Comrades with the Competition

By Emily Rupe

For the past decade, I’ve made my living in the bustling metro area of the all–mighty Mickey Mouse.  With hundreds of physical storefronts and an additional slew of mobile units, one might think that—due to the immense local competition—Guerilla grooming warfare was either in full swing or lurking in the eminent future.

Now, while there will always be a few isolated incidents of cutthroat tactics, for the most part, this local cluster of groomers has decided to form a UN of good will and be comrades with the competition. Despite the conventional belief that such actions are career suicide, our local legion has continued to benefit from denouncing isolation and choosing community.

Our industry can be feast or famine. During certain seasons, there aren’t enough hours in the day or kennels to tackle the load, and then six months later the clients dry up; off enjoying the sandy beaches and lavish vacations. During these cycles of flood and drought, it can prove to be a challenge to keep one’s employees on some form of consistent pay. In addition to the normal ebb and flow of clients, there is always the risk of injury that looms. What happens if the lead groomer suffers a bad bite or needs surgery?

Being on good terms with our competition has gotten us out of this type of bind numerous times. Knowing good help is hard to find, one of the first steps has always been to contact our grooming buddies and see if they know of anyone looking (either through colleagues or an overabundance of recent job applicants), or have anyone they could send over temporarily to help us weather the storm.

This can allow groomers to make some extra wages during the slow season by helping out at another shop that is in dire need or allow a medical issue to be addressed without complete financial devastation. Of course this type of measure comes with the trust and understanding that the favor may need to be returned one day and that client information is not privy to the sharing process.

When it’s not the labor force it’s the tools that can create a crisis. I remember, with great anxiety, one December when every force dryer in the building (three to be exact) banded together and went on strike at the same time. With a barrage of holiday clients and double coated projects, production came to a panicked halt while a solution was trying to be drafted. Quickly an SOS was put out to the local fellow groomers. Like a beacon in the night, within an hour we had 2 replacement dryers borrowed, delivered and set up, thanks to their generosity. Of course this has, in turn, been reciprocated as much as possible. And on that particular instance, a plethora of holiday goodies found their way to their shop that season. But by humbling ourselves, asking for help and then having an olive branch extended, clients weren’t angered by inability to service and our register didn’t take a fatal blow.

Moments of crisis and turmoil are not the only reason to form a bond with those around you. With the goal of strengthening this coalition, we’ve often held social events, further education seminars or outreached over a community service project. One year, the group met at a central location to have a swap meet. This allowed us to not only catch up, share grievances or ideas, but get rid of some unused equipment that may have just been collecting dust or pick up a slightly used item for a bargain. Personally, I came home with a treasure trove of instructional videos in exchange for some handmade bows. It was like groomer Christmas!

Our region is blessed to have many of the top competitive groomers and industry educators, and with that comes ample opportunity to always broaden one’s horizons. When a seminar event is being held, all the local shops receive an invitation; allowing the host to boost their attendance and the attendee to gather a new insight on a particular topic.

Together we help transport or locate dogs for competition or certification. When an uncertain situation or merely a need for constructive criticism arises, graciously, advice or assistance is offered without a second thought. When one of us has a service project or event, it’s not uncommon to have our competition offer donations or manpower to further the cause.

For instance, my shop works with an inmate dog training program, which allows shelter dogs to be trained for PTSD suffering veterans. Upon hearing what we were accomplishing, our fellow groomers offered to bring supply donations or display flyers to support this cause.

From this pay–it–forward attitude, awesome pet food drives and adoption events have also sprung throughout the community. Instead of hoarding PR for the sake of individual shop glory, a wider audience is reached and far more is accomplished toward the cause….which should truly be the goal.

It’s true that each shop has a goal of growth and individuality. However, over the years we’ve all learned that there are plenty of clients to go around and being at war accomplishes nothing. There is room for each shop to flourish with their own talents, strengths and marketing without having to step on the others to succeed. No two shops offer the same experience, so why try to undercut or sabotage? My clients want what I offer and, in turn, the others have loyalists that desire their unique flavor.

In truth, we’ve created our own support network to allow all of us to grow and, heck, even warned each other of roaming problem clients that might end up on each other’s doorstep. In essence, we are a union or band of grooming brothers (or sisters) that, together, wage war against an always evolving economy and industry. ✂

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