You have decided to add grooming to your veterinary practice; smart move!
A grooming service can provide additional conveniences for your pet families, while also putting another set of eyes and hands on your patients to detect potential health problems.
If you have seen the potential, the decision may have been easy. But integrating the new service may not be as easy without keeping some things in mind.
It's not easy to find a good groomer. Looking through the "help wanted" ads in veterinary journals and websites, it seems everyone is always looking for groomers.
"The hardest part is finding that right person who will work with the veterinary practice team to become an extension of the services it can provide," says Tim Thompson, DVM, partner and Medical Institute Director for VitalPet, a Texas-based group of veterinary hospitals where the mission is, "Quality medicine in a caring family environment."
In his practice, the current groomer grew up in that family, previously working as a receptionist, and was sent to grooming school to come back and fulfill that position. She was already part of the team.
One way to make sure the groomer feels like part of the team, and to meet the practice's expectations of team service, is to consider the groomer a paid employee just like everyone else. Many times a groomer is an independent contractor, but if the groomer is an independent contractor according to the Fair Labor Standards Act, then the practice has no control over what will be done and how it will be done.
Even if the groomer is given "freedom of action" according to the Texas Workforce Commission, if the employer has the legal right to control the details of how the services are performed, then the groomer is an employee and not an independent contractor (www.irs.gov). It is important to classify groomers, and all employees, correctly.
Either an employee or an independent contractor can be paid on commission. Typically a practice splits the revenue 50-50, each retaining half of the money earned by the groomer. Yet this can vary. It may also depend on whether the practice is providing a bather and/or assistant to the groomer to make the service more efficient.
The most important thing to remember is that the groomer and the grooming service, once a part of the veterinary practice, represent the practice in the eyes of the pet owner. The groomer will also receive tips from clients, so this needs to be discussed as part of the compensation package.
Dr. Thompson's practice in the Texas Hill Country houses its grooming services in a completely separate building, approximately 75 feet from the veterinary practice building. Dr. Thompson prefers the distance between pets who are healthy but need grooming and those who are ill and visiting the doctor.
If the grooming service shares the same building as the practice, care must be taken to avoid cross-contamination or contagion of any illness or parasites. It is important to consider a separate entrance, waiting room, cages and grooming equipment such as dryer cages and bathtubs.
As with adding any service, equipment and supplies will be needed. The list, according to Eleanor Miller, practice manager of Greenfield Veterinary Hospital in Pittsburgh, includes designated cage space, bathtubs (with an extra water heater), high-speed hand dryers, cage dryers, grooming tables, assorted combs and strippers, grooming scissors, grooming clippers, nail trimmers and grinders, extra towels, and a variety of shampoos and other hair products.
There is a lot to buy when adding grooming services, "But the good news is that most distributors have access or already sell this type of equipment and supplies," says Rich Stuart of Wahl Clipper Corp.
When choosing equipment and supplies, both the practice owner and the groomer will have opinions. If groomers are shopping for themselves, they tend to shop based on price first, according to Wendy Biondolillo of TriStar Vet, whereas practice owners "tend to purchase equipment that has safety features and features such as bathtubs with very high walls to protect the interior of their practice from water damage."
These are many considerations, including which equipment and supplies the groomer finds to be most effective and comfortable to use.
The advantage to having a grooming service within a veterinary practice is the ability to cross-refer clients and patients. The service needs to meet this goal from the start.
When a new puppy enters the veterinary practice, its owner should immediately begin socializing it with the groomer and the grooming process, such as bathing, nail clipping, ear plucking and haircuts.
Depending on the breed, some animals need grooming every four to eight weeks.
Additionally, the groomer is another set of eyes and hands on a pet that may only go to the doctor once a year for vaccinations. These pets may exhibit lumps, bumps, skin conditions, eye issues, ear infections, and assorted issues that need the expertise of a veterinarian.
"It is quite common that when an animal is brought in for grooming, various medical issues can be found, ranging from the basic flea infestation to hot spots (moist dermatitis)," said Jennifer Woodward, RVT, program manager at Animal Behavior College Inc. in Santa Clarita, Calif.
The pets are shared between the grooming and medical services, for the good of the healthy, handsome animal.
Woodward also mentions that when selecting a groomer for the veterinary practice, experience is key.
"The groomer should be able to present a book of previous work to demonstrate his or her skills. Even better, the groomer can perform a groom to demonstrate her level of skill in person."
Katherine Dobbs founded interFace Veterinary HR Systems LLC in 2008, through which she provides human resources training and tools to general, emergency and specialty practices. She is founder and president of the Veterinary Emergency Specialty and Practice Association and a member of Vet Partners. She is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences and a specialist on compassion fatigue.