This article was excerpted from Pet Businesses, a startup guide available from SmallBizBooks.com .
From bathing and clipping to tying bows and cleaning ears, the nation's approximately 50,000 to 70,000 pet groomers do more than just change pets' appearance--they also make them feel better both physically and psychologically. The loving touch of a groomer can calm a skittish pet, reassure a frightened pet, and make a well-adjusted pet wriggle with pleasure. In addition, groomers are often the first to notice that a pet has a skin condition, ear mites, or other medical issues that should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian.
In addition to having a true love of animals and enough physical strength to lift big boys and girls onto grooming tables and into tubs, groomers must be behaviorists who know how to handle biters and scratchers. They also need the same kind of patience and good humor when relating to pet owners, so a general love of humankind is a necessary trait for a groomer.
Grooming is undoubtedly one of the oldest pet businesses around. While records of dog-grooming parlors date only to 19th century England, it's pretty apparent from paintings by the masters and others that dogs have been groomed for many centuries (the evidence can be found in 14th century paintings that depict what might be assumed to be coiffed pets sitting at the feet of their masters and mistresses). But it wasn't until the 1893 publication of the book Ashmont's Kennel Secrets that recommendations for washing and grooming were spelled out in detail.
Kennels started the modern trend toward grooming by washing and fluffing pets in their care so they could be returned fresh and sweet-smelling to their owners. When grooming tools like electric clippers and other modern supplies debuted in the late 1940s, the practice began to gain a foothold in mainstream America. But it wasn't until the explosion in pet ownership in the mid-1950s that grooming services became less of a luxury and more of a necessity. Since the '80s, there has been another boom in pet grooming, largely for the same reasons that pet sitting and dog walking have become so popular.
While many groomers choose to establish their businesses in a building, it's possible to do the work out of a salon set up in your home. (You can either have pet owners drop off their animals or you can pick them up yourself.) A third possibility is to set up a mobile business that brings the salon right to your customer's home. This type of business operates out of a specially outfitted van that has the same equipment and offers the same services as a site-based shop.
There are several companies that offer mobile turnkey franchises that can make it even easier to establish your business. They provide everything from specially equipped mobile vans to sales and marketing support.
Demand for pet groomers is expected to rise 12 percent by 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pet-groomer.com, the industry's largest internet resource, reports that career opportunities are nearly endless because there are more than 4,000 dogs and cats for every U.S. grooming business--making this a great time to be considering the field.
For more information on starting your own pet grooming service, plus four other pet businesses, check out our guide on SmallBizBooks.com .