Please note: this article is a reprint from about 2005, and was written specifically for anyone that Googles or otherwise searches the internet for information on tipping pet groomers!
“I became a dog groomer in 1993, and I’ve been approached many times over the years on the subject of tipping. Customers ask such things as “do you get tipped?” or “how much does one tip a dog groomer?” My answer is and has always been “Tips are not necessary, but they are appreciated”. I leave the amount, if any, up to the customer.
Well, I was asked this question again the other day, and it prompted me to look into what other groomers responses to that question would be. I Googled “tipping dog groomers” and I was shocked at what I found!
I didn’t see many posts from actual groomers – most were from grooming customers. Most people said that if the groomer is the owner of the shop, they don’t tip, because you’re not supposed to tip business owners. Some don’t even tip employees, because they feel the grooming fee is enough, or they never thought it was necessary. Some people said things like “I don’t tip the plumber” and “I don’t tip the people at fast food restaurants” and “where does the tipping stop?”. Some people didn’t realize it was customary to tip anyone in the service industry except waiters and waitresses – yet, they didn’t hesitate to say that they tip their own hairdresser, and some even admitted that they tip their hairdresser EXTREMELY WELL, and that their OWN hair was more important than a dog’s. Other people equated taking their dog to the groomer with taking them to the vet, and they don’t tip medical professionals, so why should they tip anyone else?
Some people admitted that they DO tip – usually just 5 bucks or so, but still, its a tip, and tips add up. But these very same people said they didn’t feel any more than $5 was warranted because their groomer “sits around and plays with dogs all day”. Some people felt that a shop owner charged more for their grooming work, and assumed that the tip was included. Some people said they only gave tips because they felt it got them preferential treatment, such as “squeezing my dog in” or “going the extra mile” for them. Others said they were willing to give their groomer a gift now and again, especially during the Holidays, but they didn’t see the need to give any money on top of the grooming fee.
Reading these posts on the internet about tipping pet groomers made me feel as if a large part of the general public thinks that we (groomers) are second class citizens, and that we don’t work hard for our money. We don’t “sit around and play with dogs all day”, and we don’t give preferential treatment based on the amount of tips we get from certain customers (well, at least *I* don’t). And to compare your dog’s groomer to a plumber is simply ridiculous – tradesmen are generally paid well, and some are even union members that receive VERY good benefits. Groomers are most often private contractors that have to pay for their OWN training, their OWN benefits, their OWN equipment and maintenance, and sometimes even their OWN operating supplies. And to equate taking your dog to the groomer with taking your dog to the vet is just obscene – would you compare going to your hair stylist to going to your doctor??? And I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t THINK of giving a hairdresser or a waiter/waitress in a restaurant a GIFT instead of a TIP! They would never serve me again!!!
Anyway, I simply could never respond to each of these posts individually, there were far too many – so that prompted me to write this article for my own site, with the hopes that when someone is looking for information on tipping pet groomers that they might come across it and think differently. These are my OWN opinions, but I’m sure there are many groomers out there that would agree with me whole heartedly.
First, let me say, I believe it is necessary to tip ANYONE in the service industry that doesn’t make a regular wage, or that has to supply/use/maintain their own equipment in order to get their job done. If you are not purchasing a PRODUCT of some sort (like a burger at McDonalds or parts for your sink or toilet), the person is providing a SERVICE, and their fees are generally not enough to cover their expenses at the end of the year. They charge what the market will bear. The one exception is delivery men/women that use their own vehicle to transport a product to your door step – granted, you ARE buying that pizza, and you paid for that newspaper subscription, but that delivery person is paying for gas and auto insurance, auto repairs and maintenance, etc… out of their own pocket in order to get it to you. So, they depend on their tips like others in the service industry.
Second, I have ALWAYS treated ALL my customers equally and with respect, regardless of who tips and who doesn’t. I don’t “go the extra mile” for customers JUST because they tip – I “go the extra mile” for EVERYONE, and I ALWAYS do my best, because it satisfies my customers, it satisfies ME, and my reputation depends on it. I don’t charge more for grooming because I’m the shop owner – I charge what my work is worth, and my customers are happy to pay what I charge. If someone tips me on TOP of what I charge, I want it to be purely because they like my work and feel that I’m worth it, not because they have an ulterior motive – in other words, if I have the space and time available to squeeze in a dog, I will, and if I don’t, I won’t – regardless of whether their owner tips me or not. The way I look at it, if someone doesn’t tip me, I know its NOT because I did something wrong, or because I didn’t do a good job – its because they didn’t want to, or because they didn’t know any better.
I have always been amazed by who DOES tip and who DOESN’T. In my experience, its the people who don’t have a lot that are always the most generous, and it seems that people that are more comfortable don’t usually tip as well, if at all. I have customers that tip me anywhere from $5 to $20 on a single groom during the year, and at Christmas, most of my customers give me the price of a groom as a tip. I even have a couple customers that give me $100 each at Christmas every year on TOP of $20 tips during the year. But, I have one customer that comes in every six weeks like clockwork, and IF they tip me at all, its $1 on a $40 groom (I don’t know whether to be insulted or not, so I just smile and say “thank you”). Or the customer whose 2 dogs are absolute HELLIONS, and they know it, but they absolutely LOVE my work and rave about me every chance they get (they call me their “lifesaver”) – this customer NEVER tips during the year, and then they give me an envelope at Christmas and say “I put alittle something extra in there for you – Merry Christmas”. When I look in the envelope, I find an extra $5 (I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but is that all I’m worth at Xmas after a year’s worth of rave reviews?). And then there are the customers that NEVER tip, not even at Christmas – now, I don’t *expect* tips during the year, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder why they wouldn’t during the holidays…
But overall, I really can’t complain – these are all REGULAR customers, and they have been for years. I’d rather have a regular customer that shows up for EVERY appointment, that is a light tipper or does NOT tip at all, than I would a customer who tips big, but habitually cancels at the last minute, or doesn’t show up at all, or one that brings their dog in once a year!
I have been an employee of several salons in the past, but I am now in business for myself. I do not have any employees – I do everything myself. Its back breaking work and my days are long, but honestly, I like it this way. Its SO hard to find good help, and its just not worth it to me to have employees – I’d rather take more time, do everything myself and know that its done RIGHT, than to pay someone to do a half ass job and get the dogs out faster. In fact, it takes a long time to train someone, but its even more time consuming to make sure everything is done to my specifications, even after training. When a dog goes out that is not clean or has a bad clip, its MY name on the line, not my employee’s.
Grooming is a hard and physically demanding job – after so many years in this business, I have disk problems in my back and neck, bad knees, carpel tunnel, chronic ulnar neuropathy, and not to mention I’m far sighted – I have many aches and pains, but I love my job. I do it for the love of the dogs, for the freedom to be creative, for the customers that have become some of my closest friends over the years. And being in business for myself has its own advantages, too – I don’t have a boss watching over my shoulder, I make my own hours, I set my own prices. Most of the time, the work is fun and satisfying, however, sometimes the work is a health hazard and downright gross.
Let me fill you in on some things that go on behind the scenes:
Although you come across the occasional dog that stands like a statue, most don’t hold still, and some wiggle, shake, tremble or lick constantly – using sharp objects on a moving target is dangerous, for both the groomer AND the dog. Cuts and nicks are always a distinct possibility, no matter how much experience the groomer has, and learning to avoid them takes time and patience, and is an acquired skill. And that is the very LEAST that a groomer has to deal with.
Some dogs bite – some are only “nippers”, but others are out for blood, and can cause a career ending (or life changing) injury. So quick reflexes are a must, and you have to know how to “read” a dog’s body language. That is a skill in itself – some groomers are naturally good at it, some groomers have to learn from experience.
Some dogs get nervous (some just a little, and some a lot) because grooming IS stressful for them, no matter how relaxed your shop is. They can, and WILL, vomit (especially when their owners insist on giving them breakfast before they come in for their appointment) AND they DO have accidents (no matter how many times you walk them). Sometimes its just a matter of cleaning up the cage, the table, the affected equipment, your hands and/or your clothes, but other times you have to re-wash and re-dry the dog’s face, their feet, their rear end, and/or sometimes you have to re-wash and re-dry the whole dog. And this can happen multiple times during the course of a grooming.
Dogs also get fleas and ticks, which can end up infesting the shop, AND the groomer. Fleas are bad enough, but ticks are carry serious debilitating diseases that can affect humans. And part of the job is emptying the dog’s anal glands, which NO groomer enjoys. I’ve had more bugs and bodily fluids on my skin and in my hair than most people can (or would want to) even imagine. Vomit, feces and urine are one thing, but anal gland fluid is entirely another – it smells like nothing else on earth, it burns when you get it in cuts on your hands, and its especially painful when it gets in your eyes (that has only happened to me ONCE, fortunately).
Some dogs have been severely neglected by the time a groomer sees them, and we are expected to work a miracle. Granted, we may come pretty close, but we can only do so much. I could tell you stories that would make your hair curl about the condition of some of the dogs I’ve worked on. Like the customer that told me their dog went blind about a year prior – they knew this because it walked into walls and furniture on a regular basis. Come to find out, it could see VERY well – once I removed the cakes of dried goop that had matted its eyes closed. Like the COUNTLESS dogs I’ve seen that were so matted and filthy that I had to sheer them like sheep before I could even put them in the tub, only to find festering, maggot-filled hot spots under the hair. Like the COUNTLESS dogs whose ears were so infected that they were raw and OOZING PUSS – they would have rathered to rip my face off than to have me touch their ears. I’ve worked on dogs that smelled SO BAD it actually took my breath away, and dogs that I wouldn’t touch without rubber gloves – only to have the owners tell me how the dogs sleep in their beds with them. I’ve worked on dogs that were SO infested with fleas that their skin literally came alive when I wet them down in the tub, and the bath water ran blood red, while their wet coat felt like it was full of sand. And there have been dogs that were so tick ridden that their skin and gums were sickly pale, and they were so anemic and weak they could hardly stand up – yet they had to endure several hours of tick removal and grooming because the owners wanted them cleaned up before they could take them to the vet (and if *I* didn’t do it, someone else would have to).
Oh, the stories go on and on… But I don’t see this kind of neglect anymore, because I don’t let it happen. This may sound cold, but I PAID my dues – when I was an employee, I had to groom anything my boss allowed to walk thru the door just so I could make ends meet, because HE (or she) had to make ends meet as well. When I couldn’t take the frustration of it anymore, I went into business for myself and I eventually learned how to say NO to certain customers, even if it meant I couldn’t help the dog and that I wouldn’t make as much money. It took me a long time to train some of my customers I have now into having their dogs groomed on a regular basis so that their dogs wouldn’t suffer, and so I wouldn’t have to deal with these types of situations.
Anyway, when I was an employee, I did all of the same work I do now as a business owner, but I received a 50% commission on the price my employer charged for the grooming. All I had to supply were my tools and my talent, but maintaining my tools was my responsibility, and my employer set the prices that were the basis of my pay. I received tips once in a blue moon, but only if the clerk that rang the customer up personally brought it back to me and put it in my hand. I don’t how often customer tips just didn’t make it that far.
But now that I work for myself, I set my own prices, I receive many tips, and I pay ALL my own expenses. That includes the cost of equipment – a good pair of scissors costs $100 or more, good clippers $200 or more, good dryers $400 or more – and they must be maintained, repaired, and even replaced from time to time. Hand tools include combs, brushes, rakes, nail clippers, hemostats, etc… that can be quite pricey. And then there are expendable operating supplies like shampoos (highly concentrated general cleaning, moisturizing, medicated, flea/tick, etc… that cost up to $30 a gallon), conditioners, styptic powder, ear cleaner, colognes, ribbons and bandannas, etc… And you can’t forget the overheads like electric bills, phone bills, insurance premiums, rent, and office/computer equipment and supplies. And some shop owners have the additional cost of payroll. Mobile groomers have vehicle expenses like repairs, maintenance, gas, etc…
I don’t know what other groomers charge, so I’ll base this on myself and my prices. So, lets figure: The average price I charge for a full groom on a poodle, shih tzu, terrier or other small dog is $40 – and that’s only if I see them on a regular basis (every 4-8 weeks). Anything less frequent is more, depending on the condition and attitude/behavior of the dog. Because of my physical limitations, and because I do all my own work myself, I can only do maybe 4 dogs a day. If one of them happens to be a large dog, I can only handle 3 (I can’t do giant breeds anymore at all – nor do I do cats, but that’s another story for another day). Small dogs in decent condition generally take me about 2-3 hours hands-on time to comb out, rough in, trim nails, clean ears, bathe, blow or fluff dry, and clip (again, because of my physical limitations) – so, at $40 a dog, that’s between about $13 and $20 per hour. IMO, that’s not bad when you consider all the hazards, bugs and bodily fluids a groomer deals with, and the physical nature of the job.
BUT… by the time tax season rolls around, I find that my expenses are roughly half of my income for the year. Some years its higher, some years its lower, but it averages about half. So out of that $40 I charge you for your poodle, I actually get to put about $20 in my pocket – just like when I used to work on commission as an employee!!! Hmmmmm….. Go figure!!!
Lets see then… $20 divided by the 2-3 hours it takes to groom your dog – that’s between $6.33 and $10 per hour. Now, I ask you: Would YOU do what *I* do for that much an hour???
So, yes, I believe it IS necessary to tip your groomer, whether they are the business owner or not. It makes me feel good when my customers tip me – it lets me know I’m appreciated and lets me know that my customers know how hard I work, even if they aren’t aware of all the things I deal with behind the scenes. I don’t DEPEND on tips as a general rule, but I DO save them to put towards new equipment and other expensive items, and I use them to put gas in my truck, or to pay for other personal expenses during slower times of the year (this IS a seasonal business – groomers learn to save during the busy seasons in order to get thru the slow seasons). If I happen to have a good month, I may even put my tips towards doing a little something special for myself, like getting my OWN hair done! Considering the money I get to keep in order to pay my own personal and household expenses (as opposed to business expenses), every little bit helps, whether it be during the year, or during the holidays – presents are very thoughtful, and I DO appreciate them, but they don’t pay the bills…
So next time you pick your dog up from the groomer and go to pay them for their services, PLEASE remember this article. Remember that after all is said and done, your groomer does NOT get to pocket ALL that money you are forking over, whether they are an employee OR a business owner – and in some cases, depending on the breed of dog you have, the condition of its coat, and its attitude and/or behavior, your groomer may not even make minimum wage for the time it took to groom your dog! So a little extra not only tells them that you appreciate the good work they do, but for some, it can mean the difference between just getting by and being able to live.”