From a corporate office to a mobile dog-grooming van may seem like a demotion, but for Miki Chan, San Francisco Bay Area owner/operator of SpaGo Dog and former insuranceindustry underwriter, it was a huge step up. For 15+ years, Chan devoted her time to the demands of her job. Then one day, her supervisor, who previously had worked for AIG for 25 years and lost most of his net worth when it collapsed, advised her to do what she loved. Taking his advice to heart, she began to plan a way to return to her dog-grooming roots.
Chan had grown up with dogs, and when she was in college earning a degree in computer science with a minor in business, had a part-time job with a groomer, and loved it. So she went back to grooming school, got certified and worked for others to update her skills. Her financial background and marketing insights led her to believe that people would support a grooming salon that came to them. Plus, she didn’t like putting dogs in cages, as happens in most brick-andmortar operations. A mobile set-up would be quiet, personal, relaxing and clean—spa-like, you might say.
Chan finds working with dogs to be joyful, and is gratified that she’s been able to help them by sharing information with their owners on brushing, dental care, and health issues that the grooming process can reveal, such as lumps, skin tags, ear infections and so on.
Besides the sheer pleasure of working with dogs, she’s also glad that she no longer has to deal with office politics, plead for time off or spend endless hours for the benefit of corporate shareholders. We asked if she had any tips for others considering a career change, particularly self-employment, and she shared a few with us. Before jumping, Chan recommends that people be sure they can support their preferred lifestyle (whatever that might be) without their previous paycheck. She also points out that knowing your target audience is crucial, as are time-management and customer-service skills. And being knowledgeable about what you’re doing is key to building trust.
The insurance world’s loss has been the dog world’s gain, and we’d bet the planet’s happiness quotient has gone up a few points as well.
Do you find that people are comfortable with the concept of a mobile groomer?
New clients are often unsure about our service … lots of worries and lots of questions. But once we put them at ease about the process, the wall comes down and you see them relax, and they’re happy to hand over their dog.
What’s a typical grooming session like?
The dogs are usually calm and relaxed. There are no other dogs to disturb them and they are not in a cage. I can sense they feel comfortable, as they can see their home right outside our van. While I’m grooming, I usually talk to the dogs about current issues or sing some song that’s stuck in my head. Yesterday, it was Call Me Maybe.
When it comes to nail trimming, black nails can be really difficult. What do you advise?
If the nails haven’t been trimmed for a while—two months or more—the quick may have grown closer to the tip, so trim slowly and take off just a bit at a time. Look for a black dot on the underneath of the nail; that’s where the quick ends. (See hqbullies.com for an excellent diagram of a dog’s nail.) And if you’re too anxious, have your vet or a groomer do it. (Editor’s note: Miki also puts the dogs up on a table; as groomer Robyn Michaels observed in our Summer 2012 issue, tables are enormously helpful, because being even a foot off the floor shifts dogs to a different mindset.)
What kinds of things do you see most often?
I see a lot of dogs each month and it seems to me that they have more lumps and skin tags than normal. I can’t speculate what’s causing it, but most of the clients I speak to about it have put flea products on their dogs for years.