When mobile pet groomers say business is “going to the dogs,” they mean it. And with gas prices down and pet-care spending ever rising, all that pampering is paying off.
Ricky Clayton, who rolls to the customer’s curb in a customized Mercedes-Benz van, says his mobile business, Ricky’s Mobile Grooming, is perpetually in motion. Covering neighborhoods throughout the Sacramento region, Clayton averages seven to eight daily grooming appointments, five days a week, at roughly $75 a pet.
Clayton, who focuses on smaller dogs, said a basic bath, haircut and nails (the industry’s preferred term, as opposed to “claws”) runs about $70 to $85, depending on the breed and the amount of work required. Fees for a large dog – 70 pounds and up – can run up to $200 or more. That’s a fairly standard rate, according to the pet grooming industry.
“That sounds like a lot, but you can spend roughly three or three-and-a-half hours with some of the larger breeds, so it is time-consuming,” said the 44-year-old groomer, who’s been in the business since he was 15.
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The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics does not break out employment statistics for mobile pet groomers, but its most recent analysis of the “animal care and service workers” sector indicates robust growth for animal care workers, groomers and others. The bureau projects 15 percent employment growth between 2012 and 2022, which it calls “faster than the average for all occupations.”
BLS said animal care and service workers, expected to reach 267,500 by 2022, “will continue to be needed as the variety and number of pet services increase. Employment in kennels, grooming shops and pet stores is projected to increase to keep up with the growing demand for animal care.”
“This can be a very lucrative business if you have the tools and the training,” says John Stockman, national sales manager for Indiana-based Wag’n Tails, which sells van and trailer conversions for mobile pet groomers worldwide. It also helps mobile pet-grooming entrepreneurs with planning, marketing and pricing their business model.
“There’s so much demand for the service now,” said Stockman. “We help a lot of them get started, and within three, six or nine months, they’re turning business away because they’re so busy.”
Like many groomers, Clayton works out of a customized diesel-powered van, one of four he’s purchased from Wag’n Tails over the past decade. Priced at about $85,600, it comes with a stainless steel tub, a work table that can rotate and adjust for height, batteries, an onboard generator, climate controls, a dryer and a water-storage system.
It’s also got a TV, fridge and microwave, Clayton said. “If I’m going to live in here,” he jokes, “I’m going to do it right.”
Clayton’s typical pet-grooming appointment involves trotting a customer’s pet out to his self-contained salon and doing pre-bath prep work: clipping nails, cutting hair and removing any matted fur. Then it’s into the stainless steel tub for a bath, followed by a multispeed dryer to finish the job. Interior air and water temperatures are comfort-controlled for both animal and groomer.
Pet groomers acknowledge on-the-job hazards, like getting scratched or bitten, and dealing with high-strung dogs. Clayton says the worst bite he’s received was from a cat: “I had what they call cat scratch fever, and they were talking about amputating my finger. ... Yeah, you’re going to get bitten sometimes.”
Larry Westrum, a 58-year-old former mechanic who runs Curbside Mobile Pet Grooming in Sacramento, said he got into the business about four years ago, “pretty much through hands-on experience ... I learned from another groomer.”
Last year, his customer list reached 220. He said his busiest seasons tend to be the winter holidays and summers.
Gas prices help
As with any mobile business, the recent drop in U.S. gas prices – below $2 a gallon in many locations – has been a boon, saving mobile groomers hundreds of dollars a month.
“The lower prices have been a blessing,” Westrum said. “I also think it has been good for (customers). They don’t feel so bad putting out some money for a nice dog.”
Although it varies by locale, a typical mobile pet groomer can spend about $2,025 in monthly overhead, according to Stockman, who advises prospective mobile business owners. That includes $1,231 for van payment, $310 for vehicle and generator fuel, $200 for vehicle insurance, $100 for vehicle maintenance and $84 for supplies (not including the initial purchase of grooming equipment).
Wag’n Tails says a groomer averaging six dogs a day at $65 per dog (typically grooming 22 days in a given month) will generate $8,580 a month, or $102,960 annually. Subtracting overhead costs, that nets a profit of $6,555 a month, or $78,660 a year, not counting tips.
There’s no precise number on how many mobile pet grooming businesses operate nationwide. The Pennsylvania-based National Dog Groomers Association of America declined to make an estimate when asked. Based on his customer and industry contacts, Wag’n Tails’ Stockman believes it’s 3,000 to 3,500 nationally, with perhaps 12 to 15 percent of those in California.
There are numerous ways to enter the profession. Clayton said he started in his mid-teens, including classes, a grooming shop apprenticeship and simply by observing other groomers. Major pet supply chains, such as Petco and PetSmart, also offer grooming instruction.
There also are certified grooming schools, such as the American Grooming Academy in Temecula.
“At any given time, we have eight to 14 students here, in a salon environment or ride-alongs in our mobile business,” said academy founder Angela Clark, an international certified master groomer. “I would say that about 20 percent (of students) go into the mobile business.”
The academy, which graduates about 35 students a year, offers options: A three-week program for grooming assistants and bathers/brushers costs $2,599 in tuition, fees and student supplies; an eight-week professional pet stylist program is $5,999; a 12-week advanced pet stylist program costs $6,999.
Clark, who’s been in the grooming industry 35 years, believes the education pays for itself. “Even during the recession, it was growing. People would still make do to take care of their pets every six to eight weeks. ... I would say the only drop-off occurred in extreme cases where people were losing their homes.”
It’s an industry that’s not lacking for customers. According to the American Pet Products Association, consumers were expected to spend an estimated $4.73 billion in 2014 for pet services, which include grooming and boarding.
“We call it the humanization of pets. They’re not really pets anymore; they’re part of the family,” said Wag’n Tails’ Stockman. “No matter what, people want to make sure little Fluffy gets taken care of. There are baby boomers out there whose kids have grown up, and the (household pets) have become the kids.”
He also said time-strapped schedules play a part. “With two adults working, people are looking for services that they could do themselves but don’t have the time. (Mobile pet grooming) is a convenience-driven service.”
Citrus Heights resident Ellie Black, a single mom with four kids and two jobs, says convenience is the reason she uses mobile pet groomers to bathe and groom her active Jack Russell terrier, Spike.
“I tried to do it myself for a couple of years and finally gave up. ... What a mess! I think I got more wet than Spike did, and trimming his (hair) was impossible because he never stood still,” Black said. “Now I’m so busy, it’s so much easier to have a pro do it. It doesn’t cost that much, and Spike gets his once-a-year tuneup.”
Getting into the mobile pet grooming business is about more than being an entrepreneur and offering good customer service, said academy founder Clark.
“You have to have good training and mentorship,” she said. “But you really have to have the passion. It’s not for the money alone. You have to be a little cuckoo about dogs ... or cats.”
Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.
MOBILE PET GROOMING
What it is: A mobile pet-care salon, where specially equipped vans bring dog-and-cat grooming services to your door. Services include bathing, shampooing, clipping, even nail polishing and a bow. The majority of customers are dog owners.
Training: There are scores of pet grooming schools nationwide, including in California; most offer instruction in mobile pet grooming. They have names like Critter Clips, It’s a Dog’s World, Barkfellers, Golden Paws and Just For Paws Academy of Pet Styling. Tuition can range up to $6,500 for an eight-week program.
Customer costs: Grooming charges are based on specific services and a pet’s size. Basic service for a dog or cat (bath, ear cleaning, nail trim) can be $50 or less for a small animal, up to $100 or more for larger pets. Some groomers offer specialty services, such as teeth cleaning, for about $20.
Source: Bee research