Puppy salons are one of the most ubiquitous examples of Japan’s pet beauty obsession. They’re almost as common in the high-end neighbourhoods of Tokyo as regular beauty salons, and are equally as stylishly designed.
Having opened the shop in 1997, Shigetomo is a veteran with 21 years experience in the industry. In a previous life, he worked long hours in the retail world; this experience was in part the catalyst for starting DogMan: “When I was super busy with the apparel business, I wasn’t able to take very good care of my dog I had at the time. This disappointment [with] myself led me to want to work with dogs, and I decided to become a dog groomer.”
The pet beauty industry in Japan is very serious business. According to recent reports, the country is one of the highest spenders in the world when it comes to pet pampering, and it’s growing. According to the Yano Research Institute in Tokyo, in the eight years between 2008 and 2016 alone, the pet product market has grown 10%, hitting over 1.47 trillion yen (£10 billion) annually.
Theories about the country’s intense love affair with their non-human companions has been growing for years. When you add a declining birthrate and compact living spaces to the common experience of long-term singledom, it means that in the city it’s more likely you’ll witness a pampered lap dog dressed up in Dior getting pushed around in a stroller than an actual human child.
Becoming a great dog groomer is just like being a hairdresser: technical skill is important but so is a sense of creativity and an ability to forecast trends. “I became good at finding original styles for each dog I trim”, explains Shigetomo. “I realized this was my style when I was a student: I came up with an original look for my toy poodle named Natty. This was around 25 years ago. The ‘Natty style’ cut for toy poodles became popular in Japan, and this was a beginning of DogMan.”
Japan has been home to some pretty unique dog hair trends over the years. It may sound weird, but according to Shigetomo, “Various cuts go into style and become trends in Tokyo.” One particular unforgettable moment in puppy fashion history was in 2015 when fluffy dog owners started getting their dogs’ hair cut into perfect squares.
However, for the DogMan, team originality and timelessness is key. “We have always been about a natural look. A look that is original and matches each dog and their family. We generally don’t do radical or colorful cuts, but tailor a look that’s most natural for that particular dog.”
Like artists in any field, the team at DogMan are always on the lookout for new inspiration. “Our staff draw inspiration from creative things like music, movies and the great outdoors. Their technique is developed and inspired by getting to know the dogs and their families.”
Hanging out with dogs all day sounds like a pretty great gig, and compared to the fast-paced, hard sell-focused world of retail, it’s been a big change of pace for Shigetomo. Keeping the salon calm, staying loyal to the regular customers and not overreaching is important to the DogMan team. Part of the way the salon has managed this balance of a relaxed pace and efficiency is by training staff to adhere to one specific salon style.
“There was a point in my career when I was overwhelmed with regular customers. This was when we started our policy of not having individual trimmers by request but creating our DogMan look as a whole salon in general. We have about 450 regular customers, which is not a huge number, but they are all satisfied and loyal to the styles we create for them as a team.”
Playing with dogs sounds like a walk in the park, but what about those cheeky pups that don’t like haircuts? “We have very few dogs that don’t like being trimmed”, says Shigetomo. “Our dogs are often with us all day and enjoy playing and communicating with our staff and other dogs. They also seem to look forward to the joyous pick-up of their owners who always praise their cut.”
The DogMan salon is located in CLASKA, a hospitality, retail, art and entertainment complex in the central, rather upmarket neighbourhood of Meguro. The stylish salon is home to a rotating roster of employees’ pups including Shigetomo’s own. “I live with two medium poodles and a miniature labradoodle. We we also have many other dogs that live with our trimmers, like a border terrier, a medium and standard labradoodle, a Japanese Chin, and Brussels griffons.”
When asked if he’d ever franchise the name to, say, accommodate felines, Shigetomo admitted he considered it, but has decided to stick to what he does best. “We actually once thought about trying a CatMan, but it was a no go.”
To see more of DogMan’s work, follow their adorable Instagram page: @dogmantokyo.