full – with a waiting list.

Grooming has been a positive service for our clients and practice. When you find a groomer who cares about the hygienic health of the pets they serve, buys into the philosophy of your practice and truly becomes part of the healthcare team, it can be a beautiful relationship.