Are Big Dogs Profitable?

Hello hello and welcome to Greedy Bitch, a podcast where groomers stop apologizing for charging their worth.  I’m your host River Lee, founder of the Savvy Groomer where I teach you to go from burnt out, broke and broken to healthy, wealthy and happy- building a grooming business you love!

Are Big Dogs Profitable?

The average pricing that I see for big dog grooming is simply not profitable for business owners. Big dogs take more of everything to groom, and they usually aren’t priced appropriately to account for this. But with adjusted rates, can big dogs be profitable? 

I’m going to discuss what’s a profitable price for big dog grooming and explain why you should probably raise your prices or adjust your clientele balance.

Big dogs can be bad for business. 

It might sound harsh, but they really can be if you don’t structure your pricing properly. Most people don’t realize how much damage they are doing to their business by not charging enough for big dogs. 

Why do big dogs cost more?

Grooming a big dog doesn’t simply mean taking more time or using more product. Big dogs truly take more of everything from you and your business. 

On average, a small dog like a Yorkie, Shih Tzu, or pug might take about an hour at most to groom, and large dogs like a golden retriever, doodle, or Bernese mountain dog could take anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours. They take so much longer because they have more hair to cut, often they have more complicated cuts, they can be more challenging to handle, and sometimes blow-drying can take forever. 

If you’re charging the same price for a small dog and a large dog, that means that your hourly earnings for the large dog could be as much as three times less than your hourly earnings for a small dog. Ouch, right? That’s why time is one of the most important factors to consider when setting grooming prices. Because their grooming needs are more challenging, you also usually cannot hand a doodle or other large dog to a novice groomer and instead need someone who might have higher hourly rates to groom that dog.

Like I said, time is not the only factor. Big dogs use a lot more product, like shampoo, conditioner, and cologne. You might not think it would make a huge difference but pay close attention to how much more product you are using for larger dogs! It all adds up.

Another huge cost factor for big dogs is that they often require more than one person to handle them. Groomers should not lift a dog heavier than 40-50 pounds by themselves, and big dogs like this often need multiple people attending to them throughout the process. This means that you need to hire a groomer and a bather to work on a large dog. Now, you have to split that hourly rate between two people. 

There is fancy equipment that you can purchase to help make grooming large dogs easier, like lifted tables, but again that is an added cost. Even if you already own this equipment, big dogs can be challenging and are likely to damage or break your nice equipment. So even if you are able to groom a large dog by yourself, you still need to factor in the cost of upgrading, repairing, or replacing your equipment into the price of the grooming session to remain profitable. 

Finally, I like to mention the physical and emotional cost of big dogs. They take so much more energy and effort to groom, and they can contribute to burnout or exhaustion. There is also greater risk for injury or throwing your back out when dealing with large dogs. Personally, if I had the choice between grooming three Shih Tzus or one Bernese mountain dog, I would absolutely take the Shih Tzus! They both might take me a total of three hours, but the Shih Tzus would be so much easier and more pleasant at the end of the day!

How do you set profitable prices for big dogs?

When setting your prices, always charge for your high end, worst-case-scenario estimate. That means if it takes you anywhere from one to two hours to groom a certain type of dog, set your prices as if it always takes two hours. That way, you are always covered in case you get a nightmare client that takes forever, if your equipment fails during the session, or if anything else goes wrong.

You also need to factor in your business overhead expenses. I am a firm believer that businesses cannot afford to pay their employee more than 30% of their gross income (if you’re curious to learn more about how I arrived at this number, check out my video called Why 50% is Bad for Business — it explains it all). That means that hourly rates for your groomers are a lot less than you might originally think. 

If I am charging $50 for a Shih Tzu that takes one hour to groom, and I can only afford to pay my groomer 30% of that, then the groomer will get an hourly rate of $15. Not much, right? 

For big dogs, this number gets even lower. If I am charging $75 for a doodle that takes two hours to groom, at 30%, the groomer gets an hourly rate of just $11.25. And that is with just one groomer! We all know, you’d probably need to pay a bather as well. At this rate, you might be paying the groomer and bather as low as $5 or $6 an hour, which is below minimum wage and frankly unacceptable.

A general rule of thumb is that you should aim to pay your groomer at least $20 an hour and pay a bather at least $10 an hour. You likely also need to pay a receptionist at least $10 an hour. Therefore, in this theoretical example, you should aim to set your prices so that the 30% allotted for wages should be at least $40 an hour. 

If we were to do that, the prices would be as follows: $150 for a Yorkie (at one hour), $225 for a Shih Tzu (at 1.5 hours), $150 for a pug (at one hour), $300 for a golden retriever (at two hours), $450 for a doodle (at three hours), and $450 for a Bernese mountain dog (at three hours). 

Now, these prices are extremely high and I don’t think there is a market for them right now, but it is not crazy to charge prices like $100 or $120 for a Yorkie, $135 for Shih Tzu, or $200 for a golden or a doodle. I have seen many mobile groomers and high-end salons move towards offering a base price in the $100-120 range for dogs like Shih Tzus, and then they charge for add-ons for additional services to get the prices higher.

Since you cannot realistically charge upwards of $300 or $400 for big dogs, a good pricing technique is to pad the cost into your prices for smaller dogs. You also need to pay attention to your clientele ratios and try to find a balance so that you are grooming more small dogs than big dogs. That way, the pricing will even out and you’ll be able to groom some large dogs without losing money on it. However, this model won’t work very well if you are just grooming large dogs all day long.

Raising prices can definitely be scary, but as an industry, it is something we all need to do. Dog grooming prices have not been raised in decades, despite a lot of inflation. The price to groom a doodle has not increased from $75 in over 70 years! That’s right, the price to groom a doodle in the 1950s was also $75! This is just insane to me, and it is no wonder why it is such a challenge for businesses to stay profitable with big dog grooming.

Are big dogs profitable? 

So are big dogs profitable to groom? The answer is, it depends! 

Big dogs can be a challenge and a huge strain on resources, so you have to be smart and strategic about it. If you aren’t careful, big dogs will most definitely not be profitable for your business. But if you structure your pricing appropriately, it can be done.

If you’re going to groom big dogs, here are a few strategies you can use to make it profitable for your business:

  • Increase your prices so that big dogs cost more than small dogs
  • Estimate the longest amount of time grooming each type of dog will take and factor that into your price
  • Pad your prices for small dogs to help cover the cost of grooming big dogs (my least favorite option)
  • Balance your clientele so that you are grooming more small dogs than big dogs

 

Learn more:
If you want to learn more about how to make grooming big dogs profitable, check out my live show every Monday at 7 pm ET (www.youtube.com/savvygroomer

If you want to work with me, enroll in my Price Increase Masterclass (www.savvygroomer.com/pimc
If you’re not quite ready to invest in your business but want to network with other pet professionals, join our free Facebook group, Savvy pet professionals (https://www.facebook.com/groups/savvygroomer)