Home >Companies >Past, Present, Future | Sanjeev and Preeti Kumar: The dog groomers

New Delhi: Splayed on her back, while a stylist shaves her stomach, Baxi looks bored and more than a little disgruntled. Her ennui seems reasonable: she has been rotating patiently on the grooming table for over an hour, while her paws and tail are clipped delicately with expensive American stylist’s scissors, gazing at her fellow Maltese terrier, Scooby, as he is bathed, scrubbed and blow-dried into a similar state of pristine fluffiness.

Pampering pets: Sanjeev and Preeti Kumar at work at their Scooby Scrub salon. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint.

Scooby and Baxi are making their fortnightly visit to Scoopy Scrub, a chain of pet salons started by Preeti and Sanjeev Kumar in 2007 based in the genteel environs of Neeti Bagh in south Delhi.

Preeti and Sanjeev left their jobs, as a primary school teacher and banker, respectively, to start the business after Sanjeev walked into a pet shop in Connaught Place on his lunch break one day in 2005 and decided there was a gap in the market for a high-end pet accessory supplier and salon.

“We are pioneers in this particular field, as far as Delhi and the NCR goes," says Sanjeev, as exuberant and well-groomed as the glossy yellow labrador that has taken Baxi’s place on the grooming table. “Grooming did not exist as much five or six years back. Indians have always been pet lovers, but now people want to try out different breeds." NCR is short for the National Capital Region centred on Delhi.

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For Preeti and Sanjeev, the step from owning a pet shop to becoming certified dog groomers was an obvious one. “What grooming did was add the glamour to the industry, so that’s when a lot of people started entering the field. A lot of pet shops started offering grooming services after us."

They travelled to Thailand to train and imported the necessary equipment (washers, blow-driers and expensive shears) from the US and China. “Each blade costs 6,000-7,000 and gives only 10 or 12 cuts, so it’s about 600 per cut for the blade alone." The prices are high, sometimes higher than you might pay in a salon for humans, and they depend on the size of the animal: 50-100 for a simple teeth clean and up to 4,000 for a “show groom", which sounds a bit like what a bride goes through on her wedding day—aromatherapy conditioning bath, hygiene and “intensive breed-specific hairstyling".

The demand needed some nurturing—it took about six months to build up the first group of clients, according to Preeti, and a year and a half to break even—but appears to be growing, if only in urban centres. Scoopy Scrub now has five salons in Delhi-NCR, with three or four more planned in Gurgaon, north Delhi and Dwarka; franchisees exist in Jaipur, Hyderabad and Pune. The Kumars are in discussions for 40-45 new franchisees all over India and hope to have 20-25 in operation by 2012. “We are still expanding and whatever we are making now is getting invested," says Sanjeev. “I would say in four-five years, business should be good."

“There is a change now, a few years back, all these small breeds were not here, so everybody used to have a spitz, which they called a pomeranian, or a doberman or a dalmatian or a labrador," he reels off the names of the breeds with the enthusiasm of an expert, “But then, everybody travelled abroad and started getting pets from there. The Internet has played an active role; people could explore more and they wanted different breeds." And catering to these exotic preferences, the Kumars do breed-specific grooming.

“There are different kinds of cocker spaniels and different cuts. So, for example, an English cocker spaniel would have an English cut, and similarly an American would have a different style. A poodle is a groomer’s delight; they have many different styles," explains Sanjeev, indicating to the before and after photographs of shaggy balls of hair transformed into canine beauty queens that plaster the salon walls. “A few particular breeds will stand for hours getting groomed; they will go to sleep standing."

Sanjeev thinks the popularity of handbag-size lap dogs—chihuahuas, toy poodles, Shih Tzus and Yorkshire terriers, popularized in the US by celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie—has inevitably begun to filter through to Indian pet owners.

“A lot of people are moving on to smaller breeds," he says. “Whatever happens in the West percolates down 20-25 years later in India. It’s a status symbol. A lot of pet owners, I would say 70%, are not real pet lovers—they want a pet just because they think they should have one."

In Delhi, where nuclear families are increasingly the norm and working couples have begun to have children later, owning a show dog is becoming more popular. “There are societies in more expensive areas that say that if you want to buy a house, you cannot have a pet, or it must be small, so pets such as pugs and chihuahuas don’t bark much and don’t create a nuisance."

Preeti says the salon has expanded its services far beyond grooming now. Pet handling, teeth brushing, massages are also on offer, as are classes in how to groom an animal. “We do spas, with aromatherapy shampoo and oils, cutting and colouring as well, usually on white breeds like Maltese."

“Then came the dog shows," says Sanjeev. “Pets groomed by us are in shows all over India. A few years back, the judging field in India was not concerned about the grooming aspect, although all across the world, grooming is a main aspect when it comes to judging shows. In India, it used to be about only their physical attributes and not how they looked, so we were able to introduce that."

Not everyone wants a toy dog though. Scoopy Scrub is attached to the animal sanctuary, Friendicoes, and it often supplied Delhi street dogs to families who want an “Indian breed". “They are very intelligent," says Sanjeev. “I’ve always been a big dog guy, I have always had big dogs, but my daughters have now made me buy all small breeds." The Kumars’ household is a “mini zoo". The family has 10 pet dogs—two boxers, four toy poodles, a Maltese, a Bedlington terrier, a Cairn terrier and a Shi Tzu—as well as rabbits, fish and cockatiels at home. “They are more faithful than humans," says Preeti.

To Sanjeev’s evident delight, his two young daughters, who are six and eight, have taken to the business naturally. “We got back home from one of our weekends away, and they had groomed all their stuffed toys," he says. “And believe it or not, we had never taught them anything at all, and there was a proper puppy cut, given proper styling. She had made those ponies, everything; they could be turning out groomers."

The series is concluded.

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