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Mobile pet grooming takes off

Published: Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014 12:18 p.m. CDT

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CRYSTAL LAKE – Erin Hogue’s grooming station has everything she needs: dryers, cabinets, bath tub, grooming table, tile floors.

It also has a few more-unconventional features: windshield wipers, a transmission, side mirrors and four wheels.

Like a growing portion of the pet grooming industry, Hogue’s Erin’s Mobile Pet Grooming does all the traveling at the convenience of the clients. Hogue grooms in the back of her customized van outside her customers’ homes.

“Grooming is a tough and messy job – it’s a lot of work,” said Hogue, whose business services most of McHenry County. “With mobile, because we are coming to the owners home, we are able to charge more because of the convenience factor.

“It’s nice to be able to charge what you feel you’re worth.”

Hogue isn’t the only one opting for the mobile side of the grooming business.

Those who decide to take their business to the road note several advantages. They say pet owners love the ease, and many will gladly pay extra for the convenience. And dogs tend to react better to a van near their normal surroundings than to a foreign business, which can tend to be crammed with other loud animals.

“It’s by far my favorite work environment,” added Hogue, who started as a bather for a corporate pet store. “When you go to their homes, they treat you like a guest, as oppose to if you’re in a store and they see you as the help.”

That atmosphere tends to lend itself to lengthy client-groomer relationships, said Ashley Hughes, who owns the Elgin-based mobile groomer Paw-fect Pet Grooming.

“It’s a lot more interactive with the clients,” Hughes said. “We get to know each other. We see them all every six to eight weeks.”

But Hughes notes disadvantages of the mobile approach, too. The weather, in particular, can challenge mobile groomers – freezing in-van water tanks or creating unsafe travel conditions. Hughes had to cancel afternoon appointments during Monday’s snowstorm.

Ultimately, though, convenience drives the business. And business is good.

Hughes manages two groomers and three vans, sending them as far north as McHenry and as far east as Arlington Heights.

“We keep getting busier and busier,” she said. “There were a couple [groomers] that weren’t taking more clients. We’ve been getting more calls out of that, and we’re hiring more groomers.”

Michigan-based Wag’n Tails was among the first to try mobile grooming in the 1970s.

By 1980, the company had expanded to 22 vans, and people took note.

“They said, ‘I really like this idea. Build us a van,’” said John Stockman, the company’s national sales manager. “Before too long, we sold the grooming business and just went full into building vans.”

Wag’n Tails opened an Indiana facility to build their mobile grooming units in the 2000s. As of 2013, the company has supplied more than 2,000 units to mobile grooming businesses across the country. Today, 22 full-time employees staff its 24,000-square-foot facility in Granger, Ind.

“Basically, we just built the industry,” Stockman said.

That’s not to say all mobile groomers buy from Wag’n Tails. Hogue bought her van used from a Georgia woman leaving the industry. Hughes took over a customized RV when she and her father bought her mobile grooming business three years ago. They customized a second RV themselves.

Rachelle Dye, who opened McHenry-based Pamper Parlour five years ago, went to Wag’n Tails for her van. It has an in-unit electric generator and a UVC light to sterilize, among other custom features.

“My van is totally self-contained,” she said.

Dye, who charges $20 to $25 over an average in-store groomer, said her approach has kept her schedule filled, even – or, especially – during a long, cold winter.

“When it’s negative 10 degrees outside, they don’t have to get off the couch, I come right to them,” she said. “It’s nice and 75 in my van.”

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