One of the people I respect most, Danelle German, President of the National Cat Grooming Institute  was very kind to mention me in one of her recent blogs pertaining to the volume of cats vs. dogs and the lack of qualified professional feline groomers. Thank you Danelle.

Messed up Numbers – National Cat Groomers Institute of America

Messed up Numbers – by Danelle German, President of the National Cat Grooming Institute of America
A follow-up article to the previous State of the Cat Grooming Industry article

Last week I wrote an article entitled, State of the Cat Grooming Industry, which was published in the January 2014 edition of PetGroomer.com’s State of the Industry Report(also on my blog). As I flipped through the publication I was fascinated by some of the many statistics reported. In particular, I was glad to see that the survey results from over 10,000 respondents backed up my own survey findings by stating that, “Dog grooming (81%) was their primary interest and cat grooming (19%) second. However, interest in cat grooming continues to grow. In the last 5 years interest has more than doubled.”

In order to have growth such as this, there must first be a need. There must be actual consumers who are willing and able to pay for a product or service in order for the providers of the products or services to realize a pattern of growth with any consistency. Data clearly shows these consumers do exist. There is a need.

In fact, online reports from various sources show that there are more owned cats than dogs. In the US alone, there are close to 15 million more owned cats than there are dogs (see reports from Humanesociety.org). Canada follows suit with an estimated 2 million more owned cats than dogs. Other countries, such as Switzerland and Russia, report similar ratios. And some countries, such as Australia, show a reverse. Even so, there are an estimated 2.7 million owned cats living in the land Down Under. There is clearly a potential consumer pool in many parts of the developed world.

Even though the past few years has shown a steady increase in the number of professional cat groomers, and particularly those who offer some sort of feline-exclusive environment, the percentage of pet groomers offering these services is severely out of line with the number of estimated owned cats as mentioned in the previous paragraph. Sarah Miller, a CFMG in Michigan and a recent graduate of the National Cat Groomers School, wrote this in her survey response to us: “Feline care is poorly neglected compared to dogs.” She’s right. The numbers clearly show this. So what is the problem?

I believe that there are two primary causes for this imbalance. First, there are the myths that surround cats and their grooming needs. It is widely taught, even within the grooming industry, that cats groom themselves. As self-groomers, they have no need of human intervention to get them clean or take care of common skin and coat issues. I feel like a broken record repeating for nearly a decade and a half that cats do NOT groom themselves. I’ve been saying this to clients all along as I worked to build a steady clientele of caring cat owners who realized the importance of regular professional grooming for their felines. Cats do not groom, they lick. It’s that simple. A cat licks, it is covered in saliva and dander (and other icky things). It is dirty and greasy and somewhat smelly most of the time. If a cat is lucky, it is not also covered in mats or a thickly pelted layer of hair that was once long and silky. Back before the cat stopped grooming itself. (I am being sarcastic here.)

You can ask any groomer that’s had any small number of felines on his or her grooming table. Cats do not groom themselves. Cats do not use clippers or shampoo, they do not blow dry their hair or wield a comb or nail trimmer. They don’t clean their ears or rid themselves of waxy stud tail or keep their tushies all that clean. (Really, I promise. Check out your kitty’s butt sometime.) Cats are totally incapable of removing thick pelts of matted hair that eventually pull and tug on a cat’s body until it eats sores into the flesh if the pelt is not removed in a timely manner. Cats do lick, however, and ingest large amounts of dirty, shedding hair (sometimes with fleas), later to be regurgitated up in the form of a hairball (unless the hair decides to remain lodged in the cat’s intestines, only to be removed by a surgical procedure).

I believe the second cause of the percentage imbalance is directly related to the first. In the past, felines have generally been left out of the grooming industry, often times not considered at all even though the reference may be to “pet” grooming. Generally groomers think “dog” when hearing the term “pet groomer.” Of course, this has changed considerably since 2006 when I first started speaking at industry events and particularly later, in 2007, when the National Cat Groomers Institute was formed. But we still have a long way to go.

Janet Wormitt, a CFMG in Ontario who I first met while conducting some cat grooming classes in Kuwait City last year, wrote in her survey reply, “Cats are second-class pet citizens. (They) receive care only when it has become an extreme situation.” I have to agree with Janet. I have witnessed this attitude myself on more than one occasion. This way of thinking was my single biggest enemy when I started grooming cats for local patrons while still showing Persians in CFA. In the show world, I was surrounded by cat fanciers who spent inordinate amounts of time and a whole lot of money bathing and drying their cats to perfection in hopes of winning titles, points and pretty rosettes. When I started offering grooming services to local cat owners, I found that the vast majority of initial appointments were made because the cat was in very bad condition, well beyond anything that could be remedied at home. It was like being on another planet and left me continually thinking, “How on earth do these people let it get this bad?”

The trick, back then, was turning those first clients into regular clients who were more concerned about prevention and maintenance than about their wallet. I had to wean folks off of the myths that cats groom themselves and somehow their cat had suffered some temporary break-down in its self-grooming mechanism and here were are all matted up and in a really bad state. Time to call a pro. But surely this won’t happen again, right? Surely Fluffy will get back to grooming himself like before.

I found that my best weapon against myths and ignorance (and even against total lack of caring) was to WOW a client with a perfect
ly coiffed cat, groomed as if bound for a cat show to win “Best in Show.” It really didn’t matter what breed each cat was or even if it was a domestic mix-breed with origins completely unknown. The principles applied were just the same. The goal was the same: quality grooming that serves a true purpose in alleviating and correcting the existing problems that warranted the visit in the first place. Janet, up in Canada, is putting that very thing into practice and enjoying the results. She, like many others who are taking their job as a cat groomer quite seriously, are enjoying the benefits of clients that drive long distances for their services and are rebooking appointments as per the recommended schedule.

Even so, the myths that abound as well as the general attitude within the grooming industry still impact the growth of the feline-grooming industry, messing with the percentages and keeping them off-kilter. It is still commonplace for pet groomers that offer services for both dogs and cats to report that their cat clientele makes up a very small percentage of the total customer base. Carla Freestep, a groomer in California, wrote that while cats make up 20% of her total clientele, they make up only 10% of herregular clientele. Those myths are still leaving their mark.

With such high numbers of owned cats in developed countries and so few of that market actually being realized, there are some unique opportunities for those who do want to include cat grooming services on their menu. With that comes the unique challenges that I’ve already mentioned in this article. So who are the people that actually want to hurdle those challenges and go after that untapped market? What makes some of them only dabble in cat grooming while some of them are wildly successful, many times within a very short period of time?

I’ll address these questions in my next article, Who Grooms Cats and Why?. Stay tuned……