Grooming Myths and Misunderstandings

Feature story by Grooming Business in a Box®

As consultants to thousands of career seekers, groomers, and grooming business owners for 23 years, we have reason to say, “We’ve probably heard every grooming management problem there is, and many times over.” When you problem solve business problems with clients, it’s not a matter of relying solely on superficial evidence such as personal points of view, stories, or a few sheets of bookkeeping problems. That’s where you start, and you listen well.

To determine what our clients know about the grooming business, we also have to discover what they don’t know. Then we can introduce thought-provoking evidence and move them out of emotional turmoil onto paths of self-awareness in business. We awaken not only the groomer in them but the manager that is salivating for opportunities to problem-solve with us. Remarkable things happen.

During thousands of consultations, we uncovered dozens of common myths and misunderstandings about grooming management that fomented serious business or career problems. They take all the joy out of working with pets. In 2012 myths and misunderstandings decades old continue. We carefully and kindly expose them, “How did you come to this conclusion?” Most often, another groomer tells another groomer what they learned from their mentors or fellow groomers. While there may be truth, it is usually coated with obscurity. Sometimes it’s even recycled nonsense.

We never come down to clients. Instead, we ask for evidence, “Do you have any data of records or financial information that backs your conclusions?” Rarely. We understand. The groomer in us really wants to groom and enjoy the pets and their beauty. The groomer seeks convenience, avoids problem-solving, and simply accepts what “elders” say. That’s why myths and misunderstandings hang around like living dinosaurs.

We’ve “freed” hundreds of clients from myths and misunderstandings about management. Their endorsements of our publications and services often mention how we helped them to “fall back in love again with my business (or career).” Others didn’t apply what they learned. Some come back after five or ten years and say, “I am ready now. Let’s do it.”

We have no personal stake in what our clients believe. We never ask them to believe us or to echo our beliefs. We want to awaken the groomer and manager in them and to marry the two. Once they think like managers, we have accomplished our biggest goal. Every grooming business owner is a problem solver, but they cannot be very successful if they accept common grooming myths and misunderstandings at face value. It’s better they are a pleasant contrarian than recycling untested myths and misunderstandings.

The new process of thinking by a businessperson that grooms is different from the beauty of the mind associated with artistic grooming. Self-employed groomers are two different personas, manager and artist. The artist wants to groom; the manager wants to “surgically” take apart business problems and, once and for all, end their ill effects. Managers come to no quick conclusions and, where appropriate, “show their work,” as math teachers often instructed us in school. Sometimes you cannot avoid math in grooming. All too often, when we ask new consultation clients for the math to back their financial opinions on grooming operations, we get blank stares. Fine. We will show them basic formulas and then examine their true or false opinions. If we accept as fact that for which we cannot do the math, what happens? We get more myths and misunderstandings.

This article will glance at a few myths and misunderstandings prevalent today. We uncovered more than 100 during our 50-plus years in the grooming industry. Grooming Business in a Box® patterns ways to unlock them and create new insights. Please take nothing personally; we are simply sharing our experiences.

Commission Groomers Don’t Have an Equivalent Hourly Rate

Since when do we associate hourly rates with commission-only groomers? We do. It is helpful knowledge for groomers too. Employees can better manage their careers knowing alternate ways to view their compensation and work performance. The illustration below, labeled “3-6,”  is from Pet Groomer Wage Systems, a new Grooming Business in a Box® CD (March 2012, updated 2020). Using the simple formula provided in the illustration, any commission groomer can calculate their “Effective Earnings Hourly Wage Rate,” or simply, equivalent hourly rate.

The commission-paid groomer featured in the illustration was paid $2,420.75 in gross wages (before taxes) for three weeks of work, requiring 113.4 work hours. Had the groomer been paid an hourly wage of $21.34 instead of a commission, the groomer would have earned the same gross wages.

We’ve studied the payroll records of thousands of groomers paid by commission. We calculated an equivalent hourly wage rate for every groomer studied using this formula and extensive payroll histories. Indeed some workdays earned a higher hourly rate, and on other days lower. However, the longer the period of data studied, the more accurate the hourly wage rate while at the same employer.

When an employer raises grooming fees, the commission groomer earns more. Employers should also expect the equivalent hourly wage rate for commission groomers to increase.

Commission groomers can be intrigued to learn their Effective Earnings Hourly Wage Rate. It’s actually easier for them to budget earnings. For example, if they are offered eight hours more work weekly, they can quickly multiply eight times their equivalent hourly wage and instantly have a rough idea of the extra earnings potential in dollars. With commission, there are too many variables for an instant projection, such as the types of grooming assignments and unknown grooming fees. The Effective Earnings Hourly Wage Rate is critical when creating a fair and equal salary offer for a commission groomer. We’ve done hundreds of successful conversions, from commission to salaries. We explain the process to employees until they know how the offer is fair and based on actual records of their performances. It’s a great basis for introducing salaries.

Pet Groomers Are Overpaid

Pet groomer employees are not overpaid in the common understanding of that statement. If there is one exception, it would be employers paying 70% to 75% commission to employees. Once you add employer taxes and overhead, the owners are losing money on every groom. Ironically we’ve seen this scenario several times, and it was time for owners to learn how to crunch payroll numbers. Now let’s move on to the ugly use of the statement, “Pet groomers are overpaid!” It often originates from frustrated employers “trying to make a living” as a grooming business owner. It seems none of their employees understand their plight. Our phone has rung on many occasions with anguished employers that simply couldn’t find a way to profit while their employed groomers were making $25,000 to $70,000 a year.

It is true that many employees simply don’t understand the financial challenges of being a grooming employer. Unless they have been a grooming employer, why would they? Should they have to?  No. The financial challenges are real and do not always indicate ineffective or poor management. Most service industries keep payroll costs under 40%, but 50% to 60% is common in grooming. It’s frustrating for the management of staffed grooming businesses.

The next illustration labeled “3-3”  is from Pet Groomer Wage Systems, a new Grooming Business in a Box® CD (March 2012, updated 2020). It’s just one of many examples of why employers or hired managers develop a distorted viewpoint of pet groomer wages. In this illustrated case, the brash employer feels like screaming at employees, “Your 50% commission is not the same as my 50% commission share. You take home $253.26 from your share, and my take-home share is only $53.04!” Owners call us and vent their frustration. They wonder why employees don’t understand their plight. It’s all quite dramatic.

If the owner is willing to put aside their anguish and attitudes toward the entire situation, especially their employees, we might accept them as consultation clients. Otherwise, we refer them to our publications for help. There are proven ways for employers to earn a profit without lowering wage levels a single penny. In the meantime, until they get the knowledge and apply it, employers are continuing to spread the myth or misunderstanding that pet groomers are overpaid.

Unfortunately, several thousand employers have taken another path. It’s a dangerous, even destructive, path. They misclassify pet groomers as independent contractors.

Pet Groomers Are Independent Contractors

In the October/December 2011 issue of eGroomer Journal (now Magazine), we explained how state governments are stepping up to stop the rising incidences of employers misclassifying independent contractors. In subsequent issues, we showed additional evidence of several US states cracking down on 1099 groomers.

It is possible for a pet groomer to be legally classified as an independent contractor in compliance with both state and federal guidelines. It just happens to be rare. However, it doesn’t seem that way when you read job offers stating you will be an independent contractor yet act more like an employee. We will not go into the sordid details of the laws and actions against employer misclassification. This time we want to remind employees to be careful.

Employees can become victims of employers when they blindly accept classification as independent contra tor. Remember these warnings during your job searches if you are an employed groomer or a groomer wannabe. Both employees and employers must be compliant with employment law. Your employer’s choice to hire you as either an employee or independent contractor relies on the employer meeting federal and state guidelines. The employer’s choice does not override compliance. Some employers truly don’t know better.

Employers can sound very confident when they offer independent contractor positions. Never assume they are correct or compliant. Verify. Your well-being is at stake. It’s that important. Something is probably wrong if you are not offered a written I.C. employment contract stating the working relationship in detail with evidence of why you are an I.C. You are working at risk.

If you get a written contract, verify the employment status as correct with your own legal counsel. Does that scare you? Never hired an attorney? Remember, as an “I.C.,” you are self-employed; self-employed people occasionally rely on professionals such as attorneys. It’s far easier to mature into working with professionals than face the IRS claiming you did file your taxes correctly as a self-employed person. Penalties and fines can quickly reach thousands of dollars.

Remember that state laws for classifying independent contractors may differ from federal guidelines. You can be federally compliant and not state compliant, or vice versa. Most employers are not aware of this quandary. For example, in many states, if you employ pet groomers correctly classified as independent contractors, you must require all of your pet groomers to be independent contractors. You cannot fill the position with both employees and contractors. In some states, pet groomers cannot be independent contractors if the owner also works as a pet groomer. At a federal level, these rules don’t exist so clearly.

Where pet groomers may be classified as independent contractors, they typically must rent a booth space from the business owner and run their own business, not grooming the clientele of their landlords’ grooming businesses.

The first rule of thumb says most pet groomers are not independent contractors. The second rule of thumb is to have an I.C. contract if you go that route. You can research contract writing software for I.C.s at

Quality Versus Quantity

One of the biggest misunderstandings in the pet grooming industry is the term “Quality Versus Quantity.” It is becoming meaningless and argumentative because it is used in many ways.

When used correctly, it can describe a business or employer whose standards of operation put artistic styling and even the safety of people and pets at risk. However, these instances are not common and are usually short-lived. We may open a can of worms, but let’s look a the more questionable uses.

Job candidates sometimes use the term to imply they are seeking a business where they can work at their own pace. Why not just say that? They may feel they are slow in comparison to other groomers. That’s OK. They cannot go wrong by simply stating their honest productivity levels and the desire to work at the casual pace they propose. Employers are facing a chronic shortage of pet groomers and are willing to work with them at their pace. There is no need to criticize others that favor reasonable productivity in return for the best wages.

There is no conclusive evidence that the amount of time spent on grooming ensures quality. In fact, at some point taking too much time can stress pets and delay what all pets really want, to be reunited with their owners.

Some people use quality versus quantity in a snide manner. In fact, this use is becoming more common. It’s not only rude but sometimes 100% inaccurate, as most snide remarks and generalizations are.

The source usually barks about medium-sized or large salons when used this way. For some reason, they believe a business that serves 20, 40, or more pets a day can only be done by putting quantity before quality. It can be so harsh they make it sound like the business is abusing quality, people, and pets, yet somehow these businesses built up this tremendous pet owner demand. It doesn’t make sense. We don’t imply a large business cannot take a turn for the worse and decline. It happens. However, where is the evidence supporting this stereotypical generalization and explaining why many groomers criticize large businesses for not being purveyors of quality?

Maybe the critics don’t understand the term “quality grooming.” What is quality? Pet groomers charge for their time first and foremost. Every quality groom does have a minimum requirement in terms of time, but doesn’t that vary by the skill of the groomer? Quality is the level of skill and expertise of the groomer. It’s also their accommodation to return pets to their owners at a reasonable time to minimize separation anxiety. Quality is also about safety, supervision, products used, tools and equipment, customer service, and management. It’s quite a large package, but somehow the biggest naysayers focus on time, and the more time spent, the better the groom.

The chart below presents the 2010 results of a study of 20 West Coast grooming businesses. We compared the hands-on grooming time of one-person businesses with staffed businesses having at least three groomers, four bathers, and/or assistants. If “hands-on grooming time” is a good measure of quality, then the large businesses in this study are the ultimate in quality. Most of the one-person businesses did little or no hands-on drying, whereas the larger businesses used no cage dryers, and every pet was attended to during its drying time.

At this point, in an article about myths and misunderstandings, we conclude that the adages about quality versus quantity are often meaningless and even prejudicial. As a body of professionals, we need to stop dividing ourselves with diatribes and work toward agreed-upon standards as a profession. Let’s move on to less controversy.

You Can’t Do Anything About the Shortage of Skilled Groomers

In the early years of our business, we, too, felt at times there were no solutions for finding an adequate supply of skilled groomers and bathers. It’s a common misunderstanding to accept there are no solutions. They exist, albeit limited.

Besides working with schools whose graduates need appropriate jobs suited to their limited productivity and need for continuing education, you can learn to provide on-the-job training. We didn’t create The Madson Management System in From Problems to Profits to establish on-the-job training, but it works. You can embellish our system with the details of your training from prepper to bather, bather to assistant, and assistant to full-charge groomer. Create a career path in your business, and always have a supply of groomers coming up through your ranks. It’s being done perfectly by some of our consultation clients today. You might find that your employees extend their employment confident that their employer offers more opportunities.

Fair Productivity Expectations

If a grooming business owner has never been a groomer, they may not really understand the subtle nature of setting realistic productivity standards. In fact, they may only have one productivity standard for all pet groomers, and that won’t work in larger operations. The same productivity standard doesn’t fit every groomer and encourages stress.

Employees should not fear productivity standards. We suggest three realistic levels of grooming performance for pet groomers. There is 1) entry-level, 2) mid-level, and 3) a top level that implies mastery of the position. Why is this important? To ensure fair compensation of groomers. A pet groomer capable of doing four pets start-to-finish in 8 hours should earn less than a top-level pet groomer capable of doing seven to eight at the same time.

Every groomer was “slow and/or learning” at some point in their career. Owners need to quantify what is slow and fast fairly, and with the directive that you cannot count any groom as accomplished if it does not meet standards for quality and safety. Once the quantitative standards are known, productivity standards should be published in job descriptions, job agreements, and employee handbooks.

If you own a copy of From Problems to Profits, refer to the sample job descriptions and employment contracts. We left blanks for business owners to insert realistic quantities, such as the expected average number of baths or grooms. Work with each employee on an individual basis and customize their performance expectations realistically to their abilities in the art of grooming, as well as any age or physical limitations they may have. Every six to twelve months, reevaluate their performances, update their job descriptions and agreements, and possibly reconsider their compensation package.

Setting fair productivity standards is not difficult with the cooperation of the staff. Provide them a form each workday for at least one or two weeks. Have them track the time spent on each grooming assignment and ensure every service meets your quality standards. Refer to samples of these forms in the illustrations on pages 57 and 58.

Having the staff take part in the process means they will trust the data all the more. It’s not your guess or theirs; they are providing the actual time measurements under your supervision. It is far more likely that everyone will concur that your productivity standards are fair. Better yet, you have eliminated another potential misunderstanding.

In conclusion, we salute grooming business owners and groomers that never take our industry’s myths and misunderstandings at face value. It’s how we went from problems to profits in pet grooming, and everyone else can.