The Groomer Shortage Problem

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By Andrea Sleeper

Edited by Jun S. Yun

    Every year the grooming community draws closer together through social media and national events. As we grow more connected, specific topics seem to take priority over others when it comes to their coverage in seminars, conferences, and private conversations alike. This year in particular, there has been an issue that has been repeatedly brought to the surface in the grooming community. As the demand for grooming services grows parallel with the amount of dogs and cats owned in the United States, the people serving the supply of grooming services are running into a wall. This issue has been talked about in expos and conventions, live streams and social media threads, emails and newsletters by groomers all over the world. It is an issue that is affecting the entire nation’s community of pet grooming. The issue is: Groomer Shortage.

The “Groomer Shortage” issue, as the name implies, is a shortage of skilled professionals who are able to provide the services of pet grooming. No matter what kind of service you provide, whether it’s a commercial grooming salon, a home grooming salon, a mobile grooming business, or an in-home grooming service, there seems to be a consensus that there is still an urgent need for skilled professionals for those businesses. From South Dakota to Florida, from Washington State to Texas, a lot of business owners have expressed their concern about the lack of applications to their job openings.

“I thought I was the only one with this issue,” said a concerned poster in one of the Facebook groups available to professional pet business owners. “I came here, to this group, thinking that I could maybe find a solution to the problem I’ve been having: I have been looking for a groomer for the past 4 months with no luck. The only people that have applied do not meet any of my minimum requirements. Now I realize we are all in the same boat.” 

Another thread reads “So many places are looking to hire – has anyone else noticed a lack of groomers?” and as of today, it has over 600 comments with an overwhelming 94% agreeing that there is a lack of groomers to hire.

Before getting deeper into this conversation, we have to address a very basic question: is there indeed a shortage of skilled pet groomers? Let’s look at the numbers.

Job Openings and Groomers Looking for a Job

Facebook

There is a public Facebook group called “Groomer for Hire”, where pet grooming business owners can join to post a job, and pet groomers seeking employment can join to browse through the available positions. In this group there are currently 340 open positions that have not been filled, or have been partially filled but are still currently open. In July 2019, there were 38 groomers looking for a position through this group. The average response to their search was of almost 6 job offers per groomer. Out of these 6 groomers, 2 continued to post in August because of various reasons, but they have both had several job offers. In the same month of July 2019, there were 173 job openings (some businesses had multiple openings or multiple locations in need of a groomer or bather/assistant). The average response to their open positions was 0.075 applicants per job opening. Of these businesses, 15 continued to post throughout the month of July and have posted again in the first couple of weeks of August. 

Internet & Search Engines

A research of job openings was also done on websites such as monster.comindeed.com, Craigslist.com, simplyhired.com and glassdoor.com. On average, there were about 7,292 open positions in the entire country posted on these websites, with Craigslist having the least amount of job postings and Indeed having the most. Unlike Facebook groups, though, these websites showed an overwhelming amount of corporate business openings such as Petco, Petsmart, Rover, Pet Supply stores and veterinary clinics. Also, a lot of them were duplicates of the same location or duplicates with multiple locations within the same listing.

Local Research

Phone calls were also made in the cities of San Antonio and Austin, Texas to all the pet grooming services listed on Google, Yelp, yellow pages, Bing and Yahoo. There were almost 400 businesses listed. Out of those 400 businesses, information was acquired from 366. Out of 366, 289 said they had open positions ready for a new groomer, assistant, or/and bather and dryer. 27 businesses said they didn’t have any current open positions, but that they would at a later month this same year. Only 12 said they didn’t have any current open positions, but that they expect to start hiring at the beginning of next year. Finally, 38 said they were not looking for any positions to be filled at the moment, and were not looking to add additional staff members.

Also, the local grooming school, San Antonio Grooming Academy, has a current list of 38 grooming businesses waiting for graduates or current students to add to their staff. Since they opened in 2018, 100% of the students that graduated from the San Antonio Grooming Academy are currently employed or opened their own pet grooming business. Students looking for a job, and are not interested in opening their own business, are hired between 1 month before graduation to 1 week after graduation. As of August 2019, the San Antonio Grooming Academy has graduated a total of 17 students this year, with a new group of 3 starting in August and a group of 5-7 new students starting in September 2019.

Once you take all the data into consideration, it’s safe to say that there are a lot of open positions that are not getting filled. These job openings have continued to remain open all throughout 2019 all across the  United States. It would also be safe to assume that a lot of local business owners, and corporations around the country, agree that one of their main issues is getting people to fill the available positions within their grooming businesses. More extensive research and data is necessary in order to make further conclusions, such as a detailed comparison between open grooming positions and groomers looking for employment. However, it is safe to say that there is indeed a “Groomer Shortage” problem, and it is a problem that affects the pet grooming community nationwide.

Why is there a Groomer Shortage?

Now that it has been established that there is indeed a groomer shortage problem, we can start digging into the reasons behind it. Why is there a lack of professional groomers in the United States? Based on the social media threads, videos, expos, seminars, conferences and every day business owner conversations, we can assume there are several reasons behind this complex issue.

Expectations

There seems to be a disparity between what the employer expects from his or her staff and what the potential employee expects from his or her place of employment.

On one hand, you have the type of employers/owners that expect a lot from their staff in exchange of what the potential employees may think of as very little compensation. Some employers want to pay as little as possible for the most amount of work done and that does not sit well with trained and skilled professionals, like experienced groomers obviously are. Some of the open positions ask for all the normal grooming responsibilities plus customer service: checking customers in and out, answering phones, making appointments, cleaning not just their area but also the entire salon, and other extra tasks in exchange for a percentage of each pet groomed. So, they make money out of each pet they groom, but they don’t make any extra income for all of the other tasks the employers require of them. This is wrong for many reasons, but the main one is the fact that this business model reveals a disparity between the amount of work required and the financial compensation for it. This creates a sense of unfairness and causes a high staff rotation, which ultimately puts a financial burden on the business owner. 

On the other hand, you have the type of employees that expect too much from their place of business in exchange for the least amount of work possible. Some employees think that just because they have more than a couple of offers on the table, or because they know how difficult it is for businesses to find a skilled groomer, they expect the business owner to offer more than what’s reasonable and sustainable for a small business. This is not just ill-received by potential small business employers, but even if they did want to meet these groomers requirements to convince them, it would be nearly impossible for them to sustain this and make a decent profit for themselves. For example, groomers have rejected potential jobs because they were offered less than 50% commission per pet groomed. Others have expressed to have rejected job offers because the business didn’t carry the luxury grooming products they would like to use. In other words, there are some groomers that want the perks of working in a small business but with all the benefits and extra incentives that only a big corporation can afford. Some of them don’t expect the benefits or incentives, but they do expect to get paid more per pet groomed as a “compromise” for not getting those benefits or incentives. This is wrong for many reasons, but the main one is the fact that there is a deep disconnect between what is reasonable for a small business can offer and what the groomer thinks they deserve a skilled professional who is in high demand.

To summarize, there is a huge rift between the expectations of both employers and employees in the pet grooming industry. Some employers try to take advantage of the fact that pet groomers need of a job, while some pet groomers try to exploit the small business owner by requesting more than what the business owner can realistically provide. There has to be an understanding between both sides in a way that they can both have a fair exchange of services and payment, in a relationship built on mutual trust and respect. 

Trade Exposure

Pet grooming is not a trade that most people think about when they are weighing out their career options. Even the people that are looking for careers that involve animals do not usually consider pet grooming as long-term career. This situation is the result of a combination of several factors. First, the fact that pet grooming is not considered a serious career (and by serious, some may also think profitable). The fact that many do not consider it to be a highly skilled occupation is what encourages the perception that it is not a real option as a long-term career. Second, some people that do not consider this a serious career are also involved in local governments. Currently, no state in the country recognizes pet grooming as an official trade; therefore, there are no state or city licenses required by the pet groomers to be able to open up a pet grooming business. Third, it is only recently that there has been a direct link found between the number of dogs and the need for pet grooming services. Meaning the more dogs there are in the United States, the more demand there is for pet grooming services. This may seem to be an obvious correlation. Obviously, the more dogs there are the more groomers would be needed. But it’s actually not that simple. There are many factors that may influence a person’s decision to hire or not to hire a groomer or visit a grooming salon, including but not limited to the price of the new dog itself, the trends or community movements of a particular year (for example, the DIY movement for dog grooming), and the pets natural living expenses. There is a beautiful and complex phenomenon going on in which grooming is actually becoming part of the natural living expenses of a dog (this topic itself merits its own article, for sure), unlike other pet grooming history stages under which the latter used to be considered only a service for the most affluent people or to pets of a certain breed (reason why all original grooming salons were actually called “poodle parlors”). What this means is that the increase in demand for dog groomers, and dog grooming services, are not part of the yearly trends or a simple stage in the history of this trade. It is actually becoming more of an inherent necessity in a dog’s life rather than a luxury service. It has only been in recent years that dog grooming has become a necessity to the normal pet owner, and thus only recently has it become a serious, profitable, expanding and growing career.

To summarize, people looking for a serious and profitable career, especially those that are looking for one that includes animals, usually don’t even consider pet grooming because of their lack of exposure to it as a skilled trade. If you look back several years ago it was still perceived as the type of job that only served to pay the bills or that only catered to a small niche of clientele. Recent generations have not been exposed to pet grooming as a serious career choice by their communities or by local governments.

Bygone Business Ways

This reason is very important because there used to be only one way to become a pet groomer: get a job in a pet grooming business with a groomer willing to mentor you, and start from the bottom. Grooming businesses would also be run in a similar way all over the country, adapting to a setting under which grooming wasn’t considered a serious trade such as cosmetologists or barbers. Usually, you would have an owner who was the main groomer running the entire show and usually, with enough business, they would hire a bather/assistant to help out. As the business grew, some owners began requiring more skilled staff to be able to accept more dogs per day. But, with them being a small business, the amount of work would inevitably vary on a day to day basis. Because the business owner was the one providing the place of work, customers and products, they began to seek help from other professional groomers labeled as independent contractors. Slowly, from skilled professionals going from place to place and picking their “jobs” under their own business name, they turned into misclassified employees being asked to come in on certain (or set) days and times, picking up other responsibilities within the hiring business. This was in exchange of the potential of getting a certain amount of dogs every day in a single location and getting paid a percentage of the price of the grooms as commission.

Today, there is still a big problem with pet grooming business owners misclassifying employees, paying commission percentages of pets groomed but nothing in exchange for other time consuming responsibilities. Another problem that business owners face is hiring people with no experience and training them only to lose those employees after making such a big investment of their time and resources. This is a cycle that plagues the smaller pet grooming businesses. One of the reasons may be because they are run by people that are only concerned about making a profit, and they train the new generation of groomers to apply this archaic business model and outdated system. Those who learn the trade by going to corporate training centers are stuck in another dilemma because they are only taught how to groom but not how to open, run and grow a pet grooming business. 

Local vs Corporate

When we mention “competition” within the pet grooming industry, the first thing that comes to mind is competition for potential customers between the local pet grooming businesses. But that’s not the type of competition that matters when it comes to the groomer shortage problem. In fact, we’re talking about a bigger kind of competition: small businesses vs national corporations. Since teaching/mentoring brand new staff is extremely risky (and a lot of times counterproductive) for a small business, there has been a steady decline of this practice throughout the years with it reaching an all time low in 2018 (having a comeback in 2019, though, forced by the lack of skilled groomers available for jobs). For this reason, most of the new generation of groomers have been coming out from the training programs of corporations such as Petco and Petsmart. They are not just training a lot of new groomers, they are also retaining them at a larger scale. As the groomer shortage issue spreads, these corporations found themselves also being afflicted by it despite their significant investment in training programs. For this reason, since 2018, pet grooming corporations have put in place aggressive recruiting strategies, building attractive incentives and payment plans for groomers, and adding more benefits to their basic payroll plans. Needless to say, small businesses have struggled to match these attractive offers and incentives. When it comes to profitability, national corporations have increased their profits with the increase of owned pets in the country, giving them a bigger budget to invest in growing their pet grooming team and services. In contrast, small businesses that only do grooming, or that may have another source of income through selling or managing other pet related products or services, can’t even come close to the amount of capital that the corporations have available. This is when the disparity of options becomes apparent. For example, the local pet groomer’s offer of 40% commission for each groomed pet plus a bonus for every $400 made in business seems legitimately inferior compared to an hourly wage plus 40% commission per pet groomed with an additional $1,000 bonus for joining the team, plus health benefits and 401k, plus the staff discounted price on all their in store pet products. Once groomers make up their minds that a corporate salon is not what they’re looking for, the smaller salon has a better chance at receiving job applications. However, once groomers see what the bigger businesses can offer and like it, but they still prefer to work at a smaller salon, they try to push their own terms of employment on the smaller businesses, demanding impossible requests and unrealistic conditions.

To summarize, everybody in the pet grooming industry, no matter if they are big national corporations or small local businesses, agree that there is a groomer shortage and everybody is in need of a solution for it. Nevertheless, when it comes to trying to solve the problem for themselves, there is a deep disparity in the competition for hiring groomers. National corporations offer great perks along with starting bonuses and attractive payment plans that are in most cases impossible for smaller local businesses to match. This significantly decreases the small business owner’s chances of meeting their staff’s demands within an already ongoing crisis of the lack of skilled pet groomers. The smaller businesses that do try to come close to matching what national corporations offer, more often than not, find themselves struggling to meet reasonable profit margins. 

There are other reasons that contribute to the existence of a groomer shortage problem, but these are believed to be the most important ones and ones that are mentioned the most. Even so, these are more than enough factors to start a conversation on how to work together to solve this national problem.

Solutions

The desperate need for trained groomers has lead pet grooming businesses to try to find different solutions to alleviate their own situations. Here are the most popular solutions that have been shared:

Competing with corporate offers– Some smaller business owners decided to try to compete with bigger corporate salons by offering more perks, bonuses and more attractive wages/salaries to attract groomers into joining their team. One salon in southern California implemented this strategy, and in order to sustain it, they increased all the customer base grooming prices and added extra add-on services that had a higher profit margin. Another salon in Kentucky also increased their grooming prices, but also invested in a larger boutique and pet shop with products that have a higher profit margin. 

Returning to training staff– A lot of salons have stopped training new groomers because of the liability associated with teaching people and then dealing with the risk of losing their investment when the newly trained groomer decides to quit. However, some salons have returned to fully training employees for every position and/or mentoring for those interested in becoming finished pet groomers. In order to sustain this business model, the successful business owners have applied various strategies into their training/mentoring methods. One of those strategies is that they’ve added a payment scale where the employees under the process of training make more money the longer they stay and the more they learn to do. They have also added liability waivers for their customers to sign in order to be serviced, and they added non-compete agreements for their employees in training to sign. Many small businesses have also implemented several requirements for the employees to meet in order for them to be trained (such as buying their own tools).

Opening a Grooming School– Some small businesses/professional groomers decided that the best way to solve their problem was to create their own supply of new groomers by starting a school. Grooming schools have been around for a very long time; some of them grew while others closed down, and some of them evolved into online schools. For a long time, there were only a few grooming schools available in the country, but in the last couple of years there has been a resurgence of academies dedicated to this trade. We can only assume that they started re-emerging because of the growing demand for skilled pet groomers. The process of opening a school for a trade such as pet grooming is different in every state and sometimes from city to city. There can be anything between a minimum and an overwhelming amount of requirements to open and run a legitimate trade school. The businesses/groomers that were able to successfully open their own school did have to open a completely new “business” apart from their main professional grooming business. Also, there is a very important (both legal and financial) distinction between “school” and “training center” that a potential school founder must research thoroughly before making the decision of which path to take.

Downsizing– Another solution that a lot of business owners across the country decided to take after all the staffing struggles was to downsize. Instead of accepting more dogs, taking on a bigger space, looking for more staff and increasing the overhead, they returned to being a “one man or woman show”. They have re-organized their schedules, they’ve shifted to “one on one” appointments only, they’ve stopped accepting walk-ins, they’ve stopped accepting new customers, increased their prices to keep only certain types of customers, and only keep the absolutely necessary staff needed to assist them in their business. Business owners who have opted for this option have mentioned a significant decline in their stress levels and an increase in the quality of their grooms as well as the level of satisfaction and fulfillment. For this solution though, it is important to mention that financial organization is absolutely critical for the survival of the business. If the owner is not working, the business is not making any money. So in order to increase their quality of life (rather than decrease it by becoming slaves to their own business) with vacations and long weekends, and to survive the low seasons and tax payments, grooming owners have to save and organize their money diligently. 

There are, of course, other possible solutions to the groomer shortage problem. But these are the ones that have been mentioned and talked about the most among business owners that have already taken action regarding their staffing issues. This problem needs to talked about more openly. It needs to be addressed in all the major grooming expos. Seminars must be given in order to promote a productive dialogue so that we can have a constructive conversation about this complex issue. The more professionals we have working together on this issue, the sooner we’ll find the solutions that will alleviate and grow the national pet grooming industry.

By Andrea Sleeper, the Pink Poodle Lady

With the wonderful help of the talented Jun S. Yun, also known as Jun the Groomer