By Andrea Sleeper
As I am sitting here, on a reclinable chair, listening to my children play in the pool with a giant pirate ship under the Mexican sun, a Facebook message popped up on my phone. It was a friend of mine, asking me if I was still on vacation. I happily answered that indeed I’m still on vacation but I didn’t mind speaking to her. Then she said:
“When you have a chance, once you’re back home, do you think you can please tell me how you did it?”
“What do you mean? How I did what?” I asked.
“How you managed to leave on vacation without the whole ship sinking in your absence.”
I looked up towards the pirate ship, where my husband was going up and down the slide with my children. I thought about what to tell her and thought about everything going on at that moment. So many answers came to my head, but I did have one main question that kept repeating itself in the midst of my thoughts: She thinks my ship is not sinking?
Being a professional groomer is a very particular career. Every time I try to compare us to other professions, there are always important differences that push us out to another category, which happens to not meet anybody else’s. I believe pet groomers are their own breed of professionals, which is why reading or learning business solutions and organization techniques from other people with a more popular career never fully helps us.
For this reason, I decided to write this small guide for the professional groomer and grooming business owners who are trying to or are planning on trying to go on vacation. It took me my share of trial and error, and I asked a couple of my groomer friends about this same topic to try to expand on my personal vacation planning process.
When to Vacation
Plan your trips with at least 6 months of anticipation. Too much time in advance? Trust me, I wasn’t much of a planner either. Before becoming a groomer I was more of a nomad and I depended on my spontaneity to do new things and travel to different places. But 6 months is what I had to do to start planning ahead once I started grooming. After experiencing the benefits of this myself, I am now planning my vacation trips 8 to 12 months in advance and I can’t express how many benefits this brings: the main one being the prices. Prices for both flights and vacation spots are so much better when done in advance! On certain seasons though, especially if you’re going to travel between summer and fall, prices are better if you do it 6 or 5 months in advance rather than sooner, because everyone is trying to get you to come on their worst slow season of the year. Besides price, it also allows you to do everything else that I will be mentioning in this guide without the stress of running out of time.
Plan your trips around your business’s slow seasons, whether you own the salon or not. That will make it easier for your customers and/or your employer. It has the added bonus of it being cheaper! You’ll notice that most vacation spots tend to have slow seasons at around the same time your salon is slow too. Not in all instances, but you will find several options during the year that you can take advantage of. I found the sweet spot between summer and fall, in the months of September and October, right before the busiest part of the year starts at my salons.
Where to Vacation
I found it easier to make only one big expense a year, instead of one big expense and then another one with flights, and then trying to save for trip expenses. For this reason, it may be a good idea for you to find vacation packages that include flight and are completely or mostly all included. That way, your planning and preparation for the trip can be focused on everything else you have to organize before leaving and also, no matter if you’re doing well or not financially at that point, everything will already be paid for and your situation will not determine if you can go or not.
If you don’t want an all inclusive place with flights included, then you can buy both place and flights in the same time frame in order to have one big expense, and use the upcoming months to dedicate a percentage of your earnings towards the vacation expenses. Your tips and bonuses can also go towards your vacation fund.
Money to Spend on Vacation
Option #1: If you want to spend money out of pocket without getting into any kind of debt, then take advantage of your income influx of the busiest parts of the year. For example, save all of your profit of the Thanksgiving busy season and use that money on its entirety towards paying a vacation for summer next year. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to be busy weeks for most salons plus the Christmas rush, so you will easily recover and will have enough income to make up for the savings you needed to pay your taxes the year after. This is what I am currently doing right now.
Option #2: If you don’t want to spend a lot of money out of pocket, then there’s this little trick I did when I just started planning on vacations. I took out one traveling credit card that gives you points for every expense. I used it and maxed it with an all inclusive trip. Once I made that expense, I used the upcoming months to pay it off slowly. By the time my trip arrived, I had a very small balance left and I was able to use the card for little extra expenses I still had for the trip. For the next year’s trip, I did the same thing as soon as I paid it off, with the difference that this time I had points to spend! So a $2,500 trip ended up being a $1,850 trip instead. I did not use it for anything else, though. Only for the trip and trip expenses. I also didn’t use it again, not until I had completely paid it off. That way I had complete control over how much I spent on my trip and it also gave me a cap to not go overboard with it. You can apply this same trick to any credit card you own. Bring it to $0 then use it as your trip financial organizer!
Groomer and/or Business Owner Logistics
As a main groomer/grooming employee that doesn’t own a salon, your first step must obviously be giving your boss or supervisor notice of your vacation times. The more time in advance the better. If you’re not in a corporate job, please remind your salon owner of your vacation times 1 month before you leave, especially if you did it with 6 to 12 months in anticipation. Small/medium salon business owners have a lot on their minds and they need to be reminded of things like these.
Also, if you are not the owner but do your own customer service or customer relations, and especially if you are in a competitive situation, make sure you let your returning customers know that you will be gone for that particular time. If they want only you, advise them to make their appointments the week before or the week after your vacation. You may only do this if you’re allowed by your place of employment!
As the owner of the salon and only groomer, dedicate a budget to invest on vacation notices, such as a wall poster and business cards. If you grab a good deal for normal basic business cards, you can design them with a message with your vacation dates and you can give them out a month or 2 before your vacations. Also, you can use the power of social media and Google for free. On Facebook, make a colorful announcement that you can pin to the top of your page or that you can feature as your cover page to remind everybody of your vacation dates. On Google, when you go to My Business management, you can put temporary dates when you’ll be closed. You can use this tool (originally meant to let people know about holiday hours) by personalizing the vacation dates as a temporary off business or business closed option. This is also free and you can do it yourself if you have already claimed your Google business page.
If you’re a business owner and you’re not running the salon by yourself, you’ll have to consider 2 options: closing down the salon and giving your employees “forced” vacations or training your staff in the case they’re not used to running things without you.
In the first situation, you’ll have to consider not just your customers but also your employees. Depending on their seniority with you and the amount of time you’ll be gone, you may consider giving them paid time off if possible. The more amount of time you give them prior to your vacation the more chances they’ll have to plan their own vacation or their activities for their time off.
In the second scenario, consider the burden of the responsibilities you’re passing on. If you usually take on certain tasks in the salon that are needed done on a day to day basis, don’t put all that pressure on a single employee if possible. All added responsibilities should come accompanied with a financial bonus or extra, too. If you have office, papers, or number responsibilities try to relay those on a front desk or office assistant, if you usually do the deep cleaning on your salon on certain days give that to your bather and dryer or your grooming assistant, if there are picky owners that have already accepted someone else grooming their pets, give all the needed instructions for your groomer to have access to all the specific instructions of those particular customers. In the case that you just have 1 employee, try to prioritize all your responsibilities and choose which ones are absolutely necessary for the day to day in the salon and which ones can be done only once a week or every 2 weeks. Don’t forget to pay for the added work: the staff will be happy to see you go on vacation, especially if it comes with some extra money!
Savings for the Salon
Here is the main reason why I previously mentioned having only 1 or 2 big expenses for your trip is preferable. No matter if you decide to close the salon or train your staff, you will need some extra money in the account to act as a cushion in your absence, be it to be there for any automatic payments, to serve as the cushion to make up for the lack of business while you’re closed, or to pay your staff extra for their added tasks.
Savings are more easily achieved when you manage percentages. Out of your profit, once everything else has already been accounted for including taxes, dedicate at least a 15% of those profits towards business savings (independent from personal savings or your personal travel savings). Add that 15% to the same account or dedicate a business savings account, or keep it in cash to deposit later. Whichever way you prefer, keep a 15% as your bare minimum for business savings. Anything less will be too small for it to be truly useful at the time you leave.
Putting out the Fires
If you’re a business owner, don’t expect everything to go well only because you organized everything with time in advance! Don’t expect everything to go smoothly without you, especially if you are usually there working or managing.
Prepare ahead for the fires you’ll have to put out from your remote location to prevent the ship from sinking. Give your staff all the means for them to be able to contact you in the case that something goes wrong, if any important decisions must be made, or if they have any questions. Organize your activities during vacation in a way you can at least do some work from your phone, tablet or laptop if needed. Identify the possible problematic times in your salon, such as checking in times and usual times of pick up, to have your phone with you in case you need to answer phone calls or video calls. It’s not an exact science, of course, but it does make a difference when you walk into a resort knowing that you will be called at some point from work rather than expecting to not be interrupted during your entire stay.
Bring your phone, bring your tablet and/or laptop. Don’t assume you won’t need them. It is important that you disconnect and fully relax, of course, but if you’re anything like me, no matter how hard you try you’ll still wonder if everything is going well or not without you. Knowing that you’re only a phone call or video call away and that you have everything with you that you may need to solve issues remotely, will bring you more peace than not coming prepared.
As you can see, it is possible for groomers and/or grooming business owners to take vacations without the need of them being millionaires or big corporations. It seems a little too much or complicated, but it is actually a pretty simple system you can easily start if you’ve never done it before. Once you try it, you realize how easy it is to actually take some time off from grooming and how rewarding it is when you come back and have gotten a very needed break from the daily routine.
Vacation is just as important for groomers as it is for other professionals. It is easy to get lost in the day to day, week to week, month to month routine and responsibilities. No matter how much we love what we do and where we are working, we still fall into exhaustion, we burn out, we forget to spend the money we make in something else that isn’t bills, house, children, and every day kind of needs. We forget to feed our soul with some self-care, relaxation and adventure. More than once I’ve met one woman/man show grooming business owners that have not taken a single vacation for over 10 years with the excuse that they don’t have staff or another groomer to keep the business open while they’re gone. The same people that asked me how I did it despite having a young grooming business.
It is possible. Try it once. I promise you will not regret it.
By Andrea Sleeper, the Pink Poodle Lady