From Groomer to SAGE

Chuck Simons, inventor of the Groomers Helper safety and positioning system and a popular grooming industry speaker, has come a long way over the past three decades.

When Chuck Simons bought a small grooming salon in Ventnor City, N.J., for his wife Beth in 1985, he knew that they were setting off on an adventure to follow her passion for working with pets. What he probably did not know, however, was just how much he would share in that passion—so much so, in fact, that he would end up building a 30-year career in the grooming industry. During that span, Simons has gone from helping his wife out as a bather in her salon to inventing a popular safety and positioning system for groomers to putting his ample experience to work as a widely respected grooming industry sage who helps others in the field.

While he has worn several hats throughout his time in the grooming world, Simons first role was that of cheerleader to Beth. Upon seeing how much satisfaction that she derived from working as a bather at a local veterinary clinic, he was the one who encouraged her to pursue a career in grooming. “After bathing 18 dogs for minimum wage, she would come home happy and singing,” Simons explains. “I said, ‘How many people find their passion? Beth, go out and become a groomer.’”

After graduating from grooming school, Beth got only a few months of experience working as a professional pet stylist before Simons was pushing her into the next phase of her career with the purchase of The Pet Salon. However, he would not make her face this new challenge alone. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves to work side by side with his wife to get the fledgling business off the ground.

“It had two grooming tables, one commercial stainless steel kitchen-type sink and a bunch of Vari Kennels, and we turned into a growing business,” says Simons. “I was her bather the first year, and she taught me how to groom—I’m not a finish groomer, but she taught me how to do clean faces, feet and tails.”

Over the next 15 years, Simons helped his wife build The Pet Salon into a thriving business. Eventually moving from its 350-square-foot location to a state-of-the-art 3,500 -square-foot facility in nearby Margate, the salon was working on 40 to 50 dogs per day, six days a week. “Beth became a nationally certified master groomer,” says Simons. “We had three tubs and eight tables, and quite a crew.”

Then, one day in 2000, Simons received a package that would prove inspirational. It was from the Alpha M Corporation, and it contained a clamp that was designed to adapt Gentle Leader Headcollars for use on a grooming table—the Alpha Lock. Immediately understanding that “you can’t groom a dog with a halter over its muzzle,” he instead hooked the Alpha Lock to the grooming loop, and the seeds for the Groomers Helper were planted.

 “Low and behold, those dogs calmed right down,” says Simons. “They found their footprint, they knew where they lived. One person could do the nails on most dogs, without fear of being bitten. I just loved them.”

When the product that paired the Alpha Lock with the Gentle Leader Headcollar didn’t take off, Simons ended up acquiring the manufacturer’s 300 remaining clamps, as well as the patents on them. He used them to recreate the safety restraint system he was utilizing in his salon and brought them to what turned out to be a receptive market. “The first grooming expo we went to, we sold all 300 of them,” he says.

Simons branded his product the Groomers Helper and set out to refine the design. Subsequent clamps were made from stainless steel, instead of aluminum, to add durability. The  new construction also allowed him to offer customers a lifetime guarantee. “[The guarantee is] on everything but the tether and the loop, because they’re made of nylon and need to be replaced every once in awhile,” says Simons.

Unlike traditional grooming loops, the Groomers Helper is designed to divert pressure away from a dog’s throat. The system’s one-way tether can easily be tightened by groomers to provide the appropriate range of motion for the dog they are working on. Dogs quickly learn their limitations under the restraint, giving up the fight and standing still to allow for efficient and safe grooming.

“I would say that 80 to 90 percent of pets in a grooming salon just don’t want to be there,” says Simons. “The Groomers Helper is the great equalizer, because now groomers don’t have to over-handle those pets, which cuts down injuries to pets tremendously. It also helps groomers work with less stress and put out a better product, because they’re not worried about being bitten.”

The Groomers Helper proved popular with its intended audience out of the gate, but Simons continued seeking to improve the product. Soliciting feedback from groomers was helpful in this regard. “At the grooming shows, we listened to groomers,” he says. “One of the complaints that they had was that sometimes they would get a big dog on the table, start to brush or demat the hind end, and the dog would sit down. So, we came up with the no-sit part of the Groomers Helper.”

The Groomers Helper is available in a basic Starter Set, which comes with a clamp and loop; an Upgrade Set that includes another Starter Set, as well as an extra arm and clamp set; and a Professional Set, which comprises two Starter Sets, two table clamps and two mini arms. They range in price from $124.95 for the Starter Set to $324.95 for the Professional Set. Each comes with a free training DVD.

While the classic Groomers Helper quickly gained broad acceptance from professional groomers around the world, Simons recently noticed a need in the market for a more-affordable version of the system. That was the inspiration behind the creation of the Groomers Helper Essential. “I saw people trying to make their own [Groomers Helper],” he says. “So we decided to knock ourselves off [by making a less-expensive version].”

The Groomers Helper Essential works basically the same way as the original system, with the biggest difference being that the clamp is made from molded plastic instead of stainless steel. This is what makes the Essential set a less-expensive option. As a result, it is only for use on dogs less than 45 pounds. Simons says that it is a particularly good fit for grooming student kits, as well as professionals just starting out in the business.

Not content with simply sitting back to reap the rewards of building a thriving grooming salon and inventing an industry-leading safety system, Simons decided to put his decades of experience in the grooming world to good use by becoming an industry speaker and consultant. Billing himself as the SAGE—Salon and Grooming Expert—Simons regularly holds seminars at grooming industry events to advise experienced and novice professionals alike on how to make the most of their businesses. The information he provides runs the gamut from how to price a salon’s services to trends in the industry to planning for retirement—all with the goal of helping gromers to become better in business.

The role of grooming industry SAGE is one that Simons has embraced like no other—in large part because he feels that it fills a vast need in the market. “Doing trade shows year after year, you learn what most groomers know and don’t know,” he explains, noting that most groomers are artists who get into the business to follow their passion for working with animals—like Beth—and not necessarily to operate a business.

Looking forward, Simons says that he is contemplating the possibility of selling The Pet Salon, in order to start enjoying a quasi-retirement. However, he has no plans on leaving the grooming industry altogether. In fact, he is currently working on a new game-changing invention that could be launched rather soon, and has an even bigger expansion of the Groomers Helper brand in sight further down the road.

And when it comes to doling out SAGE advice, there is no end in sight for Simons. “As long as show producers keep inviting me [to speak], I will be there,” he says.

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