Pampering to go

Mobile pet service is such a success owner looks to franchise it.

Posted: February 25, 2014

With winter's fury paralyzing this region again and again, the wisdom of Taria Avery's decision six years ago to chuck a 13-year career in international marketing became clear as ice.

Not because she didn't have to travel anymore, but because it was difficult for pet owners to get around.

What better way to sell the attributes of her new mobile pet-grooming business?

"People are calling . . . saying, 'We can't get out,' " Avery said one morning last week when the Philadelphia area awoke to a few more mayhem-causing inches. "So we get to them."

So far, that pampering reach extends to Bucks, Burlington, Camden, Chester, Delaware, Gloucester, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties. And soon, maybe more.

If all goes as planned, Avery's Pet Styling Salon & Boutique, now three customized grooming vans operating from a detached garage at Avery's home in Media, will be offering franchise opportunities come spring, first in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

"We have grand plans," said Avery, 36, who, as if she weren't busy enough starting and growing a business, had her first child just before Thanksgiving.

Key to the business' surviving its first five years, a critical time for any new venture, is that growth has progressed at a sustainable pace, Avery said.

"I felt if we started small and added services and expanded gradually, we'd have a higher probability of staying open," she said. "It's like losing weight."

And there's the whole "recession-resistant" element to the pet industry, estimated at $32 billion a year, said Stephen Mart, a former groomer and now a consultant at Find A Groomer Inc. in Olympia, Wash.

Demand for pet-grooming services has been growing steadily since the 1990s, said Mart, a 53-year veteran of the industry, who estimates there are now more than 36,000 certified groomers nationwide to serve the demand.

"She'll be up against that groomers are very independent, especially a mobile groomer," Mart said. "There's not a lot of franchises out there."

For Avery, offering franchises is a matter of economic reality. Visits to seven banks yielded none willing to provide financing for her to grow her business into a formidable fleet - despite what she said were adequate savings, a good credit score, and a strong repayment history.

"It's so unique they just didn't frankly want to take the risk," she said. "They said it could be a novel idea, it may not stick."

Additionally, Avery figured, 100 mobile salons would be "a lot to manage. Franchising is the next best thing."

She said she was working with a group of investors to get the franchise rolling. Her plan involves a yet-to-be-found storefront from which franchisees would be trained. Avery said she would be flexible on the investment required from each of them.

Of greater interest to her is building her brand without sacrificing its reputation. Interested franchisees will likely have to try out with her at least six months, she said.

A $10,000 grant from the Merchants Fund, a 160-year-old charity that provides financial aid to small businesses in Philadelphia, enabled Avery to add in her third year in business a second mobile salon - equipped with, among other things, a hydromassage spa-bathing system that conserves water.

"That was a big game-changer," she said. "We were able to expand our service area and hire people."

Added business led to a third salon. Avery's Pet Styling Salon & Boutique now has six employees, including certified groomers who are up on the hottest trends - dyeing and accessorizing what Avery calls "fur kids."

"We could see she had a growth plan in place and we wanted to catalyze that growth," said Merchants Fund executive director Patricia Blakely. "It is also a business with a commitment to green practices. It is the total package, including woman- and minority-owned. This is just the kind of company that our foundation can stand behind with a certain pride of work and mission."

Reluctant to provide revenue information, Avery said her sales had grown 750 percent since the first year. A survey of 1,200 groomers by Mart's consulting company found 2013 gross sales of $51,000 to $100,000 for the largest group of respondents, 31 percent; 15 percent reported annual sales exceeding $250,000.

Carla Manley-Russock and her husband, Robbie, have been contributing to Avery's bottom line for the last five years, since moving to Wayne from Richmond, Va., with four cats, two of which were high-maintenance long-haired Persians.

Now the Russocks, both retired, have a standing weekly appointment for their dogs, bichons Ella and Oliver, and one of two cats, Coco, a Persian.

"The convenience is wonderful," Manley-Russock said. "It says a lot that despite all the bad weather, they have only missed one appointment - and it was us who canceled. We were totally out of power."


BY THE NUMBERS

1,759

Pet-grooming businesses

in Pa.

1,259

Pet-grooming businesses

in N.J.

$39K

Average annual

salary of a full-time groomer

$70

Average hourly grooming rate

SOURCE: 2013 State of the Industry report by egroomers.com


>Inquirer.com

Taria Avery talks about her mobile Avery's Pet Styling Salon & Boutique. www.inquirer.com

/business


dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466 @dmastrull

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