Getting pampered with Dip 'n' Clip

Chloe Bell
By Chloë Bell, Content Journalist

Bionic continues to show appreciation for independent businesses, and as April is National Pet Month, pet shops and groomers are our focus. We caught up with Ella Holder, who ignited her passion for dog grooming a few years ago and is still going strong. We discovered what made her want to set up her own business in the first place and what her biggest achievements and struggles have been.

Ella with one of her clients, a fluffy husky

“I’m Ella, I'm 21 years old and I've been a dog groomer for about three years now,” Ella tells us with a smile, “I’ve always wanted to work with animals, I had a feeling that's what I’d end up doing. So, I went to college, did an animal course and then trained in a salon for a while.”

Despite only being 21, Ella has achieved so much already, she set up Dip 'n' Clip and built her customer base successfully, and now she's planning for the future. But if she could only choose one thing, what would Ella class as her biggest high so far? 

"I think definitely going off on my own,” she says, “I started off grooming in salons, being hired and working with other people, but over time I didn't feel I was getting the satisfaction of getting to know the client or bonding with the dogs properly.” She goes on, “grooming can be quite an overwhelming experience for the dog in a busy salon. So, I wanted to create a space where I could really bond with them. Taking that leap has been my biggest achievement.”

And, on the flip side of the coin, what has her biggest challenge been? Ella says putting boundaries in place can be hard. Because she is her own boss, it’s easy to take on too much and not get a proper break.

“Establishing boundaries can be tough. When you’re a small business, you have that one-to-one relationship with customers and it’s almost like a friendship. It can be hard to be stern with prices, cancellations, and no-shows.” Ella explains, adding, “Sometimes you forgot that it's your business and you've got to make a living. So I think setting boundaries has been a struggle.”

How has she combatted this issue so far? Ella says she’s still learning what works for her and her customers, but being realistic is something she makes a real conscious effort to do.

It's something I'm still working on. I think I'm still quite soft,” she laughs, “but at the end of the day, I say to myself, ‘This is my only source of income’. I'm a small business and if somebody really values my work, they'll take me seriously." She continues, “That mindset helped me separate the clients I do want from the ones I don't.”

Adapting and evolving

Small businesses have continued to take hits to finances over the past year. Bionic quizzed Ella on the cost of living crisis and asked if she's had to adapt the way she works or change the products she uses in order to survive. She says some things have changed but in her industry, the quality of the products is really important.

“I definitely limit the use of the heaters and hair dryers all at once to save energy. I did try lower-quality products for a while, but in this industry, you really do get what you pay for and I didn't want my quality of work to suffer. I did put my prices up about a year ago too, it was only a small amount, but it helped cover the amount I was spending on the higher-quality products.”

A freshly groomed white dog poses for the camera

Speaking of making these types of decisions as a small business owner, Bionic asked if Ella thought there was enough practical information available to help when initially setting up a company.

“No, I did struggle to find information out there,” Ella tells us, “I think the main source of help I had was my salon bosses. I confided in them and other dog groomers, they were really helpful.” Ella continues, “A lot of my family are self-employed too. But when it comes to social media, for example, there's not enough realistic content. It’s all rose-tinted glasses about how to start up a business.”

How does Ella cope with the everyday stresses that come with owning a business?

“I established boundaries with my hours and days of working very early on. When I was learning in the salons, I’d see groomers who didn’t take lunch breaks or stayed beyond their hours and I just didn't want that, so I definitely am very strict with my days off,” Ella says, “it can be a stressful job, but lovely clients make all the hard days worth it. And generally, the good days outweigh the bad.”

Ella says when she's rushed off her feet, she reminds herself to be grateful that she has so many loyal customers and be happy that her business is thriving. “In busy periods, I'm just grateful that I am busy. I don't want to take it for granted, so I try to look on the positive side.”

But what about slower months? How does Ella deal with those? Does she use it as an excuse to catch up on her marketing? Maybe she researches new products or keeps an eye on new shampoos on the market.

I'm grateful because I don't really have that many quiet months. I have the occasional quiet week maybe, but I sell dog perfumes and grooming brushes on the side, so that helps generate business during quieter periods. I'm thinking about possibly starting up workshops in the future too to show owners how to brush their dogs with the correct techniques,” she explains.

Pooches with personality 

Bionic was eager to find out who is Ella’s favourite furry client.

"I try not to have favourites,” she smiles, “but there’s a little Shih Tzu called Ted. He’s a bit old now and has had surgery. I have to alter how I groom him compared to the average dog, just to make him more comfortable during the whole process.” She adds, “His owner is just so lovely and appreciative of everything. He really values the work that goes into making the dog's comfort the main priority. His reaction is something that makes me think ‘this is why I do this job’".

A brown dog looks smart after just being groomed.

So what are Ella’s big plans for the future apart from the potential workshops? Does she hope to take on more staff or expand her premises, or would she prefer to stay small and personal?

“When I first started out, I thought I would want to franchise and be a big salon," she says, pondering "but now I actually love being one-to-one. The majority of my clients are nervous or reactive dogs who can't be around other dogs,” she explains, “that’s my biggest selling point and I wouldn't want to lose that personal touch or the bond that I have with the dogs. So I think I'm definitely going to stay in the little unit I rent out but just continue to grow. That's what I'm most looking forward to in the future.”

If Ella could choose just one thing, what would her favourite part about running a small business be?

“I think being your own boss has its pros and cons, but the best part is genuinely the people and dogs I get to work with, just being able to make them happy!" She tells us.

And with regards to marketing, what is Ella’s main avenue when promoting Dip 'n' Clip?

“It’s a 50/50 split, really. Facebook is amazing for getting yourself out there. I post on Facebook groups, just to advertise myself a little bit. If anybody's asking for a dog groomer, I just pop myself in the comments.” She explains, going on, “but then on the flip side, word of mouth is still the best way to get more business. People trust people they know.”

If Ella could give another business owner some pearls of wisdom when starting up a business, what would she say to them?

“Know your worth. That's a big one,” she answers, “Don't sell yourself too low and have confidence in your work and your ability to actually run a business. If people value you, they value your work, they'll pay whatever price they need to pay and they'll wait the amount of time they need to wait to book in with you. It's definitely about holding yourself to a high standard, I think.” She tells us, nodding.

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, the sheer personality that shines from them brightens up any high street. But why does Ella think it’s so important to support small businesses now more than ever?

"When you're a small business, that’s your only source of income. With smaller groomers, customers get more care and effort, and we'll get to know your dog. We'll know every lump and bump and might even realise if something's wrong with them. Especially in this industry, it’s definitely more personal to go with a small business.”

So, hypothetically, if Ella could time travel and go back to the start of her business journey, would she change anything? Or is she happy with how it all went?

“I think I would change my confidence level!" She laughs "I’d tell myself to have a little bit more confidence and not undersell myself, but overall, I think I've done all right. I wouldn't change much."

You can book your pooch in for a pamper session or browse the happy pooches via Instagram or Facebook.

To hear the full interview, check out the video below or head to the Bionic YouTube channel.