Today we’d like to introduce you to Nathalie Sampson.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
As a kid, I owned all kinds of lovable critters, from birds to guinea pigs, rabbits to turtles. I cannot pass an animal without petting it … I just love them all!
After working 17 years in the corporate world for IBM, Microsoft, Autodesk and ConMed, I was disillusioned and needed a radical change. At the same period, I was constantly disappointed with our local groomers, so between this and wanting a new career, the stars were all aligned. I was still living in Quebec, Canada, at the time, and in 2004, I opened a grooming salon where I was also boarding animals of all kinds, selling pet food and supplies. Like many other new businesses come to exist, I started mine out of frustration … and love of animals, of course.
This venture allowed me to gain extensive experience, not just with grooming, but also with business administration, retail, customer service, etc. I must admit that all those years spent in the corporate environment prepared me to efficiently, and professionally, run a business; you can’t make it on grooming skills alone. Having the salon also confirmed that grooming was my long-term plan.
During that period, I spent a lot of time and money finding homes for abandoned pets that people would bring for grooming and never picked them back up, strangers leaving litters of kitties and puppies at my doorstep, sick animals, etc. Those were trying experiences, but I am happy that I could help all those animals.
In 2007, I moved to West LA to be with the man I love. A few months later, the 2008 recession happened and it was not the time for me to start a new company. So, I waited and went back to do office work for a while, and in 2011, the time was right.
I decided to go mobile instead of having the brick and mortar I was used to. I don’t regret it at all, nothing is perfect though; they both have their pros and cons, especially when you work in the city with heavy traffic and difficult parking, being mobile can be challenging.
I’m not a young chicken anymore, and I hope my body will give me another good 10 years of grooming. Not only do I love my job, but the strong friendship I develop with my two legged clients is priceless.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
As for the smooth part, I was lucky, although luck comes with very hard work, but after only six months, I was already fully booked. I’ve been refusing clients daily since then, as there are just so many hours in a week. I am very loyal to my clients, and they to me, so I can only take four or five new clients every year. It’s a great problem to have.
On the lower scale of struggles, working with animals is always unpredictable, especially when you meet them for the first time. They can be aggressive, and many of them have had very bad past grooming experiences and now you are stuck with trying to turn that big boat around. In general, though, they are good and I love working with them; I can’t get enough doggie kisses!
Traffic and parking in the city with a big van is rarely an easy thing to do, but you get used to it. There are also several apps these days that can make your life easier regarding those issues.
And then come the long hours. There are some basic steps to do in the morning to prepare your van for the day ahead, then much more to do when you get back home at the end of the day. The cost of the van and the constant maintenance and repairs are not cheap; you can’t just groom a few hours a day and pay for everything, as well as have a decent salary. That’s why many new mobile groomers don’t make it; they think it’s an easy job.
It’s also a myth that you have a lot of liberty with your time when you are a mobile groomer. Most of my clients want regular visits at regular intervals, so I can’t just drop everything whenever I want if I want to retain my clientele. So, taking time off is hard to do.
Scheduling when you’re mobile can be tricky. You want to have some kind of logical route so you don’t spend all your day driving around, but you also have to accommodate your clients and their schedule. Then if someone wants to change their appointment, you have to play some kind of Tetris game and make it all fit again. Let’s just say that scheduling is not the favorite part of my job.
Grooming, either in a salon or in a mobile setting, is very demanding physically. Not only because of the long hours standing up, but the repetitive movements, lifting heavy dogs, etc. Many groomers develop serious physical issues with time.
But in my opinion, for a mobile groomer, the most challenging thing is the possible break down of equipment. A mobile grooming van is a very complex machine, with several components, and sometimes, no matter how anal one is about pro-active maintenance and repairs, something will stop working out of the blue.
When that happens, everything comes to a halt; the clients are frustrated because you have to reschedule, you have to find a reliable repair place that can take you in very quickly, you lose time, you lose revenues, and you may get a huge unexpected bill, it’s extremely stressful.
This brings me to talk about another venture that was born out of frustration, because it is almost impossible to find a good repair place for grooming vans in SoCal, and someone who understands the urgency of having the repairs done. I went from deception to total lack of support on many occasions. So, to make a long story short, my very supportive husband saw my despair and we decided to start Teknopet (teknopetmobile.com). We are located in Corona, CA, and we have a superb team in place and they do everything for mobile groomers: service, repairs, restoration, and conversion. We are currently working on a conversion prototype and it will be phenomenal. I will hopefully continue grooming for a long time, but will also slowly transition to working for Teknopet, and complete that process when my body will tell me that it’s in too much pain and it’s time to stop grooming.
Bottom line, mobile grooming is not for everybody. One needs to be in pretty good physical shape, have artistic talents, be ready for hard work with long hours, plus it takes some startup money. I’m very blessed and feel privileged that I have what it takes.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Me So Groomie – what should we know?
I’m a caring, organized, respectful, regimented and a clean freak individual, and that totally transpire in my work. I knew I wanted to do things a little differently than others, and offer the best high-end services that I could. For me, more is more when it comes to grooming.
First, I show up in a uniform. I think it’s important to look the part and walk the walk.
For sure my two legged clients are the ones paying the bill, but my real clients are the doggies. When it comes to caring for my four legged friends, I love to get on the floor and interact with them before and after the grooming. Don’t get me wrong, I also love their owners and I always do my best to be in a good mood, even when I’m having a crappy day. I always make sure to schedule a bit more time for certain clients, because I know that they are lonely, and I’m sometimes the only person they see in a week, so I take the time to listen to them for a bit.
One of the things that always shock people, in a good way, is how clean my van is, inside and out. I wash the outside of my van once a week, and keep the inside as pristine as humanly possible. My current van is four years old, and people always think it’s new. I’m not only doing it for the look, but also to keep germs and possible contamination away. I thoroughly clean and disinfect between each client. Not many mobile groomers do that.
What I’m most proud of is the whole experience that I offer. This also sets me apart from other mobile groomers in many ways. It goes a bit like this:
– I try to create a relaxing spa environment, some kind of Four Seasons experience for dogs.
– I have satellite radio playing the “spa” station all day long.
– I use natural oils to help calm them some more through their breathing.
– I use high-end products only.
– I give them a mini-massage while bathing them, and I never had a complaint about that so far 🙂
– I talk to them, kiss them throughout the whole process.
– I give them 100% natural treats made in the USA.
– I take the time needed, I never rush them, the grooming itself is stressful enough.
– At the end of the grooming, I dress them up with a homemade bandana, tie, bow tie, bows, collar wrap, etc. I love to play with that, it’s like the cherry on the sundae for me. I hand pick all the fabrics, wash/iron/cut and finish the edges with an industrial serger. I take my bandanas and other accessories very seriously.
– I send my doggies home with a bag of cookies made by small bakeries with human grade ingredients. When it’s a holiday, they get special cookies that are beautifully decorated.
– During the winter holiday, I give all my clients a bag of goodies: plush toy, chew toy, cookie, etc.
I’m also known for the beautiful haircuts that I give. I love to make dogs with naturally “crooked” legs appear straight, like a Shih Tzu for example. Also, the way that I trim the hair in an angle around the pads make the dogs look like they’re walking on air. It requires a lot of scissoring, but that’s my favorite part; I love the challenge, and my clients love the results. I don’t go for quick and easy, and my clients tell me how their dogs get many compliments.
I have very high work ethics and I run a tight ship. I wouldn’t do it any other way.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
My biggest fan and supporter is my wonderful husband, Dave. I also get lots of support from the rest of my family and friends, but Dave is the person who gets the daily direct effect of my job. He’s totally respectful of my crazy schedule and how serious I am about my work. He always tries to come up with solutions when I have a problem, he’s simply amazing.
If it wouldn’t have been for Dave, I never would have been able to start this business, as he had the money to loan me to buy my first van. Banks don’t want to lend money unless you’ve been in business for two years, no matter how solid your business plan is … but don’t you need to be in business first if you want to be able to make it to the two year mark? This makes very little sense to me. Anyway, I’m extremely grateful that Dave was there to give me the push I needed. It also makes me frustrated in some way, because I know that there are so many people out there who have the potential to be very successful entrepreneurs, but don’t have the start up cash they need to do it.
When I had the salon back in Canada, it was a different deal as I had employees, we were a team and each member was a very important contributor to the whole success. But being a one-man band mobile service is completely different. That being said, nobody can be successful just by themselves. It takes a village and a strong networking system in place. I always have a ton of questions, and I usually know where to go to get the answers, plus, I don’t like to assume. I Google, call vets, trainers, vendors, family, friends, take workshops, etc. All that to say that a tremendous quantity of people and tools around me deserve partial credit for my success.
When I started Me So Groomie, and for two years after that, I was volunteering for the Lange Foundation, mostly in Santa Clarita, but also sometimes in West LA. I was grooming dogs up for adoption, and it truly helps when they look their best. I had to stop due to having to spend my “free” time helping my husband with other projects, but I miss volunteering tremendously, and I hope that I’ll be able to do it again one day. I owe a lot of credit to that organization, its people and the whole experience. I meet extremely generous and the most beautiful souls during that journey, and I truly believe that they were a huge part of my success. This was karma at its best.
Many clients also wrote great reviews on Facebook, as well as on Yelp. Yelp has been a big part of my success, and of course, I wouldn’t be anywhere without my loyal clients.
In conclusion, being a mobile groomer is hard work, but very much rewarding. I’m extremely grateful for all the success that followed the hard work!
- Address: 5 mile radius around West LA
- Website: mesogroomie.com
- Phone: 310-709-1588
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Knut Egil Wang (www.knutegilwang.com)