In tough economic times it can be tempting to agree to groom every dog that comes your way but there’s an art to client selection as Trudy Anderson of Furrynuff Dog Grooming explains…

Most groomers will receive phone calls on a regular or perhaps even daily basis from prospective clients. These calls are likely to be direct and to the point. The prospective client sees you as providing a service and, more than likely, assumes you will be happy to accept their business. In most instances this is true but there is a certain knack to working out whether a caller is a good prospect or not. Imagine… the phone in your salon rings. The caller asks “When’s your next available appointment?” or perhaps “How much do you charge to groom a cocker?” Most groomers who have survived the inevitable baptism of fire accepting any and every grooming enquiry learn through hard-won experience just how tricky, but critical, the art of prospective client handling can be. To begin with they are eager; for custom, to please, and to practise newlyacquired skills. But compromising personal safety and canine welfare can be unwise and potentially devastating. There are sound commercial reasons to screen enquirers and select one’s clientele carefully before agreeing to “cut Fluffy’s hair” or to give Fifi “just a tidy up”.

A tricky business:

Dog grooming is often compared with  hairdressing or the beauty business but the truth is handling dogs safely, humanely and skillfully during professional grooming is very different from a chatty session with a hair stylist. There are many groomer anecdotes about once-a-yearers, groomer hoppers, disrespectful, neglectful, ignorant or cheapskate owners. These, and tales of aggressive dogs – that have left them questioning their career choice or resulted in injury – can serve as the mistakes other groomers can learn from. Client retention is costly; one appointment is no guarantee of loyal, let alone repeat business. Consider offering appointments to higher-quality prospects that are more likely to cooperate within the boundaries that you have determined for your business. Accept that not every dog is groomable or, commercially viable to groom. The initial enquiry is an opportunity to gather information about both enquirer and pet to assess the feasibility of investing time and effort converting the enquirer into a potentially longterm regular client. You’ll need to determine whether it’s worth offering a valuable appointment slot to a possibly transient, or uninformed dog owner intent on booking a one-off appointment at the cheapest price or whether the dog is likely to be a suitable regular professional grooming candidate.  Gathering pertinent information before selling appointment slots is a long term strategy to help groomers operate more time and cost effectively. The methods used to screen and select vary depending on individual business practices. Some groomers operate a mandatory face-to-face preappointment consultation after the initial enquiry, either free of charge or on a non-refundable deposit basis to cover costs. Others prefer to cut to the chase up-front during the initial enquiry and ask more questions.

Asking the right questions:

So, just what nuggets of information can be gleaned through conversation? The skill is in knowing when and  how to ask particular questions, then to critically interpret responses, gradually building a mental picture of both prospect and dog. Frank or full disclosure – even to a direct question – isn’t necessarily a given! Successfully obtaining the requisite information relies on confident but approachable communication, in a non-judgemental manner. If timing or location are inappropriate, offer to call back or offer a short pre-appointment consultation at a mutually convenient time later. An impatient enquirer unwilling to wait may simply not be worth any more of your time or effort.

Go online:

Besides face-to-face and telephone interactions, the internet is increasingly used to attract and convert prospective clients through a business  website or social networking. Compelling content can be employed to great advantage. You can display policy and pricing information, before-and-after photographs or even automate some business processes – registration, appointment-booking or a testimonial facility, for example – both to communicate the most frequentlyasked information and to showcase competency. This use of technology is an effective way to hilosophically ‘set out one’s stall’ through carefully selected and worded content, enabling one to more efficiently manage prospects’ expectations. The minimum details to secure during the initial enquiry are the owner’s or responsible person’s contact details and the dog’s name, breed and age. More detailed health and temperament information can be obtained during registration or at the first appointment. After providing these details, an enquirer may automatically volunteer more information to give a reasonable idea whether to offer an appointment. Great! Note all relevant information, supplementing if necessary with a few specific questions to fill in any blanks. Some dog owners simply don’t know enough about professional grooming to know what information to provide. In this case lead the conversation by asking questions, deviating where appropriate and necessary until provided. There are some enquirers who prefer, expect or will only accept a ‘no-questions-asked’ approach to grooming. Reluctance to provide requested information should ring alarm bells. Mentally decide if it’s worth the risk.

Managing expectations:

Further suggested lines of enquiry will be required to help realistically manage the owner or responsible person’s expectations up front. sometimes what is asked for cannot be achieved. For example “just a general tidy up” or “a fluffy trim” simply aren’t easily achievable on a moderately to severely matted coat. Likewise “just a general tidy up” for a long or double coated dog whose coat has been neglected for the past six months or a year is a huge job, with a lot of post-groom cleanup. There is no such thing as “just a bath”. “Just a nail trim” may not be possible on painful feet (with overgrown or even ingrown nails) or if a dog has extreme aversion to its feet being handled. “Just a face trim” has been known to become “can you just trim this too?” “and tidy this a bit” … and so on while “a bit of spruce up” is a mammoth task on a poorly maintained, overgrown coat, more so if it requires trimming or styling. “Shave it all off for the summer, because my (long, double coated or northern breed) dog is suffering in this heat” requires educating before proceeding with explicit consent and caution. Handstripping may also require educating and significant owner commitment.

Next, to help establish a dog’s amenability and the owner or responsible person’s track record as a professional grooming service user it’s a good idea to find out how the dog’s coat is managed at home, between visits to a professional groomer. You’ll need to remember that brushing and bathing at home aren’t necessarily indicators of the dog’s amenability to the handling, equipment or procedures used in professional grooming are no guarantee of a well managed coat. If someone says the coat is not maintained at home it may be an opportunity to educate the owner. Or a job to politely decline…

Coat condition:

It’s sensible to find out about the dog’s professional grooming history and the likely condition of the dog’s coat too. You might like to ask the following:

• Has the dog visited a professional groomer before?

• What is the dog’s approximate professional grooming appointment schedule?

• What is the approximate date of the last appointment?

• Has the dog visited the same groomer or different groomers?

• Would you be able to run a comb through your dog’s entire coat, all the way down to the skin including the legs/feet/ears/tail?

From a personal safety and canine welfare perspective some questions double as a risk-assessment. These can be deal-making or breaking. The enquirer’s responses may need to be critically considered and if necessary, qualified. An enquirer intent on having his or her dog professionally groomed irrespective of the consequences and without consideration for the dog’s welfare, is very unlikely to care about a groomer’s safety.

Skilled prospect handling can establish in a 5-10 minute conversation whether each enquiry is safe and appointment worthy. Better client selection makes for safer, client-focused and commercially-viable grooming!