Image Source: Visual China
As more people in China become interested in having a pet in their homes, the demand for pet grooming services rises. Pet groomer emerges as an appealing profession in the country as well. Now it is not uncommon to see advertisements from pet grooming schools on the Internet, many of which claim that it only takes beginners a couple of thousand yuan of tuition fee and one month to become professional groomers. Trainees graduating from a grooming program can also open their grooming establishment, the advertisements say.
“You can earn around 200,000 to 300,000 yuan a year from opening a grooming business in a first-tier city. In a second-tier or third-tier city, people can make at least 80,000 yuan and up to 150,000 yuan a year,” an employee of a pet grooming school said. “If you have no plan to start up your own business, we can also recommend job opportunities to our trainees.”
However, some pet grooming business owners revealed that they could not really make much money out of the grooming business.
Is it true that the pet grooming industry has low thresholds for entry? If pet grooming businesses are not making money, who are actually profiting in this line of business?
"Doing it for love"
China’s pet industry is booming. Pet owners’ spending on pet grooming services and products is only second to medical services for pets in all costs associated with pet-keeping, according to statistics from market research firm Qianzhan Industry Research Institute.
Pet groomer has emerged as a seemingly popular profession. “There aren't that many professional pet groomers. Some senior groomers will get really high paid offers,” a pet business owner at Liyuan in Beijing’s Tongzhou district said.
A job that allows people to be around cute animals all day naturally appeals to young people who adore pets.
Tang Xin, a young girl born in 1998, went to study at a grooming school for a month so as to groom her own puppy at home. She later became a professional pet groomer and is working as a shop manager at a pet shop.
“Two of my colleagues at the shop were born in the 1990s. I also had colleagues that were born in the 2000s,” Tang said.
For many young people, pet grooming is a dirty and exhausting job. Many people have quit this line of business because of that. People who have stayed are basically “doing it for love”.
“We would be covered in dog hair after grooming dogs. Some girls really don’t like it. So they would think about quitting,” Tang explained.
A grooming session generally takes at least an hour. The most time-consuming session that Tang had had was with a giant poodle. Showering and grooming the giant poodle took Tang more than five hours.
The nature of pet grooming work requires professional talents to have patience. Cooperation from the fluffy customers is also a must to get the work done well. “Dogs will be very intense when being showered. They will be very exhausted after showering. So we need to constantly comfort them and make sure they don’t fall asleep when grooming them. We need them to keep standing to do our job,” Tang explained.
Despite the heavy work, pet grooming does bring joy to some of the professional talents and entrepreneurs in this business.
“It is easier to get along with cats and dogs. It is difficult to communicate with them. But they bear no bad intention,” Tang said. “I have a colleague who had worked at a company before. He had to deal with complicated office politics. Pet grooming might exhaust him physically but it does not create mental pressure on him.”
Liu Qian has a pet grooming business in Beijing’s Tongzhou district. She would often take in stray dogs and cats. “I would take in stray dogs from the street, vaccinate and deworm them, and then groom them. It’s an amazing experience to turn a stray dog into a beautiful puppy. That sense of achievement cannot be measured by money. That’s why I wouldn’t change my profession,” Liu said.
Of course, not everyone in the pet grooming industry is professional and caring. There are also unprofessional groomers who have dragged down the industry in the public’s eyes.
Earlier in November 2021, a Samoyed’s tail was cut off when being showered at a pet grooming shop, causing massive controversy on Chinese social media. Such incidents show there are also many professional workers and entrepreneurs in the pet grooming business who only care about making money and lack basic decency.
“A pet groomer should be caring and patient. As for grooming skills, one can learn and improve later,” Tang said.
The business of pet grooming schools
As the demand for pet groomers surges, lots of pet grooming schools also emerge in the market.
There are more than 1,200 businesses specializing in pet grooming training in China, according to statistics from enterprise record platform Qichacha. Since 2016, over 100 new pet grooming businesses are founded each year. In 2019, a total number of 208 companies were started, marking a peak in the industry. Besides pet grooming schools, many pet brands also offer training programs in pet grooming.
The threshold for becoming a pet groomer is not high, industry workers said.
How long does it take to train a professional pet groomer? According to pet grooming schools, the answer is “at least 30 days”.
“A 30-day Level-C (beginner level) course is designed for trainees with zero experience. The course will enable trainees to provide pet grooming services independently upon graduation. Graduates can become a pet grooming professional or open their own business,” Zhang Wei from pet brand Petdog Pet said.
A Level-C course covers theories, pet grooming and some basics about veterinary medicine, according to Zhang. Trainees can also opt for higher-level courses that teach styling, hair dyeing, SPA and massage, etc.
“About 90% of our graduates would open up their own business. Very few would just work for others,” Liu Chao from Cute Menta said.
If graduates wish to only find a job upon graduating from a course, pet grooming schools would also recommend job opportunities to them as promised. “We have over 5,800 franchise outlets in the country. We would make job recommendations based on trainees' preferred work location,” according to Zhang.
Pet grooming pays relatively well as a profession. According to Tang, an assistant groomer can make around 3,500~5,000 yuan a month if accommodation and meals are not provided. Pet groomers who have over one year of work experience and can perform grooming services independently can ask for a monthly salary between 5,000~8,000 yuan. People who are even more senior and have management experience can make more than 8,000 yuan a month.
If graduates wish to open a franchise outlet, franchise brands would also provide one-stop service for opening a pet grooming business, from site selection, decoration to operation. It is said that opening an establishment is more profitable.
“A pet grooming shop with an area of 60 to 80 square meters can generate a net profit of at least 200,000 to 300,000 yuan a year in a first-tier city. You can at least make 80,000 to 150,000 yuan a year in a second or third-tier city,” Zhang said.
“Our franchise outlets in Beijing can at least generate revenue of 30,000~40,000 yuan a month. Outlets that are doing well can achieve revenue of more than 70,000~80,000 yuan. In November, an outlet in Baiziwan made over 190,000 yuan,” Liu said.
Investing in a pet grooming course appears to be cost-effective given the returns.
However, the reality is very much different from what pet grooming schools promised to be.
The threshold for becoming a professional pet groomer is in fact not as low as pet grooming schools claim to be.
“At the grooming schools, trainees will first learn the theories and practice on the basics for a while, for example, how to hold a pair of scissors. Then trainees will practice on grooming mannequins before practicing with actual animals,” Tang explained.
It takes more than paying attention in classes to become familiar with pet grooming. “The classes mostly teach you about styling. But the trainers won’t talk about the different personalities and characteristics that each dog breed has. You need to figure it out on your own.”
“They need to at least practice with 50~100 dogs (to become capable groomers),” Tang said, explaining that most trainees that just graduate from their course still need time to practice before being able to perform grooming service independently.
Who are actually making money?
Many pet shops are not actually making money as pet grooming schools claim to be.
Liu Qian took a pet grooming course at a school in Beijing’s Tongzhou district. There were 16 trainees at the program, 80% of which chose to work for other businesses after graduation while the rest opted for starting their own business. “To my knowledge, people who chose to work for others can at least make a couple thousand a month,” Liu said. “People who opened their own shops have not been making money.”
“The truth is pet grooming is a good business. Every day you have people sending their dogs over for grooming,” Liu said. However, this has not spared pet shops from money struggle.
The labor cost is one reason why pet shops are struggling to make money. Liu’s shop has an area of 160 square meters. Besides her, there are two other groomers at her shop. The labor cost for her business is more than 100,000 yuan every year.
Another reason why pet shops are not making money is the high rent.
In the first two years of Liu’s entrepreneurial journey in the pet grooming business, the rent alone would cost her 200,000 yuan a year. Liu almost closed her shop because it was losing money. “I even paid people 3,000 yuan to rent the place out for me,” Liu recalled.
But luckily, she came across a cheaper place later. An old lady rented out a business place to Liu at only 110,000 yuan a year, which allowed Liu to keep running her pet grooming business. “My business was able to break even after the cost of rent was reduced. But I am not making much money still,” Liu explained.
Tang’s pet grooming business is in similar situations where it is merely “achieving break-even”.
There is another reason why pet shops are struggling to achieve profitability – the insane competition in the market.
On Chinese lifestyle app Dazhongdianping, one can find six operating pet shops that are nearby Jingtai, Dongcheng district of Beijing. The app shows that there are six pet shops that are open, three shops that might be open and one shop that has not yet opened within one-kilometer radius.
There are even pet shops that have been around for over eight years around Tang’s shop. In comparison, consumers would tend to go to shops that have been around longer, which means it is difficult for new businesses to attract customers.
“You might not even make ten thousand a month if you open a shop, while senior groomers can get a monthly salary of over ten thousand. So why bother opening up a shop?” Tang stated.
Pet shops are not making money in the industry. So what exactly are making profits in the market? The answer is quite clear – pet grooming schools.
At Petdog Pet’s grooming program, each class has 10~15 people, according to Zhang. In 2022, Petdog Pet’s campus in North China plans to open 20 semesters of courses. Its level-C grooming courses are priced at 6,600 yuan. The most expensive course at Petdog Pet is priced at as high as 78,000 yuan.
Image Source: Zhang Wei. A course leaflet from Petdog Pet’s North China campus.
This means that level-C courses can bring Petdog Pet revenue of 1.32 million yuan if each class has ten trainees and the tuition fee is at least 6,600 yuan.
The franchise business is also very lucrative. According to Zhang, the total cost of joining Petdog Pet would be 96,000 yuan, a fee that covers products, equipment and licensing fee, etc. Currently, Petdog Pet has over 5,800 franchise outlets in the country.
The franchise licensing fee of Cute Menta, on the other hand, is 93,800 yuan, according to Liu Chao who works for the company. “We started licensing franchise outlets in 2020. Now we have over 200 franchise outlets in China,” Liu said.
Pet grooming schools and pet brands are profiting greatly from the training and franchising business while pet groomers on the ground are doing it for love and pet shops are struggling to survive in the market.
So how can pet shops make money? Besides the right site selection, it is also imperative to avoid extreme competition. When the majority of pet shops are offering similar services, pet shop owners must build their own brand and build their business with professional workers and equipment. In addition, having customized services for customers is also a huge plus.
Moreover, pet shops can work with local media, bloggers and animal welfare organizations to gain recognition and exposure, which can generate opportunities for businesses to capture more market share.
Individual pet shops need to build up their brand and have professional and unique grooming services. Pet grooming schools and pet brands also need to keep up with the changing tides in the industry and prepare for future trends.
Note: Interviewees are mentioned using pseudonyms for privacy reasons in this article.
Translator: Garrett Li