After spending 10 years grooming pets at a shop on North 16th Avenue, Elizabeth Adams has taken her business on the road.
Last month, the 33-year-old began operating The Paw Spa from a 24-foot-long Mercedes van specifically designed to groom pets. She and her husband, Joseph Adams, put their savings of $12,000 into a down payment on a $110,000 vehicle equipped with a bathtub, grooming table, blow dryers and shelves for brushes, shampoo, and hair and nail clippers.
“We took a huge risk because if we fail, we’ve got a $110,000 vehicle to pay for whether we make it or not,” she says.
Although new to Yakima, mobile pet groomers have popped up across the country over the past decade, says Linda Easton with International Professional Groomers Inc. in Salem, Ore. Her organization certifies pet groomers across the world.
“I’d say they have doubled in the past five years,” she says.
Mobile service attracts pet owners too busy to take their pets to a groomer. It’s a major convenience not to have to cart the pet back and forth come a salon, industry experts say. “So the mobiles are filling a nice niche that way,” Easton says.
In fact, trade associations representing only mobile pet groomers have also cropped up all over, says Jeffrey Reynolds, the executive director of the National Dog Groomers Association based in Clark, Pa.
“They’re all over the country and they just keep growing and growing,” he says of mobile groomers.
And the trend is felt at Wagon Tail, a Granger, Ind., company that outfits vans with grooming equipment.
The company began selling grooming vans in the late 1990s and has been selling roughly 200 vans annually for the past several years, says national sales manager John Stockman.
“There hasn’t been any decline in sales even during the Great Recession because people take care of their pets,” he said.
Adams and her husband got the idea of buying a grooming van after seeing one at a Las Vegas grooming show two years ago. She often picked up dogs from her customers who didn’t have time to bring them to the shop she leased.
“So when we saw the van, we just thought that it would be a natural progression for us,” she says.
The couple flew to Wagon Tail to buy the van and drove it back. “We handed them our savings and then drove away,” she says.
And her mobile business has gotten off to a good start.
“Right now, I have 120 customers,” she says. “I’m booked up with appointments through April.”
Working in her van one recent afternoon at a West Valley home, Adams rinsed Cookie, a small white terrier mix, in a stainless steel tub.
“I’ve been grooming him since he was a puppy,” she says before setting the dog on a grooming table.
Shelves filled with shampoos, brushes, scissors, nail and hair clippers and nail grinders and other products she uses to give dogs facials line two walls. The tub is at the rear of the vehicle.
“I’ve got heat, I’ve got air conditioning, two vents that push air in and out,” she says, looking up at the vehicle’s ceiling. “Can’t get better than that.”
Decals of paw prints dot the exterior of the white van, which features the slogan “Pamper your pet in the lap of luxury.”
Cookie’s owner, Kelly Hoon, says she wasn’t feeling well and would have had to cancel her appointment if it weren’t for the mobile service. “This is nice,” she says, looking at the van from her front door.
But the mobile service doesn’t just benefit customers, Adams says.
She can schedule appointments around family activities. Her 31-year-old husband is a parts planner for GE Aviation in Yakima. The couple has twin 7-year-old daughters and a 3-year-old son.
“So if I need to take time off for a school function, I can do so,” she says.
Pets also get better service, she adds.
At her previous shop, dogs often waited in kennels to be groomed. And then they were herded through the various grooming stations and returned to kennels where they waited to be picked up. Sometimes the workload would bottleneck and dogs were put back in kennels to wait for an open station.
But the mobile service eliminates that.
“They’re not waiting in a kennel,” she says. “They’re at home waiting until I get there and then they are groomed straight through.”
Often times she grooms dogs while the owners aren’t even home.
“I can groom their pet while they’re at the office — it’s pretty cool,” she says. “I get to go a lot of places.”
• Phil Ferolito can be reached at 509-577-7749 or firstname.lastname@example.org.