How to Start a Pet Grooming Business

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Are you a pet groomer or animal lover considering starting your own business?  Owning and operating a pet grooming service might be for you if you enjoy working with animals, have an eye for beauty and will work like a dog to make customers happy.  The Pet Grooming industry is a fast-growing field with low start-up costs that can allow you to do work you love while enjoying the autonomy of business ownership.

Industry Trends

The pet grooming industry is at an all-time high thanks to the health of the economy, increasing pet ownership rates, and a shift in consumer behavior regarding pet care.  The US Pet Ownership & Demographic Sourcebook cites that over 60% of pet owners consider their pets to be family members.  The growth in industry revenue supports this finding as more pet owners are spending disposable income on premium pet services.  Industry revenue has posted consistent gains over the past decade and was outpacing the economy average as of 2018.

According to a Forbes article, almost 85 million U.S. households have a pet and within the last 30 years pet ownership has gone from 56% to 68% of all households.

Because of the increased demand for pet services and the low barrier of entry into the field, competition within the industry is also at an all-time high. Preparing a well-thought out business plan that includes cost-effective marketing strategies is important in the long-term success of your business.

Target Market

The primary target demographic for a pet grooming business is pet owners between the ages of 30 and 64.  Pew Research Center found that 40% of 30 to 49-year-olds owned pets and had the second highest annual pet expenditure, just shy of the 57% of 50 to 64-year-olds who own pets.

According to American Pet Products, Millennials are the largest demographic owning pets and this generation pays more on their pets for quality products and services than other demographics.

Experience, Education, and Skills Useful in Running a Pet Grooming Business

There is no industry oversight requiring certification or education, but as pets are considered family, completing an accredited certification program prior to starting your business may be useful in establishing credibility. It can also be beneficial to have experience in the safe handling of pets in a grooming setting, before accepting clients.  Getting your pet first aid and CPR certification through organizations like the American Red Cross can protect you and the pets you service in case of an emergency.

Costs to Start a Pet Grooming Business

The cost of starting a pet grooming business depends on your business model.  Whether you choose a brick-and-mortar business, an at-home business, or a mobile business will affect your start-up costs.

Aside from the location, every grooming business has the need for basic equipment and supplies.  Basic supplies include clippers, shears, scissors, sprays, shampoo, conditioner, brushes, dryers, nail clippers, bandanas, bows, and cleaning supplies.  Equipment needs include an administrative desk, office organization furniture, tubs, grooming tables, crates, and possibly a washing machine and dryer.  If you sell retail, you will also have to factor in inventory costs.

Provided the cost to renovate and furnish the location is minimal, it is feasible to start a pet grooming business for $2,000-$3,000.

Earning Potential

The earning potential for a grooming business depends on a multitude of factors, including the location of the business, the average per capita income of your market, the population density of your area, competition, and overhead costs.  SBDCNet found that on average brick-and-mortar grooming services charged $36 per session whereas mobile services charged the premium fee of $51 per session.

You can limit your overhead to increase your profit margins but must be cognizant of the impact that your financial decisions will have on the quality of your services.  For example, under-staffing to cut labor costs may cause poor customer service experiences for your clients.  You can maximize your revenue potential by either selling retail or offering a broader variety of services that require little additional overhead.  Offering a dog walking service would increase your revenue while not requiring additional real estate space or inventory costs.  The only additional cost for this service would be the compensation for the employee who walks the dogs.

Steps to Starting a Pet Grooming Business

Step 1. Write your Business plan

After coming up with an idea, the next step in starting any business should be to write a business plan.  Not only will a bank require you to have one, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business. A properly used business plan will serve the entrepreneur as the road map for their business, helping them achieve their business goals.

Related:
How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

Step 2. Form a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized. There are four primary business entities to choose from which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and LLC.  Each type of entity has its own pros and cons such as liability exposure, costs and administrative requirements.

Related: Comparison of Business Entities

Step 3. Select your Location

While most grooming shops don’t necessarily require a prime, high-traffic location, it is usually important to be located close to where people who are traveling to and from work can easily get to your location.  Also, since you are working with animals that will sometimes be noisy, be sure to check zoning and covenants in case you have a neighbor that doesn’t approve.

The type of pet grooming business you start will probably be the biggest factor affecting your facilities cost.  The most cost-effective option is to operate out of your own home.  While this saves the cost of renting or purchasing a building, and is often a good choice when getting started, it may limit the scale and image of the business.  Hiring additional groomers to expand your business may not be an option if you are a home-based business as well.  Be sure to verify whether you can operate a business from your home if you plan to be home-based.

The second option is to rent or purchase a brick-and-mortar building to operate the business.  The cost per square foot vary depending on the affluence of the area, proximity to traffic and demand for properties among other factors.  You want to choose a location convenient for pet owners to drop off and pick up their pets while not spending too much on rent or mortgage payments.  The size of the building should be appropriate to allow for future plans of the business.

Pet grooming businesses have very distinct spatial needs and the building must be able to accommodate those areas.  An effective floor plan design for a grooming business will typically contain four main spaces: a receiving lobby, a pet holding area, a bathing and drying room, and a styling and grooming room.

The third option is to take your pet grooming business on the road.  Mobile dog grooming has grown in popularity in recent years thanks to the convenience it provides pet owners and the freedom for the business owner.  Used and refurbished vans or trailers are fairly easy to find, making this option cost effective compared to a building.  The most common issue mobile groomers face is failing equipment, like the vehicle or power generator.  When going mobile, be sure to have one or more back-up plans in case this happens, so customers won’t be inconvenienced.  Another pitfall to the mobile unit is running the risk of wasting valuable time and fuel traveling between clients.  This can be avoided by keeping an efficient appointment schedule that limits travel distance each day.

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 4. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

The types of business licenses, permits and registrations that will be required to start a business vary on the activities of the business in addition to where it is located.

Some of the common local, state and federal registrations most businesses need include a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number, and Occupancy Permit among others.

Related: Common business licenses, permits and registrations by state

Step 5. Find Financing

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a grooming business is another.  Fortunately, the cost to start a new grooming business is relatively low, however getting the funding to start can be difficult.  Banks are typically going to want the borrower to have good credit and be able invest 15-25% of their own money towards the total start-up costs.

Related: Finding the money to start a business  

Step 6. Get your Marketing Ready

With the increase in the number of competitors, comes a need for effective marketing and advertising.  Marketing efforts don’t have to be expensive to be effective.  The most effective form of marketing is by generating word-of-mouth referrals.  According to a 2016 study conducted by Nielsen, 82% of consumers seek a personal recommendation before making a purchase and 92% of consumers trust a personal recommendation over any other form of advertising.  Creating a referral rewards system is a great way to ensure client loyalty and attract new clients.

Another marketing tactic for pet groomers is to network with local veterinarians and pet service professionals who do not offer grooming.  Over time, those relationships could lead to your business being the professional recommendation of those established business owners.

You can also leverage the power of social media to gain brand name exposure.  Using Facebook’s targeted advertisement platform can allow you to create ads that reach pet owners within a certain distance of your business.  This is a great opportunity to run a limited-time offer and to promote it online, reaching even more pet owners who may not know of your service offerings.

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Step 7. Obtain Insurance

Groomers operating out of a shop will likely want general liability insurance to protect them from a customer slipping and falling or from a bite.  Mobile groomers will likely need to get a policy as most personal auto insurance policies don’t cover commercial activity.

Step 8. Hiring Employees

Entrepreneurs wanting to grow a pet grooming business that is larger than what they can do by themselves, hiring employees will be necessary.  As more competitors enter the market, finding and hiring skilled workers that will maintain the quality of service and reputation of the business is an important factor in ongoing success.  This results in needing to pay higher wages for skilled groomers.  Minimum wage will apply to the front-line employees working at the front desk and answering phones. 

Related: Hiring your first employee

Things to Consider Before Starting a Pet Grooming Business

Is this the right business for you?

It may sound like fun to be around pets all day, however the daily pressures can be taxing.  Most new grooming businesses start with the owner not only providing the grooming services, but also all the business aspects like marketing, bookkeeping, etc.  Before making the leap, consider volunteering for a shop (preferably outside of your target area) or working for a groomer before making the leap to make sure this is something you want to do long-term. 

Demands of the work

Pet grooming is a physically demanding job that requires you to be on your feet for several hours of the day and being in a loud environment with barking dogs and dryers running.  You must also be physically able to safely handle animals throughout the grooming session.  To turn a profit, you must be able to schedule your sessions so you are generating the maximum amount of revenue during each business day.  As a result, if your business is healthy you will consistently conduct a large volume of sessions each day.  It’s important to take into consideration any health conditions you may have and if this work is best for you. If desired, you can find grooming station accessories that reduce physical stress like padded foam standing mats.  

Market demand

The pet service industry is thriving thanks to a robust economy, low unemployment rates, rising pet ownership, and changing consumer behaviors regarding pet care. However, it is of utmost importance you do your due diligence in researching the demand in your local area.  While research shows that rural areas see a greater percentage of households with one or more pets as opposed to urban areas, you must also consider the per capita income and the total number of households.  For example, if you live in a rural area with a large percentage of pet ownership but a small population and a low per capita income, it may be difficult to find enough prospective clients who are willing and able to pay for pet services. 

Market competition

Because of the growth of the industry, the number of pet grooming and boarding enterprises has grown drastically over the past five to ten years.  You will probably find your local competition to comprise corporate franchises like PetSmart, privately owned facilities that offer all pet services (like boarding, daycare, training, and grooming), and other privately owned grooming specialist services.

While corporations have the advantage of a large marketing and advertising budget, evolving consumer preferences are moving towards boutique services that feel more luxurious than a big-box brand.  One of the biggest advantages of owning a small business is being able to have complete control over the quality of service your business offers and creating valuable working relationships with your clients. 

Add-on sales

If the only source of revenue for the business is grooming, you may miss out on additional profits.  Customers will be interested in purchasing shampoos, perfumes and flea & tick prevention to use in between appointments.  Treats, supplements and other products to improve the customer’s pets coats and health will be in demand as well and they will look to you as the expert.

Certifications

While there is no licensing required to provide grooming services, being certified may be worth looking in to.  Completing an accredited educational program provides not only proof you have received professional training, but it will provide necessary skills to conduct a professional service-based business.  Customers will be very demanding on the care and appearance of their pet and while you can learn how to groom on your own, a program will get you up to speed much faster.

There are several options for getting a pet grooming certification, with many organizations offering both online and in-person programs of study.  While there is currently no industry oversight or legal requirement to be certified, for the sake of credibility and offering the highest quality services possible, you should consider completing a certification course prior to engaging in business.  And as with all skilled trades, continuing your education by periodically attending courses is a good way to stay on top of the industry trends and keep ahead of your local competition.

Resources

Industry associations like the National Cat Groomers Institute or the National Dog Groomers Association of America and publications like Groomer to Groomer, Pet Business and Grooming Business will offer invaluable information when starting your grooming business. 

Amazon has several good books for starting a pet grooming business such as:
The Successful Pet Groomer: Shop, Home, Housecall, or Mobile
Dog Grooming – Creating a Lifestyle, not a job (Free on Kindle Unlimited)
Six-Figure Pet Business: Unleash the Potential in Your Dog Training, Pet Grooming, and Doggy Daycare Business
Prosperous Pet Business: Interviews with the Experts