Tis the season for puppy pampering!
Bionic chatted with Amelia who set up her own dog grooming business a few years ago, we found out how she keeps motivated, what initially inspired her to branch off on her own and why she loves her job, (other than the fact she gets to hang out with pups all day long, of course).
“We’re The Pooch Lounge and Grooming Service” Says Amelia, introducing herself to Bionic, “We’re a dog grooming business, but we also do breeding as well as dog walking. We deal with anything on the doggy day-care kind of things too.”
Getting the grooming going
So, first things first, how did Amelia start? Did she always know she wanted to run her own business, or did it develop naturally?
“It kind of started in a weird way actually,” She tells us “I always knew I wanted to work with animals, but after I left school, I was still debating whether to go to uni or not. Then Covid came around and I decided on Crystal Palace College, as they offered advanced deployments in animal management.”
She went on “I didn't know what I specifically wanted to do with animals, so I thought a course like that would be a good base to start at.”
Although Amelia has always been great with animals, she nabbed work experience at a local grooming salon during her studies and nearly decided against the career path entirely.
“I went on my first day and was like, ‘oh my gosh, this is so repetitive. I don't know how I'm going to do this day in, day out’. But by the end of it, I absolutely loved it. So that's how it all started.” she said, before adding “I then went off and did my City and Guilds course and worked for quite a big company for while, then I decided to branch out and do my own little thing.”
Since then, Amelia has watched The Pooch Lounge flourish, and she now has a custom-built grooming studio in her back garden, complete with dryers, an array of pup-friendly products and special dog stations. Amelia provides everything a dog will need during their pamper stay. But what was the actual set up process like for her? And has she had to rethink how she uses certain pieces of equipment now the cost-of-living crisis has hit small businesses everywhere?
“Running the business can sometimes be expensive because the dryers emit quite a bit of heat.” She says, “So it’s about doing your research and finding, for example, a heater that switches off but keeps at a baseline temperature.”
She goes on “I’ve found it hard searching for units that aren't too industrial-looking. Some air con units are huge and would take up all my space. But I’ve got a good heater at the moment that also has a cool setting, and I've got an air con. But there are other things to think about too, like humidity as there’s lots of water from all the dogs. So, I've got a small dehumidifier in the studio as well.”
“It's hard to find a good balance because not all electrical heaters are compatible with this kind of environment. So, the set up was definitely quite hard and took a bit of research.” She tells us.
Bionic was interested to find out more about the grooming essentials; shampoos and doggy conditioners. Has Amelia noticed these staple items increasing in price, has she had to look for alternatives?
“I think I already had the bulk of what I needed before prices went up, but yes, the shampoos can be quite expensive.” Amelia explains “But a lot of the time, the more expensive options come with a different dilution rate, so you don’t need to use a lot. There are pros and cons.”
And how about pricing her services, did Amelia find this difficult when she emerged as a brand new business?
“I chose a mid-price.” She tells us “I didn't want to be one of those groomers who are way too expensive. Although their service is great, I think some of them are ridiculously overpriced. You obviously want to build good relationships with your customers to keep them coming back, but it’s important not to price yourself too low either, you need to factor in all your costs.”
She continues “For example, a dog haircut takes about two hours, so when you’re pricing yourself, you need to work out your hourly rate. I don’t think customers always see the extra costs or see it from my point of view. They just see the actual figure they pay rather than the figure broken down including all the overheads.”
Insights into business
Amelia has achieved so much since she first set up, but what has been her proudest moment so far?
"That's a hard one” She laughs “I would definitely say just setting up was a massive achievement, that and getting recognised. I remember the day the little pin popped up on Google Maps, that was so exciting!”
Amelia says that although she’s happy with her customers and the regular business she gets, promoting and marketing her company has been tough as there are so many ways to go about it.
“It’s quite hard getting known and getting out there.” She says thoughtfully “There’s a lot of processes you don't necessarily think about at the start. I was quite young when I set up and I just thought, ‘okay, you come up with a name and buy the equipment and off you go’, but it’s not like that at all.”
“A couple of my friends did business studies at school. So, they gave me a bit of an insight into that side of things. But there's so much to it. Even setting up a website. There are so many processes to follow.” She says.
So, has Amelia found a specific route that helps spread the word about her services? She says word of mouth is invaluable to small business owners like her, but social media is a must too.
“There are so many little things that help build my presence, but I’d say having recommendations from other customers helps. Social media as well, it's nice when I see people like or follow and learn more about me that way.” she says "I think once you've groomed one dog, and that dog has gone off to the park and the owners have got chatting with other owners, word of mouth spreads recognition, which is great.”
Each dog has their own personality, bold, timid, lazy or hyperactive. So Bionic also wanted to quiz Amelia on how she deals with each unique case. Separation anxiety can be a huge issue for many pups or maybe some owners are nervous about leaving them for the first time, so how does Amelia ensure she’s keeping the dogs at ease?
“Distraction is key for problems like separation anxiety.” She says, “If the dogs have got treats or something they really like, it helps when the owners are leaving.”
She continues “I think it's quite nice being in a one-to-one environment with them as well. So there's not too much going on for a nervous dog or even a slightly more aggressive one. It helps if I make their surroundings quite calm.”
But if the calming environment doesn’t relax the pooches, then Amelia always has her mum to fall back on.
“I mean, I’ve even had my mum do silly things as a distraction.” She laughs “I had one dog that was a little difficult, but if he saw something going on in the background, it distracted him. So, my mum had to stand there and wash a window for 20 minutes.”
“But, yeah. I think it's also nice having the studio in the garden. It's quite a natural setting, so they've got things to look at.” She grins.
Amelia genuinely loves what she does and it shines through in the caring way she handles her furry clients, but what’s the best thing about owning a small business?
“I love all of it, to be honest!” She smiles “People say when you do what you love for work, then it's not really work. That’s how I feel.” She goes on “But it’s so nice being a small business, it feels more personal, it has that family feel to it and I like the fact that I can choose the products I use as well. I play around with different shampoos and see what works on my own dogs before I introduce it to my customers.”
Another thing Amelia enjoys is the transformation of the dogs, each pooch goes through their own unique glow up and Amelia snaps before and after photos to use on social media. But although she enjoys making the dogs look a million bucks, it’s seeing the owner’s faces light up afterwards that really makes her business feel special.
“Seeing the transformations is great, you know, getting a really scruffy or matted dog come in and then feeling like you’ve made a difference. It’s really satisfying.” She smiles.
But grooming isn’t just about making a pup look and smell nice, it can be detrimental to their health. Just like humans, dead skin and bacteria can build up, causing irritation and other skin issues. Plus, matted hair can hide ticks or fleas. Finding a groomer that gets on well with your dog is so important to their wellbeing, and that’s why Amelia ensures she’s approachable, friendly and welcoming to the pups and their owners.
Creating a kind community
But other than feeling satisfied when she sends her doggy clients away looking glam, how does Amelia keep motivated as a small business owner? Does she ever feel isolated?
“I think it can be hard, dogs are such loving animals so they kind of give back. I feel like they pick up on emotions, so just their presence really changes things.” She answers after a pause “But I mean, I do keep in touch with people, I go to this thing called Groom Fest, it's basically like Crufts for groomers. You can take your own dog and get to know people. So, there's little social things like that that go on.”
She adds “But even little things like Facebook groups for groomers are really useful, you can talk about anything and if you're feeling down, they really boost your mood. If you have an incident or anything like that, you post it and other people come back with their feedback or positive comments. I think the grooming industry is quite a nice community.”
“It's great seeing what other groomers are going through and how their journeys are progressing. It makes you feel like you’re not the only one.” She tells us.
And does Amelia have plans to expand? Maybe she’d like to open up a shop or try other forms of marketing? Bionic asked what her plans are for next year and beyond.
“As far as expanding goes, I love doing this on a small scale.” says Amelia “It creates that personal sort of feel, and I wouldn’t want to lose those one-to-one relationships. I think of most of my customers as friends rather than customers. So, I’d never want to push it too much and lose that personal touch with them.”
She agrees that she’d like to spend 2024 focusing on her marketing strategy though.
“Next year, I’d like to work on my social media” She tells us “That’s something I'd really like to expand on. You know, just really find ways to improve reach, whether it's through adverts or other ways.” She adds “Newsletters are something I'd like to do in the future. I'd definitely like to create something to send out to customers. But even little things like shouting out dogs that have come a long way, maybe ‘dog of the week’ pictures with little ‘about them’ sections.”
“I’d also like to keep up with the latest equipment and stay in tune with the latest shampoos and things like that. I did think of getting a shop, but obviously then there’s the cost-of-living crisis, and it would be expensive.”
Super small business advice
Did Amelia have any small business advice for those just starting out? She says it helps to always be prepared but if you really want to try out a business venture, then don’t be put off and stick to your guns.
“I’d say always have a plan in place and really think about costs” She says, “I think there's a lot of little things you don't think of at the start, like insurance and behind the scenes things like client cards.”
“But yes, definitely go for it. It’s really about chasing your dreams and not giving up. Obviously, there's good days and bad days, and sometimes you're like ‘oh my gosh, this is quite overwhelming’, I think what's hard to manage is taking time off.”
Working overtime is a common struggle for small business owners, many of them find it hard to switch off their business brain at the end of the day when there’s so many worries hanging over their heads. So, how does Amelia book annual leave and does she have to make a conscious effort to relax?
“I find it quite hard because I'm someone who doesn't like saying no” she laughs “so I get a message of ‘oh, could you do this? Could you squeeze this dog in?’, I’ll usually sway around to it and say yes, thinking, ‘it's just one dog. it'll be fine’. But then obviously if I'm booking even one dog in on my day off then it's not really a day off.”
She goes on “So yeah, that part can be quite hard. When I go away on holiday, it has to be planned in advance. The main issue comes if you're unwell, which I’ve not been since I've started. I’ve had the odd sniffle, but I can kind of work with that.”
“But it can be difficult, and even considering the future, like if I have children or anything like that, thinking about the effect maternity leave would have on the business. Because obviously if the dogs can't get groomed, they go elsewhere and find a new groomer.”
Bionic asked Amelia if she could go back to the start of her business journey, would she do anything differently. She said she was proud of how she handled things and really loves the authentic way her customers find her.
“When I first started, I didn't want to pay too much for advertising, I wanted to let it happen naturally. I never want to force people to be like, ‘oh, I've seen your business everywhere, so that’s why I’m here’. I'd rather my customers found me from a personal approach. I like knowing that people come to me because they want to rather than because my business has been plastered everywhere and promoted” she says proudly.
And finally, as it’s the season of giving, why does Amelia think it’s important to give back and support small businesses this Christmas?
She ponders “I think in this day and age, a lot of the bigger companies are owned from abroad. So, the money isn’t necessarily staying in the UK or helping here. I feel the bigger companies look at customers by the thousands, it’s a much bigger scale.”
She adds “And I’m not saying that they don't appreciate their customers but when you shop small, it’s nice, you feel as if you've achieved something in yourself by supporting them. So yes, it benefits both the business and the customer.”
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