If your fluffy Bichon Frize was born to walk the red carpet, or if your long-haired Lhasa Apso could pull off a Farrah Fawcett style, the new Salty Dawg Pet Salon franchise might be their place.
Its founders are also involved with the Paul Mitchell Schools, a long-running franchise that trains 14,000 hairdressers (mostly for people) a year. Now, Salty Dawg is targeting some of those stylists to transition to dogs.
“We have found that many of our students and graduates love, love, love animals. Sometimes they like working with animals more than people,” said Winn Claybaugh, co-founder of Salty Dawg, which had three stores open and nine in development as of midsummer.
The story dates back to 1980 when two friends, celebrity hairstylist Paul Mitchell and John Paul DeJoria, now a self-made billionaire, took out a $700 loan to launch a hair care system with three products. Today, John Paul Mitchell Systems sells more than 100 products in 80 countries.
Then in 2000, Claybaugh, DeJoria and Angus Mitchell, sons of the late Paul Mitchell, established the Paul Mitchell Schools with one location; today there are more than 110.
Enter John Kanski, a Paul Mitchell Schools franchisee with locations in Illinois, Texas, Georgia and Wisconsin, who is CEO and also co-owner of Salty Dawg. In 2018 they started working on the concept, with the slogan “Pet Differently”, and in May 2022 launched the franchise program. The investment cost ranges from $200,000 to $400,000.
Kanski says sourcing talent from Paul Mitchell Schools is a natural fit. “There are decades of producing an army of loyal, wonderful people who have come through our school system, so we have talent in search.”
Also, “we have the ability to create training material, it’s really essential. A lot of people get lost in their careers, how they fit in. People need to feel that they are improving.
Human hairdressers and dog groomers are hard to find. “Any grooming business will say they’re understaffed and struggling to find talent. We have people post-COVID saying, “I’m just going to quit.” You better believe it’s impacting the dog grooming business, too,” says Claybaugh, whose biography says he espouses a “Be Nice” work ethos and strives to incorporate “the inclusion and acceptance” as core values.
“We focus on three basic human needs. People need to feel safe. People need to feel like they have a purpose. And people need to feel like they belong. If a franchisee, owner, boss, manager focuses on these basic human needs, they will retain their team members,” says Claybaugh.
“In any type of business, whenever there is a problem, that problem happens because relationships have broken down. And we believe that relationships break down because of a lack of communication, end of the story,” he adds. “It’s built into our systems that we communicate. The old school dictates, controls, controls people. It’s a type of business that people are going to leave.
Kanski said “of course” some human hair stylists will think dog grooming is inferior to them, but perhaps many will prefer pets. “I want people from my school to go out and do amazing things in the beauty and hair industry. And many of them are. They work on the catwalks, they work on the editorial. It is only an option. It’s just something for people who like it, they have the skills’ to give dogs what they desire.
But isn’t the groomer really trying to please the pet’s owner? “Absolutely, but the animal tells the parent so much without speaking,” he says.
When asked if dogs have “it” haircuts, like “the Rachel” made popular by Jennifer Aniston on the TV show “Friends,” Kanski laughs. “That would be so cool, wouldn’t it?” But most of the care at Salty Dawg is for maintenance and health. “We really focus on what we call the lifestyle groom,” although sometimes the pet — or maybe the pet’s parent — wants something spectacular.
“I’ve seen cutting-edge work where they shave designs: I’ve seen one with a dolphin that’s been built on that pet’s back. I saw one that was the Elvis. It can get a little crazy.