What’s the Hardest Part of Running a Business?

August 3rd, 2017 by Joelle

06-27

In my experience, the hardest part of running a business is STAFF!

Hands down the most challenging part of running a business is staffing it. Managing staff. Keeping staff. Paying staff. Keeping them accountable. Keeping them productive. Keeping them happy.

And the real biggie – training them.

So let’s tackle the training challenge first. It’s far easier to hire basic labor than filling a position that requires skill. At our kennel, the Whiskers Resort and Pet Spa, we have an endless supply of dog enthusiasts that want to work in the kennel. With multiple colleges within our community, the labor force is easy to come by. After all, everybody wants to play with puppies!

But what about those jobs that require skilled labor? People like receptionists, bathers, managers, and trainers.

One of the largest reasons I started the Paragon School of Pet Grooming was because I could not find qualified groomers to operate my fleet of mobile grooming vans. They just weren’t available. I still shudder when I think about it. There were times that I would have a van down for 6 to 12 months at a time before I could find somebody that could do the job. Not a very efficient way to run a business.

Working every day in a mobile grooming salon does not lend itself well to a training environment. It can work if you just have to add polish to a skilled professional. But to take them from scratch? Nope. It doesn’t work. You just can’t afford the time it takes to train a new groomer – especially if you rely on YOUR productivity to pay the bills. Starting a person from scratch to become a competent groomer in a mobile just does not work!

To get a groomer that can work independently – with safety and quality – will take months, not weeks, to train. After all, this is not a skill that you can quickly show somebody how to do. Grooming is not a simple task. It requires significant training.

I’ve heard some businesses offer two-week training programs for new hires. Then they turn them loose to groom “professionally.” Some circles might consider this enough, but for quality and safety, you need more.

Did you know the average person needs to see or hear something 3 to 7 times before it actually sinks in? And that’s for an average learner. Sure, star performers might pick it up after the first or second try – but those people are few and far between. Most of us fall in the average category. We have to see or do the same task repeatedly before we do it correctly.

TrainingI’ve been in the pet care industry for over 30 years – primarily in the grooming aspect of the industry. Finding qualified groomers remains the number one problem in our field.

Finding talented grooming help was close to impossible was when I first stepped up to the grooming table in 1979 – and it remains the same problem today. I have chosen to focus on this critical problem. I own multiple companies in the pet industry. On the educational side, my companies aid in training and personal development for those stepping into the field for the first time as well as for aspiring pet groomers and stylists.

It has always been extremely easy to enter the field of pet grooming. There are very few regulations of any sort. Anybody can start bathing and cutting hair off a dog or cat, and call themselves a professional pet groomer. Those of us that have spent years perfecting our craft know it takes time and dedication to become confident and competent in all breed grooming. It takes years of practice and study.

Some of the ways that I have found to become a real professional include:

  • Studying the AKC Complete Dog Book or your national all breed book
  • Reading books produced by breed and/or industry specialists
  • Attending workshops and clinics hosted by industry leaders
  • Attending a grooming school – many have multiple programs from which to choose
  • Taking an online course from a reputable institution
  • Attending continued education training at qualified grooming schools
  • Watching videos produced by leading pet professionals

Even graduates coming out of quality grooming schools are not truly proficient. If they have graduated with above average GPA’s, they have given themselves a great foundation. It is the starting point of their career – but they are far from being a polished professional. They still need guidance. They still need coaching. They still need mentoring. They still need to study. And most of all – they need to practice A LOT!

featured-classified-300x232So let’s get back to that hiring challenge. If you’re faced with having to hire a groomer, know what to look for. One thing I recommend is Attitude. Attitude. Attitude. I always look for somebody who’s got a positive, upbeat attitude. Someone who is receptive to new information. They need to be moldable. Adaptable. And they cannot be afraid of hard work. I hire on potential, not necessarily experience.

Once you have someone with a great attitude, helping them be best they can be is fun – and it can be very gratifying. Use the resources available to help them self-direct their own learning.  It will take time, dedication, and patience before you see your new hire flourish but you can lighten your training load by taking advantage of many educational resources currently available. You might learn a thing or two yourself.

It amazes me that our industry has not advanced more in this area. Sure, there are more grooming schools than ever was before. Yes, there are certification organizations out there – but they’re still voluntary. Licensing, in some states is starting to catch on. However, we’re still a long way from having even a basic comprehensive licensing program in place for pet groomers and salon owners. The road before us is wide open with possibilities.

Will you help us blaze the trail?

Happy trimming!

Melissa

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What Type of Grooming Do You Do?

May 11th, 2017 by Joelle

Quote ThisMy educational team recently visited a local grooming salon. When they came back, they shared a comment made by the staff of the salon.

“We don’t do show grooms, it’s not what our customers want.”

I thought to myself, “Okay, but I don’t do ‘show grooms,’ either.” I never have. Nor do I teach show grooming. Very few of my products showcase show grooming – not the books, the Distance Learning Program, The Salon Mentoring Program, or the on-site programs taught at the Paragon School of Pet Grooming. None of them focus on show grooming. 90% of the videos from Learn2GroomDogs.com showcases every day grooming jobs – from shave downs to highly stylized pet trims.

…But the comment got me thinking. What determines the type of grooming we do? It boils down to one thing: the needs and demands of our clients.

Our clients will either make us strive to new heights or allow us to settle into a less demanding routine. I see this play out clearly between two of my companies.

When I started the Paragon School of Pet Grooming in the early 90’s, the Jenison community was a perfect fit for a school. At the time, I was running a fleet of six mobile vans. We catered to the upper echelon of the community. Our prices were higher than average salon prices for the premium front door service. That clientele appreciated and was willing to pay for this type of service.

Pet GroomThe Jenison market was on the outer edge of our service area. Occasionally, we would dip our toes into that market. We quickly learned that the Jenison market valued economy. They wanted short, no-nonsense haircuts. They were amazingly frugal – and they were always on the lookout for a deal!

The Jenison market was a perfect place for a grooming school with discounted grooming prices and basic trims! For 27 years, The Paragon School has been in this location. This community takes excellent care of its pets, but it doesn’t step far outside the realms of fancy haircuts. Short, low maintenance trim styles are what this clientele wants.

The other side of town has a totally different story. When we first started talking about opening a luxury pet resort, I knew exactly where we needed to go: right to the heart of where most of our mobile clientele lived. In 2007, we opened Whiskers Resort and Pet Spa.

Our first groomers at the resort were high-end pet stylists. They were Certified Master Groomers and awarding-wining contest stylists. They set the stage for a high-end thriving grooming department. The trims were more upscale and so was the average price. Upscale grooming comes at an upscale price.

Today, Whiskers has seven grooming stations and business is booming. Rarely do we see a short, low maintenance all-trim come through the doors.

Show GroomAt Whiskers, the team specializes in more complex haircuts. The team does lots of breed profile trimming using pet grooming techniques. They use special products to accentuate the coat type. They hand strip. They hand scissor. They do pet trims. They even do a few show grooms. They see oodles of Doodles and lots of “designer dogs.” Don’t get me wrong, about half of the grooming jobs are still bath and brush dogs. They handle plenty of Labs and Golden Retrievers! Plus, the Whiskers grooming department sees the new, different, and unusual when it comes to breeds. This team must be on their toes. Our stylists need to be up-to-date and highly educated to meet the needs of the clientele. They do a lot of fancy haircuts!

Both businesses cater to a different clientele. They are on different career paths both for the people within the teams as well as the businesses themselves. Both businesses are successful.

Most pet grooming businesses do a bit of a crossover between no frills, low maintenance haircuts and the fuller, fancier trim styles. The personal motivation of the salon owner, local competition, as well as the clientele will ultimately dictate the type of grooming styles leaving each business.

I know many salons that specialize in low maintenance, easy trims combined with bath and brush type pets. Even though they don’t do fancy trims, they are still highly successful.

Other salons cater to a more discerning clientele. They need to have a higher skill set to stay competitive and thrive in that setting. The more knowledgeable and skillful they are, the more likely they can satisfy their clients.

Other stylists cross over into the show world where the understanding and application of structure and movement combined with sculpting the coat is critical to being in the ribbons.

Regardless of where you fall on the scale, if you are a professional pet groomer/stylist, grooming is a career. It’s not a hobby to you. You might be doing low maintenance trims that don’t require a whole lot of advance study – that’s okay! Not everybody has to do fancy trims. Each grooming business will have a signature style.

You might be at a salon where if you’re going to thrive, you need to be able to satisfy a more demanding client. You have clients who are educated and know what their dogs are supposed to look like – or WANT them to look like! Being able to apply pet grooming techniques to enhance a particular breed or an individual dog is just good business.

It’s important to remember that owners have pets for different reasons. Not all owners want a “show dog” look. They simply want a handsome family pet that is clean and well-groomed. Sometimes that means a no-frills type trim – other times, it’s a much fancier haircut.

Whatever YOUR signature style is – do it to the best of your ability with kindness and respect for the pet. It’s our job to assist the owner to care for their pet in a manner suiting the pet and their lifestyle.

Happy trimming!

Melissa

 MVpaw_no_Inner_whiteWhat does your clientele want? Jump on the Learn2GroomDogs.com Facebook page and tell us about it.

 


Educational Events: Should You Send Your Team?

January 5th, 2017 by Joelle

I recently received a question about taking staff members to educational events. As most of you know, I am a huge advocate of continuing professional development. Getting out to trade shows and other events is a great way to learn as well as re-energize your team.

 “I have a question about taking my employees to trade shows and seminars. I have never taken an employee to a conference before. My business has grown. I am seeing the need and benefit of having my employees go to classes instead of just me going and me coming back, sharing all I learned. (Which is hardly possible!)

I am wondering:

  • What is reasonable, as far as compensation for my employees?
  • Do I pay them their hourly rate for giving up their time and “working” all weekend?
  • Do I pay for all expenses…3 meals, hotel, classes, etc.

This is new territory for me and I need some experienced advice.”

-Debbie L., North Carolina

professional-developmentWhen you have a team that values education and training, the possibilities are endless!  Their excitement, dedication, and passion can propel their careers to uncharted heights and help your business thrive.  Encouraging that eagerness to try new techniques and test new tools and products has fulfilling personal payoffs that are also great for your salon.  If you have a team like this, investing is their education is also a solid investment in your company.

As a business owner, you must always balance risk with reward.  You are the person who must look objectively at your team and decide if they have the right attitude and drive for this financial investment.

I have always encouraged my staff to continue their education by attending trade shows and other events. The staff members who participated were dedicated to their craft and did not need a lot of guidance.  This is not always going to be the case.

About 18 years ago, I had my first major setback with a team.  We had had an exceptional year.  As a reward, I flew almost my entire team from Michigan to Intergroom for an all-expenses-paid learning experience.

About half the team did exactly what I had hoped. They presented themselves in both dress and manner as true professionals in every sense. They focused on learning and came home with lots of new knowledge and skills.

Unfortunately, the others fell far short of my expectations.  Their appearance was terrible and many of them spent way too much time in the bar or on the dance floor.  A few members of this group were even too hung over to make it to any of the classes.

By the end of the show I was more than frustrated – I was embarrassed.

These employees did not represent themselves or my business the way I had hoped.  They embarrassed their team mates.  They squandered an amazing learning opportunity – and I lost a significant financial investment in their training.

I realized changes needed to be made. I needed strong guidelines. I developed new policies and put them into place so this type of disappointment would never happen again.

Over the years, we have applied several different techniques with great success. Hopefully, a few of the ideas below with help you avoid frustrations and wasted expense.

Continuing Education Benefits

Today, we have an Education Assistance Program in place. It’s a benefit to all full-time employees. Each year we set a budget and these funds can be requested for a wide range of learning formats.

Everyone’s situation is a little different. Some employers find a set amount to work well for their entire team. Others find a sliding scale works best. Lower level team members get one amount. Key staff members and/or managers get a higher amount.  Figure out what works best for your team – and your budget. Typical amounts would range anywhere from $100 to $1000 or maybe even more, depending on your situation.

professional-development-2Formal Education Assistance

Occasionally, a staff member goes back to college. If the class or program will enhance their job performance, they may qualify to have all or part of the tuition costs covered by us. All courses must be pre-approved prior to reimbursement. Upon successfully completion, the team member submits their transcript or certificate along with their receipts for expenses. We will compensate them for the pre-approved portion of classes.

In-House Educational Training

Occasionally, we arrange in-house training. These programs aid the overall knowledge of our pet service teams. At times, the training programs are offered to our employees for free or at a heavily discounted rate. Other times, the benefit is simply the convenience factor. They have access to leading educators right in their back yard. Attendance is highly encouraged at these events. If it is a mandatory event, the staff member will be paid to attend.

Seminars, Clinics, Trade Shows, and Grooming Competitions

teri-2Smaller seminars and clinics offer wonderful ways to learn. Typically, this type of educational event is much more intimate. It’s easy to get up close to see what the demonstrator is doing. Plus, it’s easy to ask questions throughout the entire program.

Larger trade shows are fabulous learning opportunities. At larger events, attending classes isn’t the only way to learn. Opportunities abound out on the trade room floor. There is a variety of products, services, tools, and equipment to learn about. Many of the larger vendors have platform demonstrations going on right at their booths. Sitting ringside watching the top stylist groom in the competition ring will yield plenty of educational opportunities too. Some of the best learning takes place in a more social setting while networking with fellow pet professionals.

To qualify for reimbursement, employees must seek approval before attending. The staff member needs to submit an outline of the program(s) they plan on attending and what they hope to learn from each.

Sitting down with them shortly after their return is a great way to let them share what they’ve learned. Show support and encouragement. You want to learn firsthand what they heard and saw. Ask them how they plan on applying the information. I personally give them brownie points for coming back with photos on their phones of their favorite speakers and personalities at the event.

Don’t forget, upon return of the educational event, they need to submit a written report outlining key takeaways from what they have learned at the program. If they have been pre-approved for travel expenses, they must submit a full expense report including receipts.

Keep in mind, whenever a staff member is at a work-related function, they must uphold your professional standards of conduct. If they fall short, they may not be reimbursed for the cost of the event. Having them sign an agreement outlining your expectations of professional conduct would a great idea.

Here are a few qualifying rules for our Education Assistance Program Benefit.

The Cost

There is more to it than just the upfront cost of the learning event. There are lots of hidden costs, too. Typically, there will be fees associated with:

  • travel
  • lodging
  • meals
  • wages (if the training is required)
  • lost revenue if the event takes place during a typical work day

Sometimes, it’s more cost-effective to seek out smaller events – especially when first getting a team excited about continued education. Personally, I like to test my team on smaller events closer to home. They are easier for my team to get to and less costly. FYI, some of the best educational events for my team are those I’ve hosted. (That’s another blog altogether!)

Staff members must:

  1. Advise the company prior to enrolling for any continuing educational event. Upon review of the training opportunity, the management team will decide if the course or programs qualify for the Education Assistance Program.
  2. The program must be job-oriented and offered by an approved institution, person, company, or organization.
  3. The staff member must be employed with the company for at least six (6) months (full-time).

Alternative Educational Opportunities

We offer additional funds towards approved learning opportunities. These opportunities include, but are not limited to; on-line training programs, membership based platforms, educational videos, and literature.

We encourage all staff members to stay current, informed, and self-educated as it relates to their job. Ultimately, it is their responsibility to manage and grow their career.

If a team member is seeking reimbursement for the cost of a learning opportunity, they must seek prior approval.

Depending upon the situation, either written or verbal reports will need to be submitted to the management team prior to reimbursement for the cost of the educational opportunity.

Certified Master Groomer Status

All our grooming staff members are eligible for voluntary certification testing through one of the approved programs: NDGAA, IPG, or ISCC. This is above and beyond their educational assistance program benefit. Upon successful completion of each phase, we will pay the cost associated with each level of the testing.  Membership dues are the responsibility of each employee.

What do I do if a team member shows their commitment to learning? I start looking at more involved programs for them. I’ve had a few staff members so committed to growing their careers, they blow through their allotment in one weekend. If they want to attend events beyond what I will pay for, we will always try to rearrange their work schedule to make it possible.

Continued education is at the heart of all successful grooming businesses. I love helping people grow their skills. If I have a team members committed to growing their careers, I will do what I can to point them in the right direction. Knowledge builds confidence, bolsters technical skills, and increases productivity. Win. Win. Win.

If you are building a team committed to quality and success, you have decisions to make. What is the best way to grow your team? It will be up to you to weigh out those costs and to determine how they will benefit your business.

Happy trimming!
~Melissa
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