Industry events can be a great place for professional groomers to refine their skills, shop for equipment and supplies, and recharge their batteries—provided they can find the time and money to get there.
Here we are at the dawn of a new year, a traditional time for resolving to make changes and plans for the weeks and months ahead. But while most people are concerned with personal goals—weight loss or new life directions—it is important that you remember to include career resolutions. Whether your business is mobile, house-call or salon based, whether it has a bit of a lull in the beginning of the new year or not, it’s still a good time to review your business plan and set professional goals for the year ahead.
One of those goals should definitely be to go to as many trade shows, seminars and as possible throughout the year. Doing so will go a long way in ensuring the ongoing success of your business by expanding your knowledge base, sharpening your grooming skills and making valuable connections. Of course, it won’t be easy—after all, there is a lot to do back at the home base—but it is possible with the right planning. In many cases, it is downright necessary for a long and prosperous career.
“I hate hearing someone say they can’t close their shop for three days to go to a show, or afford to let a couple of employees attend,” says Scott ‘Mr. Terrier’ Wasserman, a respected professional, competitive and show groomer who has also served as a certifier and grooming competition judge. “I wouldn’t still be grooming if it weren’t for grooming shows.”
Honing Your Craft
Continuing education seems to be a theme that I keep coming back to lately. While researching a recent article on salon design, the most important piece of advice given by salon design expert Scott Learned, president of Design Learned, Inc., was that groomers should look for every opportunity to learn as much as possible about their segment of the industry. That means going to lectures, seminars and classes to hear other professionals speak. Looking at one competing business—or even five—will not be sufficient for educating yourself on salon design, or anything else for that matter.
The business of professional groomers is often, by its nature, isolating. Mobile groomers typically work alone or maybe with one other person, and even in a traditional salon environment, where a groomer may be working with several other people, you will likely have learned everyone else’s way of doing things in a fairly short time, and then the learning slows.
When you attend an industry event, on the other hand, you never know what you might learn or how it will affect you. For example, I first learned about recirculating bathing systems years ago at a grooming trade show, and mine has saved me untold amounts of time, shampoo and back pain.
Teri DiMarino, speaker, judge and president of the California Professional Pet Groomers Association, certainly knows the value that attending industry events can provide in expanding a groomer’s education. “I’ve never gone to a show where I wasn’t able to teach someone something, and I’ve never gone to a show where I didn’t learn something from someone,” she says.
Julie Rust, NCMG, owner/stylist at The Fluffy Ruff on Bainbridge Island, Wash., finds the many structured educational opportunities offered at industry events to be particularly valuable in helping her to hone her craft—much to the benefit of her clients. “I like to attend classes and demos to help lock in patterns in my head, and pick up new ways to look at or do things,” she says. “I want to be worth my prices to my customers.”
However, learning is not limited to the classes and grooming demos that can be found at industry events. Grooming professionals from all over the world go to shows to learn and to share what they know—and that even extends beyond the confines of the show. I’ve personally gotten some awesome tips on grooming and procedures in the café at the hotel.
Let’s not neglect another huge reason to go to trade shows—to buy stuff.
“I go to trade shows to see if there are new tools or products that can help me do a better job faster,” says Rust, noting that she tries to stay at the host hotel because it allows her to quickly put purchases in her room and return to the show.
While we can all certainly justify most of our purchases at a show as a means for improving our businesses by helping us groomer faster or more comfortably, let’s face it—it’s also just fun to shop.
For Lori Monian, grooming salon manager at Trailblazer Pet Supply in Chico, Calif., all of the opportunities that trade shows offer to improve her business add up to one compelling proposition. “I love attending trade shows,” she says. “I like to browse and purchase the newest tools and consumables, and check out the competitions and demos. Plus, the opportunity to take classes from some of the best groomers in the world isn’t something I can pass up.”
At the end of the day, though, one of the most important reasons to attend industry events cannot be easily measured by how many new techniques you’ve learned or how much time a new piece of equipment will save you. The power that these shows have to renew your passion for your craft cannot be overstated. It is downright exciting talking to people that think the way you do, have the same goals and care about pets the way you do.
That sense of camaraderie can’t really be obtained anywhere but at a gathering of like-minded professionals. It really helps recharge the batteries, which can keep your enthusiasm high once you get home, helping prevent burnout. The more you enjoy what you do, the better you will be at it and the longer you will stay happy in your chosen vocation.
Another great way to stave off burnout is by taking a little extra time off before or after an industry event. Many shows are held in areas with serious vacation potential, from big cities to amusement parks to historic tours. Why not bring the family and make it a vacation?
That is what Daryl Conner, a multiple award winning Master Pet Stylist and Master Cat Groomer and owner of FairWinds Grooming Studio in Appleton, Maine, does.“In the past, when I have traveled to trade shows across the country to speak and do demonstrations, my husband has sometimes come along with me,” she says. “He would sight see during the day, then we were able to spend our evenings together. We ratcheted this up a notch in 2015, when I was invited to be the speaker on a Barkleigh Groom Cruise. My husband and our daughter joined me for a wonderful nine-day adventure. I never imagined a career in grooming would take me all the places it has, or that our little family could have fun trips on the tail of my grooming-related jaunts.”
Of course, finding the motivation to attend an industry event is the easy part. Much harder is finding the time and resources to get there. While some people are fortunate enough to live near a good show—for example, Jackie Horan, a groomer at the PetSmart in Lake Mary, Fla., goes to the Fun in the Sun show in Orlando, which is less than an hour away—many groomers say they simply can’t afford to go to shows, as they are too far or expensive, and they can’t take the time off.
So what do you do if you don’t live within an easy drive of a show? How can you afford to go? Well, it will take some careful planning and saving, so this is a great time to start formulating a show strategy.
Step one is to make a wish list. Look at what trade shows will be held throughout the year to figure out which ones offer the aspects important to you. Which ones offer seminars on topics that you need to learn more about, or breeds that you need to improve on? If you plan on adding retail this year, check out shows that concentrate on consumer products. Do you plan on purchasing a lot of equipment or starting a salon? Find one with a lot of vendors.
Many groomers go to several shows a year. For example, Jessica Greelish, a groomer at Club Canine Spa and Dog Wash in Portsmouth, N.H., tries to attend as many as she can. “I go to several seminars a year, because I feel that continuing my grooming education is very important,” she says, noting that she sets aside most of her cash tips throughout the year to fund the trips.
Liz Tunstall, owner/groomer at The Groom Room in Veneta, Ore., goes to at least one industry event each year, and this year she went to two. She can afford this, she says, by working one extra day every week for a month.
Saving tips and working extra hours is a common way to save up money to get to shows, but you can expand on that. Here are just a few ideas:
- Share with your customers what you are doing. For example, a sign that says, “All tips during December will be used for continuing education to benefit your pet!” could increase your tips.
- One groomer puts away every $5 bill that comes her way—whether in business or not—to fund her show attendance. The old change jar trick is still useful, too.
- Try dedicating the income from all Schnauzers or another common breed to your “show fund” until you have enough to get where you want to go.
- Just plain saving a set amount every week also works. If you put away just $20 a week starting now, next year you will probably have class fees at a big show, airfare and a couple of nights at a hotel covered.
- I once offered a regular customer a 20-percent discount if she would pay ahead for a year of grooming. Perhaps that is not ideal, but it will put cash in your hand. The point is, be creative.
Keep in mind that for many grooming professionals, this type of expense can be written off at tax time, so check with your accountant.
While Lori Monian of Trailblazer Pet Supply saves her tips to fund her purchases at trade shows, the owner of Trailblazer pays for all the classes she attends. Business owners take note—this is a great way to educate and inspire your staff while showing your customers how much you care. Most shows provide certificates of attendance that can be framed and put on the wall, or a simple press release will show that you are invested in staying up to date in your craft.
If you can’t afford to take all of your employees, perhaps create a rotation for who goes. Or offer to pay for classes if they get themselves there. Closing the salon for a day or two is a small price to pay for what you will gain in increased enthusiasm, work ethic and knowledge among your staff.
Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. A pet product expert for PetEdge, she and her husband Glenn now own Two Canines Pet Services in Montville, Maine, which provides grooming, boarding, training and day care services to Waldo County.