A La Mod
mo˘d·dôg salon & boutique plunged into new territory by adding grooming services and found the risk to be surprisingly fruitful.
The signs were there. Mass merchants were adding aisles of pet items formerly found only in pet specialty stores, and new pet boutiques were throwing open their doors one right after the other. It was obvious to Kim Walker, owner of mo˘d · dôg salon & boutique in Boca Raton, Fla., that she was going to have to do something different if her business was going to survive.
At the time, Walker was operating a merchandise-focused retail location simply called the mo˘d · boutique, located in a mall in Aventura, Fla. But after only 18 months, she decided to move her business in a new direction, largely in response to the ever-increasing competition. She relocated to a larger store in Boca Raton, where she would expand mŏd into new territory—grooming.
“I had always wanted to add a grooming element,” Walker recalls. “But I especially went toward it because once the pet industry exploded and everyone got into it—particularly the big stores—retailing changed. It just wasn’t the same.”
She added an array of salon services to her boutique and changed the name to reflect the evolution. At that location for three years, the business was evenly split between grooming and retail. Then, four years ago, she moved to another Boca Raton location, and now, grooming accounts for 95 percent of her total store sales and takes up three-quarters of her 1,000-square-foot space, with retail making up the remainder.
Walker merchandises collars, leashes and harnesses—the biggest-sellers in her shop—toys, U.S.-made treats, airline-approved carriers and sling carriers, and a limited selection of apparel, such as sweaters and tanks. She also offers an array of grooming supplies and plaque-cleanse kits. Still, her grooming services, despite the associated challenges, have been central to the overall business.
Getting into grooming, however, was not easy, says Walker, who didn’t know how to groom when she first kicked off the venture. Initially, she lost business and revenue while she struggled to find qualified groomers who fit well into her business.
“This is a very skilled trade, and it’s hard to find people who not only have the skills and are good with dogs, but who are also reliable,” Walker explains.
After six months of mostly fruitless searching, Walker felt she had no other recourse but to learn grooming herself. Walker asked a retired groomer whom she had hired to mentor her. It took her about a year of training and study before she felt fully confident in her skills.
These days, she grooms full-time, but the shop also employs a full-time master groomer, a full-time bather and two part-time employees who man the front desk.
Aside from the challenge of staffing the shop and learning to groom, the financial investment was also considerable, Walker adds. She estimates it cost about $100,000 for the equipment and build-out. Among other large and small equipment, she has two tubs, four hydraulic tables and several sets of custom cages.
The busiest times for the salon are between November and April, with December being especially hectic. But even during the slow times—the “snowbirds” head up north for the summer—the shop is jamming. On a typical day, Walker will groom about 10 dogs. During the off-season, the boutique is open five days a week; it expands to six during the busy months.
The business caters to an affluent clientele. “In fact, I’ve never even met some of my customers, because they have people who bring their dogs in,” Walker explains. “I remember one time, we had to hurry the grooming for one dog because it was leaving shortly on a private jet.”
The services and ambiance are designed to appeal to this jet-setting crowd. Along with a variety of spa baths and grooming packages, clients can have their pets massaged with hypoallergenic vegan massage oils or their teeth cleaned via the PlaqClnz Oral Cleansing System. Pets can also be dressed up with feather extensions or rhinestones that are attached to the ears with nontoxic fabric glue.
I added the massage about four years ago,” says Walker. “Not everyone does this, maybe one person a week. The feathers were added over two years ago, and they’re very popular. The oral cleansing, which I added about three years ago, is also very popular.”
While many of the added services are a hit with mo˘d’s customers, grooming has also been a boon to Walker herself. Despite the hardships, she says learning how to groom and taking control of her business was the best decision she has made.
“I learned grooming because I had to, but now I love it,” Walker says. “I can’t imagine waking up and doing anything else.”