Groomer Wages

Breaking News on Groomer Wages! 

PetGroomer.com Magazine published the industry most extensive wage and income earnings survey ever conducted. You can read the results in the January/March 2017 PetGroomer.com Magazine download.

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Pet Groomer Wages

Because there are many career paths in pet grooming, there are broad differences in earnings. It is a matter of choice. Some employed pet groomers earn less than $20,000 a year while others make $30,000 to $70,000 a year (prior taxes). Self-employment incomes are just as diverse, but may go higher when owners choose to grow large businesses.

Some groomers establish burgeoning businesses and add new departments such as retail, training, boarding, daycare and other services. We call these “pet centers” and they are among our most motivated clientele following The Madson Management System™ in From Problems to Profits. They derive personal incomes from their businesses ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 a year. Highly-motivated, hardworking employees of pet superstore chains have reported gross wages of $80,000 to more than $100,000 a year in our GroomerTALK Community℠.

What’s important is that the pet grooming industry offers you the possibility to earn as much as you want if you willing to work diligently and grow your business or the department you manage. This is good news for the many career seekers wondering if grooming can replace their existing incomes from occupations outside of grooming. In this section we are going to help you understand what is required to earn the various ranges of incomes other than education and experience.

We want to share a strange quirk in pet care occupations when money is the topic. We have been shamed, as others have, for being concerned about how much one can earn. In the minds of those shaming us we are here to be servants unto pets that need us and money shouldn’t be involved even though they finally admit it does have its place. We don’t ascribe to that mindset.

Profitability is good for our industry in many ways. Don’t be ashamed to expect a comfortable living from grooming, and share your wisdom to help others. The intent to earn a good living from pet care is not based in greed.

Of course the joy of grooming isn’t “all about the money” but how can we be there for pet owners and their pets if we cannot cover our cost of living, and maintain modern businesses?

Our clients wanted us to be prosperous because they depended upon us, and we maintained a first-class operation with the best equipment for the comfort of people and pets. We could also make more donations. The mendicant mindset holds pet grooming back from more professional recognition.

We know pet groomers with incomes adequate to buy new homes, raise large families and send their children to college. Yes, it can be done if that is what you are wondering. The higher the income the more important it is for you to possess productivity skills and business acumen derived from industry experience. On the other end we know groomers satisfied with modest incomes and simple lifestyles.

It’s not right or wrong, better or worse, it’s simply choice. We’re proud that pet grooming offers so many career paths you can make your choice. Isn’t this an interesting industry? Everyone is different and so are their choices. The common glue we share as a body of professionals is “the care of pets.” Now let’s see what choices are available to meet your financial goals.

Next we will show you how compensation systems work for groomers.

Compensation Systems

How groomer wages are calculated is nothing less than one of the most remarkable and puzzling topics you will ever discuss. It’s wild even. Compensation systems truly lack standardization in this industry. Some of the systems are so abstract it’s a new form of modern art. Fasten your seat belt it’s going to be a bumpy ride indeed.

You are probably used to job offers stating a simple formula for an hourly wage or salary. How sensible. How boring! You are now entering the grooming compensation zone, and nothing is simple and little is as it seems.

Pay close attention to the basics of compensation we describe here. We will give you the basic ingredients, but a lot of strange cakes are baked out there using these ingredients.

Employed groomers are commonly compensated in one or more of four established methods. They are:

Hourly wages (with or without a minimum guarantee of hours in any one pay period).
Salary wages (guaranteed).
Commission wages.
Combinations of the above.

Every business owner has the right to develop a legal compensation plan of their own making. As a result you will find many systems that reflect #4 above. Most of these apply to full-charge groomers, and to a lesser degree pet bathers and assistant pet groomers.

Many employers are very passionate about their formulas and quickly lose sight of the value of simple compensation systems for both employers and employees. Only pet grooming is this way. When you inquire about the wages you can earn be prepared for diverse opinions and null answers. What do we mean by “null answers?” Job candidates want to know wages, in currency. Instead some employers provide information about their compensation formula, and no dollars and cents.

Some employers emphasize tips overtly. Does that mean they have a problem with their wages? How do these employers expect job candidates to have the confidence and peace-of-mind to know they will earn enough to meet their household budgets? It doesn’t make much sense and it goes on every day in thousands of grooming businesses.

Abstract formulas are accepted as normal, have we made that clear? Most of them are derived from commission wages in whole or part. Many defend these elusive systems too. Don’t be surprised if you hear, “You will lose money if you don’t pay employees this way” or “You cannot get employees if you don’t use this compensation system.”

Our open-minded response is, “Interesting. I do believe it is true in your experience. Now can you show us the numbers that back your point of view?” After nearly two decades as consultants we are still waiting for a financial analysis in writing that backs the benefits of overly complex systems involving mixed methods of compensation.
We’re not going to spend a lot of time on them here because at the heart of them are the basics of hourly, salary and commission wages. The latter you need to understand now.

Hourly Wages

Hourly wages are common for pet bathers and assistant pet groomers. Full-charge groomers are sometimes paid by the hour.

Pet bathers are very valuable team players. If a bath and dry isn’t done properly the finish groomer is going to be irked and fight a losing battle to compensate. In fact, a professional finish groomer should send the pet back to the bather to have it done right along with reinforcement training. Poor drying is very evident where “stretch drying” is required, such as Poodles and Bichons to name only two. If not done properly the coat will be overly wavy or curly. As a result the finish may be uneven, and certainly grow out that way. The answer is to spot wet the area and stretch-dry again.

The work of bathers is the most physically demanding. Their work areas are warm, humid and loud. They loosen plenty of dirt and dander every day, and get wet again and again. They are faced with cleaning heavily-soiled pets, some in atrocious condition with caked feces and urine soaked sanitary areas. Well, you get the idea. Pet bathing is not a glory job compared to finish grooming.

Experienced groomers bond to great bathers; they make the workday so much more pleasant and the output more professional. However, wages for bathers are generally quite low. It’s been this way for as long as we can remember. Some make minimum wage while others may earn up to $15.00 an hour depending upon regional trends.

Full-charge pet groomers may be paid hourly. Their compensation can be as little as $10 an hour or as high as $30 or more an hour. The latter would apply to highly-experienced and productive full-charge groomers and usually where grooming prices are on the higher range nationally.

Hourly wages usually imply that the employer is not guaranteeing a minimum amount of hours per pay period. Employees of major pet salons find this manner of compensation reasonable and acceptable when the business is so large and busy year round from consistent pet owners there is always work for employees.

We don’t favor this system for regular full-time employees and instead look to the benefits of salaries that are given up when commission is the only wage basis.

Salary Wages

Generally salary wages involve a guaranteed wage per pay period. Where salaries are paid it is usually for management and full-charge positions, and rarely pet bathers or assistants. Most salaries in any field of business are based on an hourly wage, multiplied by the expected number of hours of work per pay period and annualized. The primary difference between hourly and salary is that salary is usually guaranteed for the term of employment.

In our business we successfully used salaries for key full-charge grooming positions. Sometimes assistants were given a salary as well as the Bathing Department Supervisor position (defined in the book, From Problems to Profits in Pet Grooming). Contrary to popular belief our employees found the consistent paycheck guarantee provided them with peace-of-mind knowing they could meet their set monthly household budget. Our system is described in From Problems to Profits. Estimates and surveys show that about 25% of full-charge groomers are on salaries or variations of salaries today.

Salaries are not a method to shortchange groomers from better earnings. Salaried groomers may earn more than commissioned groomers. Salaries do offer advantages for both employers and employees compared to commission-based wages although some groomers find that hard to believe.

Before we can compare compensations you must fully understand commission wages. Most career seekers entering the pet grooming industry have never been paid on a commission basis. They do have their advantages, especially for employers, but you must consider the disadvantages in order to evaluate them fairly.

Commission Wages

Commission is the most popular form of compensation for full-charge pet groomers. Commission means that the pet groomer is paid by giving them a percentage of the service fees charged to the pet owners for each pet they groom. We will look at calculation methods later in this section.

Thousands of groomers are absolutely convinced commission-based wages earn them the highest incomes. They may even proclaim that as truth. However, there is absolutely no industry wide proof of their claim for all groomers. There are grooming business owners offering $1,000 a week or more in the form of guaranteed salaries. Only a minority of commissioned groomers earn such incomes year round.

Be wise. Don’t discount job offers simply because they are salary offers. Listen and evaluate every offer. Work the numbers before coming to a conclusion. We will show you some of the methods to do so here. Only by working the numbers will you know the monetary truth of any employment opportunity involving commission-based wages.

Commission is a formula. That’s all. Confusion abounds because career seekers, and a good number of business owners and groomers, add illusion. Right out of the gate we want to make clear that commission is nothing more than a formula. Here are some of the illusions we consistently hear:

  • I am paid by commission. Therefore I am self-employed.
  • I am paid by commission. Therefore, I am an independent contractor.
  • I pay groomers by commission. Therefore I am not an employer subject to withholding payroll taxes from my employees. I must only provide 1099 payments to groomers.
  • I am paid by commission. Therefore, I own the pet owner’s clientele I groom.

None of the above is true, even a little. Commission is not a determining factor for anything other than how to calculate the gross wages for employees in the form of a paycheck subject to tax withholding and employer-related payroll taxes.

Rarely is a pet groomer legally an independent contractor. Yes, we said they are not classified correctly yet thousands are their numbers. It is possible to use commission formulas to figure 1099 payments to true independent contractors, but the commission adds nothing to the basis of ruling whether the groomer is an employee or independent contractor. We repeat, nothing. In 2016 the State of Tennessee ruled that most pet groomers considered independent contractors in their state are actually employees! More and more states are classifying pet groomers in this same manner even if the IRS considers them acceptable as independent contractors. Remember, you can be an I.C. according to the IRS yet your state residence does not have to accept that classification and have their own determinations.

Many groomers call the shots in grooming businesses where management is weak or missing. One of the common attributes where this occurs is that they are almost certainly paid by commission. It’s strangely empowering. It feeds the desires of groomers who want to have the control of owning a business yet none of the responsibilities. This type of management relies on commission because they don’t have to make salary guarantees which might otherwise encourage them to maintain growth and customer service to keep demand high for services.

We know stories of groomers departing employment and proclaiming they are entitled to a copy of their employers’ clientele lists. In some cases restraining orders had to be secured to prevent groomers from forcibly removing records. Some of these groomers claimed that they were paid by commission and so the clients were theirs. Commission is nothing more than a formula, and in truth salaries and hourly wages are formulas as well. There is no mystique to them or other benefits derived. Yet many groomers lust for commission, even demand it. It’s weird actually because they do not guarantee better earnings, better working conditions or more empowerment. In fact, commission guarantees nothing. Legally, commission is just a formula for compensation.

Every career seeker can rely on being misinformed about commission by other groomers. The odds in infinitesimally small that another groomer will simply answer inquiries about commission with the obvious, and the legal answer, “Commission is formula to determine wages instead of using salary and/or hourly wages.” The better question is, “Why does the industry use commission and where did it come from?”

Origin of Commission Wages

Do you know the origin of commission wages? Probably not and I’ve rarely met a groomer who wasn’t grooming decades ago that knows the answer. This is very important. If you understand it and take it to its fullest expression, you will be a leader in the pack when it comes to understanding the state of confusion associated with groomer compensation methods. If you are going to employ groomers someday this is vital information.

Historically, commission wages were first put into place by the owners of grooming businesses. Do you know that most of today’s commissioned groomers heartily advocating commissions believe that they came about from groomers standing up and demanding them, just as many do today? No, commissions did not resolve from worker rights movements. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Calculating Commissions

The most common range for commission is 50% to 60% of the service fee charged to the pet owner. To earn these commission rates groomers usually groom pets start-to-finish, although some employers provide pet bathers.

For each grooming assignment, the groomer is privy to how much the business owner is charging a pet owner for the grooming service. The owner multiplies the groomer’s commission rate times the total service fee and the result is the gross wage for that one grooming service. Subsequent grooming services are calculated similarly and compiled into a paycheck representing gross wages, subject to payroll deductions (employed groomers).

Example 1.  A pet owner is charged $40 for the grooming of a Bichon Frise. The commission rate is 55%. Multiply $40 by 55% and the result is $22. The groomer’s gross wage for grooming the Bichon Frise is $22.00 and the owner retains $18.00 to cover operating overhead and potentially derive some profit.

Only highly-experienced groomers earn 60% commissions and some employers don’t ever offer 60% because after overhead there is little remaining profit. Keep in mind that the employer must pay employer contribution taxes, worker’s compensation and other payroll-related taxes often 30% times the gross wage. In Example 1, the employer might be liable for $6.60 of payroll taxes which are deducted from the owner’s $18.00 besides, rent, utilities, supplies, advertising, insurance and other operating expenses.

Example 2.  There are six grooming assignments in the appointment book for Cathy, a pet stylist. She is comfortable doing six start-to-finish assignments in eight hours. By 9 A.M. she discovers that one customer with two pets is a “no-show” and one regular client is ill and cannot keep her appointment. Cathy is only paid for grooming three pets losing about one-half of her income. What will happen tomorrow? Cathy goes home disappointed and stressed.

Combining Salary, Hourly and Commission Wages

Groomers are becoming more stress related to commission-only wages. If they are not employed by a business with steady demand year round they may never meet their household budget year round without seeking additional employment. Snow days often trigger cancellations and for the commission only groomer, the day is a bust. Some groomers accept change and look for salaried positions and find none available or the job offers are unsuitable. Not all salary offers are ideal, and some employers don’t accept counter offers from job candidates.

The most popular answer to the commission-only dilemma is to combine compensation methods and thereby satisfy both employer and employee. Some of these systems are reasonable. What makes them reasonable is 1) the employee can count on earning a set minimum wage each day and 2) the employer accepts some of the risk once carried on the shoulders of the employee alone!

For example, Anne is paid 55% commission and guaranteed $100 a day. Anne’s wage generation remains on a commission basis formula. Typically she earns $175 a day on commission working full-time. One day there are a string of cancellations and she only earns $80 for the day in gross wages. Not to worry. The owner contributes another $20 for the day to match Anne’s guaranteed $100 a day wage. Many employers will do this for a valued employee. Don’t expect owners to harbor troublesome employees on such a basis, at least for long.

There are many more variations of the combination system including offers of guaranteed salary with commissions on services over a specified cap, and even commission bonuses for retail sales.

Commission Wages Aren’t Going Away

In looking back, we never had a problem offering guaranteed full salaries. We were essentially booked seven days a week year round grooming at least 60 pets a day, and often many more. Why were we always booked? The answer is expert marketing and client relations. We were so unique and so self-confident that we could market enough business to keep our team working year round, we did it.

The financial benefit was how easy it was for us to prepare a business budget with accurate projections, and it helped us to find a way to support better employee benefits. For this reason we continue to share the Madson People and Pet Marketing Program with you in our book From Problems to Profits.

Our compensation system was so stable and easy-to-understand, no wonder we were noted for being a large yet mostly stress-free operation without “groomer burnout” so common today. We also paid competitive wages and some benefits because volume decreases the cost of overhead allocated to each grooming service.

Remember you can invite disinformation when you talk compensation with groomers. You must understand that they may love it, but it also takes its toll on them if your business ebbs and flows. We will take the odds that you are going to hear proclamations that some will never accept anything other than commission. You will hear the highest wages are always commission. No, that is not true.

Before you accept anything you hear about wages as truth, study the big picture. Strong opinions are rarely backed with any financial data to prove claims. Review a full year’s payroll history for any claim, and if you can compare it to the experience of other businesses.

If you are privy to these records, and we have been to thousands of sets of grooming business books, you will find opinions are just that, opinions apparently serving ulterior motives.

Up to this point you have just been given more in-depth insight into the personnel management of grooming businesses than most groomers have as insight today. Don’t be surprised if you know more about compensation systems than employers interviewing you.

Our goal is to make both employers and employees more knowledgeable with Madson Team Trimming Operations™. With more knowledge comes teamwork, a rare commodity in the grooming industry?

We’re not done with commission just yet. We don’t want to leave you without some answers on how to compare commission offers from prospective employers, and how you can estimate your annual income in the world of grooming when employers only provide you with a commission rate.

It’s important that you know how to project your annual wages as a pet groomer. Why? Because you can actually make less income earning 60% commission compared to 50% commission. Doesn’t make sense, does it? It will.

Next up, formulas! Sharpen your pencils! Get some paper! Warm up the calculator! You won’t find anyone else providing this training online in such easy detail.

Annual Wage Projections for Commission Basis Groomers

Here is the formula to project annual wages if you work on commission. First you must determine the projected gross daily wage.

For each grooming assignment the formula is:

Service Fee X Commission Rate = Gross Wage

Next, total the projected number of daily grooming assignments:

Add Daily Grooming Fees = Gross Daily Wage

To estimate projected daily earnings you must know the average number of grooming assignments you can complete in one working day. Therefore, productivity is important to determining your potential income. If you can only groom three pets in eight hour work day you will of course earn half as much as the groomer who can groom six pets in eight hours. Clearly increasing productivity, yet retaining quality, is one of the most important goals of every groomer.

To determine wage estimates in dollars you must know the average service fee of your employer’s business. Some grooming businesses are well-managed and their owners can provide you with accurate average service fees. Others simply guess. You may also get this classic response, “What are you asking about?” The importance of accuracy when working with averages is not to be taken lightly. You can easily over or underestimate projected wages when you apply inaccurate numbers.

Assuming we have a good figure, we can estimate the income you may earn on an average day, week or month, and even over a year (the biggest factor for year projections is the stability of pet owner demand over the year).
The formula to calculate your projected annual compensation (gross wages prior employment taxes) is:

Est. Annual Gross Wage=
Avg. Service Fee X Commission Rate X Avg. # of Pets Groomed Daily X # Days Worked Annually

Let’s assume the average service fee is $35 per grooming and you earn 50% commission. When you work five days a week year round the total is 260 days a year. If you are not offered paid vacation deduct vacation days. For example the adjusted work days is now 250 after deducting 10 work days for a two week vacation without pay. Finally, you must know the average number of grooming assignments you will groom over the year. We will assume six per work day. Productivity may vary based on your grooming experience, and the workload made available by the owner. We have enough for our formula:

$35 X 50% X 6 X 250 = $26,250 a year (gross wages prior employment taxes)

Many employed groomers with a year or more of experience will find this a reasonable estimate of their projected wages and work performance. Can you earn a higher income as an employed groomer? Yes. In general, you will need to work full-time for a business that can provide you with plenty of work year round. You must be productive and the average service fee should be above-average in your area. There are employed groomers with experience earning $40,000 to $50,000 a year (gross wages). You will occasionally see wage offers in this range in the PetGroomer.com Help Wanted Classified Ads.

Employee Benefits

For many people employee benefits are very important, even a requirement. The majority of independently owned grooming businesses offer little in the way of employee benefits. Unfortunately many businesses don’t generate enough profitability and volume to offer employee benefits such as health and life insurance. Paid time off is more common, but again lean. Veterinarian clinics with grooming departments are the most likely independents to offer employee benefits. Larger chain pet stores such as PETCO commonly offer the most complete employee benefits packages in the grooming industry for qualified employees.

Productivity Factors

Previously we warned you groomer compensation was complex. We reserve most of that advanced knowledge for compensation workbooks available from Grooming Business in a Box®. Wait; there is another aspect to cover here!

You are in control with the next most important factor, productivity. It is affected by your grooming training, fitness and personal working lifestyle choices. To make the best income you need to optimize your productivity in the years following your initial grooming training.

Graduates fresh out of grooming school are typically capable of completing three to five start-to-finish pets in eight hours depending upon the complexity of grooming assignments. Most experienced, productive stylists working alone average seven to eight start-to-finish pets in an eight hour workday, and their grooming is of a high caliber. Of course there are others that may do several more daily and their work is good or decent. Who is to say?

If you are a new graduate of training what will hold you back from earning the income you desire is productivity. It takes time, and more training. We strongly recommend you consider continuing education in productivity. You should be able to recoup the cost of travel and training when it results in your boosting productivity.

Thousands of groomers don’t secure productivity training. In fact, thousands of groomers don’t get any continuing education. That’s a very sad fact, never forget it. Everyone benefits from continuing education in any field, find a way! It will payoff not only financially but in self-esteem derived from your performance. If you cannot afford to travel to training sites, invest in quality grooming books and DVDs.

We’ve presented commonly accepted levels of production. Some will advise you they could do more but they limit themselves to six or seven by choice. Keep in mind mobile groomers often do a little less because they must account for travel time.

Never confuse productivity with rushing your work and cutting corners. Productivity is not synonymous with lowering quality unless you allow it. Productivity means working smart, being efficient and thereby generating more potential income. Productivity results from learning how to use your body and tools, and buying the best tools and work attire that supports your health. Many experienced groomers that have invested in high-end tools will tell you that cheap tools can work against you.

You may actually learn that low quality tools slow you down. Grooming is time. You are selling your labor in timely amounts. Impressive groomers produce stunning styles with say 1,000 snips of their scissors whereas those without advanced productivity training take 2,500 snips. The extra 1,500 snips added 15 minutes, and didn’t improve the style.

Productivity training is a must for professionals looking to improve their earnings beyond raising prices or asking for raises. Learn how to work smarter and save time while producing top quality. Fortunately there are a growing number of resources for this training. Be sure to review books and DVD’s we suggest in our Education section here, and the GroomerTALK Message Board. Supplement your initial training with productivity training as your career matures. ♦