Interested in joining the fun and challenging world of dog grooming?
Perhaps you’re looking for ways to make some extra money on the side, start a new career in a professional boutique, or just save a few dollars by grooming from home.
Or maybe you have big dreams of starting a business from your own home.
Where do you start? How much can you expect to make? And how do you get good enough to start taking clients or get hired?
A Little About Me:
I’ve been professionally grooming and doing competition grooming for nearly 10 years. And I’ve gone through dozens (maybe even hundreds) of grooming applicants.
I’ve worked from home, in big box retailers, tiny salons, and even my own mobile grooming service.
Here’s everything you need to know…
Everything we’re covering in this guide. Click to navigate to that section.
- Love What You Do
- Learning The Basics
- Getting Your First Job
- Work From Home & Be Your Own Boss – How To Do It
- Different Types of Grooming Facilities
- Should You Go To Grooming School?
- Profit, Expenses, and Marketing
- Practicing and Becoming a Profitable Expert
Love What You Do
I’ll be honest with you – this job can be tough.
There are times when you’re on your feet all day, your hands and back will hurt, you’ll get wet and covered with dog hair, and experience a few ‘yuck’ moments (which usually involve drool or poop).
It’s something I make clear to every new student that comes through my door.
You have to love what you do to make up for all the bad parts. But don’t get too discouraged, there’s plenty of fun moments too.
Learning The Basics
I would highly encourage you to research the basics before handing out an application. You’ll learn a lot on the job – but you’ll be expected to have a baseline of knowledge.
Even if you just want to groom from home, start with these fundamentals first.
The Fundamentals of Grooming
You should have confidence in each one of these items as a working groomer.
Side note: If an applicant (with no previous professional experience) could show me a basic understanding of these fundamentals they would be a strong contender for an entry position at my salon.
Getting Your First Job
Applying for your first grooming job you’ll be hit with the age old problem:
No one will hire you because you have no experience, but you can’t get experience because no one will hire you.
Unfortunately, grooming your grandma’s Shih Tzu twice per year doesn’t count for much.
All too often potential employees will only tell me about how much they love dogs. Again, this is a good start, but doesn’t count as quantifiable experience that I can rely on.
What If I Have Nothing To Put On My Resume?
Well for starters, make sure you know everything from our earlier list of Fundamentals of Grooming.
Secondly, prove how much you love dogs by volunteering or taking a dog related job. You need to fill up your resume with some related experience.
For example: if you’ve volunteered at the humane society then I have confidence you feel comfortable working around many different dogs.
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
Just as important as a good resume is a set of pictures. Experience may be better shown than described.
If you’re just starting out: find a few dogs where you can safely practice and improve your skill. You may find that documenting your progress with pictures is enough to sway an employer to give you a shot.
Your First Interview - The Test Groom
When you come in for an interview, like most salons, you will be expected to perform a test groom. It’s much like a drivers test where an instructor silently judges you with a clipboard in hand.
- Your test groom will be judged on quality and how you handle the dog.
- Safety and quality are more important than speed. Don’t feel the need to rush.
- We’ll judge your results based on your level of experience. If you’re brand new then we’ll expect there to be a few errors.
- Do NOT boast if you don’t have the skill to back it up – we’ll be able to see if you’re not being honest on your resume.
- We’re also looking for potential. Are you open to instruction or criticism? Do you have a burning desire to learn?
Being considerate while handling animals, having a good foundation of knowledge (like the list we talked about), and a willingness to learn, means a salon can train you to be an excellent groomer.
Working From Your Home
Working from your own home has some wonderful benefits. You get to be your own boss, make your own schedule, avoid traffic, and leave the chaotic work environment behind.
But how do you build experience and get good enough to accept clients?
Start by building a strong foundation. Learn all the fundamentals from our list above. And then go apply for a grooming job…
Hear me out. If your goal is to be a home grooming professional – then you need to build the techniques and habits of a professional first. And the fastest way to do that is to learn in a working environment.
The Fastest way to get Faster is with a ROUTINE
Dedicate 1 Full Year to working and learning. Soak your brain with information, learn from your peers, and build the proper habits. After a year of practice you should be fully prepared to take your business home and start accepting clients.
Different Types of Grooming Facilities
Salons, Corporate Retailers, Mobile, and Homegrown. Each of these are different flavors in the grooming world, and each have something different to offer customers.
Salons are the specialty shop that are 100% grooming focused. This is where you’ll find the groomers that have dedicated themselves to their craft. Generally customers here are willing to pay a little more to have their dogs look beautiful.
Home Groomers are the hidden gems in your neighborhood. They’ve converted part of their garage or basement into a home salon, and groom from the comfort of their own home. These are becoming a very popular choice among pet owners.
Mobile services are vans or trailers that have been converted into a convenient grooming salon that comes to you. Workers are not only expected to groom dogs, but to drive to their customers location.
Big corporate pet stores will often have their own grooming services as well. They usually favor speed over style. These are great for customers seeking basic grooms that are budget friendly.
Add-on Services are non-exclusive grooming services that are part of a pet related business. You may find groomers, or workers offering grooming services, hidden within veterinarian clinics, doggy day cares, or training centers.
Where Should I Work?
If you’re just getting started this can be daunting. And to be honest, there’s no right answer.
The ideal place for you to learn is under an experienced groomer who will guide you through the process.
If that’s not possible you can practice at home over time, and use pictures and online groups to help you improve.
I will caution you by saying that some Corporate pet stores have safety policies in place that disallow grooming students, also called bathers, from using shears. This may hinder your learning as a groomer. So I would encourage you to ask questions and determine if a work place is going to help you learn in the best way possible.
Should I Go To A Grooming School?
From my personal experience: hands-on training has been very beneficial for many of my co-employees and peers. However, it’s often quite costly.
A full training curriculum can cost thousands of dollars, and will take several months to complete.
Some salon’s will offer apprenticeships (where you work under the guidance of a professional), and may offer you a job at the end of the course. But again, students are usually expected to cough up thousands of dollars to accommodate for their trainers time.
Should you pay for training?
The answer here is a strong Maybe.
School or apprenticeships can fast-track your learning and get you working sooner. But at a much higher cost.
If you have money burning a hole in your pocket, then I would say yes.
However, my recommendation is to try to become a ‘working-student’. Master the basics, practice at home, and look for an entry-level job. This might mean you become a dog bather for the first little while. But you will be getting paid to be there.
You’ll be in a working/learning environment, in close contact with the other experts, and you’ll have a much higher chance of becoming a full-time groomer when there’s an opening.
Profit, Expenses, and Getting Clients
How Much Do Groomers Make?
So you got your first job or client as groomer, now it’s time to make some money! Well, hold on…
As a beginner – expect to make $20,000 to $45,000 your first year. This can vary from one area to the next. And this assumes you’re no longer a student and groom regularly.
Highly successful (and highly paid) groomers build a strong list of clientele, charge more for their masterful grooms, and use their expertise to teach live classes, create product lines, or open their own business.
How You’re Paid:
In nearly all cases you are paid per dog on a commission basis.
Working in a salon you’ll split the income from each dog, which is usually a 50/50 split.
Some salon’s have a system where you rent your own space, meaning you pay a flat rate per month but keep 100% of your income. However, you’ll be fully in charge of your own space, so expect to do all your own cleaning and take your own bookings.
Working from home you keep all your income, but you’ll have to factor in the extra expenses of running your business.
Like any job, you’ll start at the bottom and work your way up. You’ll get faster and be able to groom more dogs in a day. And as you earn your spot as an expert, you can raise grooming prices or ask for a raise from your employer.
What about Tips? These can make a huge difference in your paycheck! Every place has a different policy when it comes to tip payout. My personal opinion is that you should keep 100% of your tips.
You also have to factor in your personal expenses. That’s right, even as an employee you’ll be expected to pay for some of your own tools.
Expenses - It's Often More Than You Think
Most salons will provide you with shampoos, conditioners, driers, tables, kennel space, and storage space. But in most cases you’ll be expected to bring your own shears, brushes, clippers, and blades.
These items can be very expensive, especially if you’re replacing them often.
Here’s a quick breakdown of your first basic tool set:
- Clippers: $100
- Shears: $60
- 3 Clipper Blade Lengths: $60
- Guard Comb Set for Clippers: $30
- Combs/Brushes: $100
- Nail Clippers: $20
Approx. Total = $370
Blades wear down over time, and you’ll be replacing them every so often. Clippers will sometimes die. And if you drop your shears even once you can kiss them goodbye.
These are some of the hidden expenses that come with grooming.
Take very good care of your tools. If they’re in good shape you’ll groom faster, easier, and replace them less often.
Of course if you’re working from your own space you’ll need to factor in all the other required tools. Along with water, electrical, and general business expenses.
Supply and Demand
The #1 determining factor in how much potential money you can make (whether working from home or at a business) is by customer demand.
If there’s 12 salons all stuffed into a single neighborhood you will all be fighting for clients.
Gauge what kind of customers come into your shop, are you meeting their needs?
Do customers in your neighborhood want a quick and cheap shave-down? Or do they like paying a little extra for a detailed groom?
Seasons create huge variations in demand as well. Christmas Holidays, and Spring time, will be your busiest times of the year. Summer tends to be consistently busy. However, January, February, and September are very slow months, so plan accordingly.
This is why obtaining repeat clients is an absolute must. They are your bread-and-butter. During slow periods (and there will be), you can always rely on a base of clients to keep some money rolling in.
This is why some basic marketing and customer etiquette is essential:
Marketing Yourself and Getting New Clients
How do you create more demand? By doing a little marketing. This could be it’s own massive article so I won’t go too deep here.
I always recommend setting up a basic website. Make very good use of social media such as Facebook and Instagram. Post pictures of your grooms. Join local online groups so you can share tips and engage with people 1-on-1.
Participate in local dog events, shows, or charities.
Print business cards and keep them on hand wherever you go (you never know where you’ll meet potential clients!)
Have a phone number and website decal on your car window.
Experiment with specials and discounts, including a refer-a-friend discount or holiday specials.
Send new clients home with a care package or at least a business card so they remember you.
Remember: Marketing and branding is not just your logo or advertising, it’s the experience your customers receive. So make sure every part of your interaction is amazing, and they’ll become lifelong clients.
Start Strong, Practice, and Grow Your Business
Imagine you have just signed up for your very first Gym Membership. The next day you show up to the gym having done minimal research, and just start lifting weights in any way that looks okay.
Will you make some progress? Sure, but it won’t be ideal.
Without proper form, technique, and a little bit of guidance, you’ll be missing out on a LOT of progress. You’ll form terrible habits that you’ll have to unlearn later. Not to mention, you’ll be incredibly unsafe.
See where I’m going with this?
They say ‘practice makes perfect’, but I prefer the saying ‘perfect practice makes perfect’.
Learn the fundamental techniques and safe practices from an expert, and build those into your muscle memory.
Build good habits from the start – then you’ll practice perfectly.
With a rock-solid foundation, over the next weeks and months of practice you’ll continue to improve. You’ll have the ability to complete more dogs in a day with perfect precision.
But why stop there?
Your clientele will grow and you can explore new ways to expand your business.
Maybe you open your own store, join competitions, teach classes, start a small product line, or gain sponsorship from a recognized grooming brand.
Or maybe you can just be a work-from-home dog mom. There’s plenty of different opportunities to explore