Groom Expo ’18: It’s the People’s Choice!

By Kathy Hosler

A record–breaking 5,700 groomers recently gathered at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania to attend Groom Expo–the largest grooming show in the world.

What is so special about Groom Expo that groomers close their businesses and travel great distances to attend? From day one, Groom Expo has focused on the needs and wants of the everyday groomer. Whether it’s the first time attendee hungry for knowledge, or the seasoned veterans who come to recharge their batteries, network with peers and keep abreast of everything that is happening in our industry—the seminars, competitions and Trade Show have something for everyone.

If you have never been to Groom Expo, the thought of so many people might be a bit overwhelming. But you need not worry. Several times each day there is a “Newbie” tour. Attendees are guided through the show to help them familiarize themselves with the layout and to meet other first–timers. Many lasting Expo friendships began with a Newbie tour.

Interacting with fellow pet care professionals to further their careers and build a successful business is another reason people attend Groom Expo.

“The coolest thing about our industry is that it can be whatever you want it to be,” says Melissa Verplank, owner of the Paragon School of Pet Grooming and Learn2GroomDogs.com. “If you just want to work a couple of days a week—or if you want to have a fleet of mobile grooming vans, you can. Ours is a profession that can go with you. You can travel the world and find grooming work almost anywhere.”

“You get out of it what you put into it,” Melissa continues. “Education is everything if you want to move your career ahead.”

Educational programs and seminars at Groom Expo are geared toward groomers in every stage of their career. The all–day Brusher Bather Certificate Program presented by Teri DiMarino drew a huge crowd, eager to learn about the tools, techniques and products that could take their careers to new heights.

You don’t have to be a new groomer to benefit from the Barkeligh Pet First Aid & CPR Certification course that was presented by Jill Pipino. “We all know that accidents and pet medical issues can happen in any grooming establishment,” says Jill. “Learning how to quickly assess the situation, and knowing what to do in an emergency, could make a life or death difference for the pet in your care.”

Customer service skills are of the utmost importance for every pet care professional. Amy Castro’s seminar, Customer Service Survival Skills, centered on how to avoid, diffuse or handle difficult situations. “If there is a conflict with a client, you can be the gasoline or the water,” Castro says. Amy outlined specific steps to take to resolve issues in a calm and positive manner, then she added, “You’ve got to manage your emotions. Customers can only push your buttons if you hand over the remote.”

There were dozens of additional seminars covering creative coloring, mobile grooming, coat and skin issues, breed styling, business topics, and many more.

“When it comes to education,” says Sam Kohl, owner of Aaronco Pet Products, “Every morsel you pick up is like money in the bank. Every technique and tip that you learn, you will use over and over.”

One of the best places to get those tips and techniques is at the grooming competition ring. Some of the most gorgeous dogs on the planet were on the stage. All throughout the weekend, groomers of all skill levels put their talents to work. Whether it was first–timers eager to hone their skills, or seasoned competitors trying to earn a place on GroomTeam, they were giving it their all.

Attendees could watch the competitors from start to finish. Groomer TV had a huge screen that broadcasted close–ups of each stylist as they worked, which allowed the spectators to see all the products and techniques they used to achieve their final groom.

In addition to all the seminars and grooming competitions, there is always a wealth of education and knowledge to be found at the Trade Show. There were over 170 booths stocked with everything from the newest slicker brush to a complete mobile salon on wheels.

“There are things that you never get to see unless you go to a Trade Show,” shares groomer and speaker, Mary Oquendo. “I love to try new things that may make my life and work easier.” Mary’s thoughts were echoed by thousands of groomers who flooded the Trade Show floor with their ‘wish lists’ in hand, in search of new products, salon equipment and show specials.

Grooming demos, comparing products and equipment, networking with your peers, talking with manufacturers, it’s endless…you could easily spend the entire Expo in the Trade Show.

But, if you spent all your time there, you might miss out on the fun and food. Groomers work hard, and at the opening night Groom of Thrones Ball, it was clearly evident that they can socialize and play with unmatched enthusiasm. An enormous fire–breathing dragon welcomed kings and queens, and knights and damsels as they took to the dance floor and made the walls reverberate with laughter and music.

Dining at the Expo was a treat in itself. Where else but in Hershey are you served fabulous meals and all things chocolate (including chocolate butter)? At the end of each luncheon, Mr. B and his staff provided hilarious entertainment, and groomer contestants who participated in the festivities were rewarded with prizes.

Saturday evening was packed with events from start to finish. It began with an amazing banquet that was expertly prepared by the award–winning Hershey Lodge chefs. Immediately after the meal was the GroomOlympics Best In Show Awards. Throughout the weekend, GroomOlympics tournaments were held and the winner of each tournament was recognized on the ballroom stage. They then competed against each other for the title of the Wahl World Champion. The 2018 Best In Show winner was Michelle Breen with her spectacular Standard Poodle.

Then it was on to the E–Z Groom Abstract Creative Runway Competition. Twelve stylists presented their beautifully sculpted entries on the ballroom runway, and first place went to a gorgeous Standard Poodle that was sculpted and entered by Adriane Pope.

Next was the focal point of the evening, the Barkleigh Honors Awards. “The goal of the Barkleigh Honors Awards is to recognize the groomers and those involved in the grooming world who go above and beyond in their contributions to our industry,” says Todd Shelly, president of Barkleigh Productions.

Many of the nominees and winners of these prestigious awards began as ordinary groomers who have gone on to make industry–changing accomplishments. Milena Kon, who received the Barkleigh Honors award for Creative Groomer of the Year, is one of them. Just a few short years ago, she began her career as a groomer. She saw a creative competition and immediately knew that she wanted to learn to do it. Through a lot of hard work and education (which included attending lots of grooming shows like Groom Expo), Milena rose from a complete novice to become the 2018 Creative Groomer of the Year.

Something we all know is that most groomers love to shop and get bargains, especially if it’s for a great cause. That’s why the Silent Auction is such an overwhelming success. All the proceeds from the auction go to help local pet rescue groups. Dedicated groomers Michelle Semken and MJ Vaskorlis had the daunting task of organizing and running the auction. MJ and Michelle shop year–round for the auction items, and contact vendors and rescue groups for donations.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” says Michelle. “But, our passion is helping the rescues and it is all worth it!” They store the items in their garages (even if it means that their cars have to sit outside) until it’s time for the auction.

A very impressive $9,000 was raised this year. “The rescues use the money mostly for medical bills,” say Michelle and MJ. “Dogs brought into the rescues are given full medical work–ups and then treated for any issues that are found.”

MJ and Michelle are very active in rescue work and helped obtain the dogs that were groomed in the Rescue Roundup. “Usually 45 dogs are used over a three day period,” says MJ. “This year we had nine rescues involved in supplying the dogs.”

The dogs are the real winners. Rescue Roundup competitions increase their chances of being adopted into a forever home. And they allow everyone in the audience to see what the competitors can do with dogs that look and act just like the ones that come into our salons everyday.

After the Rescue Roundup was the Expo’s show–stopping contest that featured dogs that most of us don’t see on a regular basis–The Creative Grooming Competition.

Fourteen artists filled the stage. These talented stylists had to have exceptional grooming and scissoring skills, and they also had to create, color and execute a theme with their entry. They turned mounds of brightly colored hair into jungle animals, medieval dragons, clowns, wuzzles and more.

This is one competition that you just have to see in person to really appreciate. The months of planning, spectacular colors and artistic genius all come to fruition right before your eyes. Everyone becomes part of the competition as they root on their favorite. The standing–room–only crowd exploded with wild applause, deafening whistles and roaring cheers as Leslie Waldrep was selected as the 2018 winner of the People’s Choice award.

You could say that Groom Expo has grown to be the biggest and best show in the world because it is the ‘People’s Choice’ in grooming shows. Its main focus has always been to provide groomers with the things that we want and need to propel our businesses and careers to new levels, and to bring professionalism to our industry—education, competitions, fun, fellowship, shopping and so much more.

Come next year and experience for yourself why Groom Expo really is the ‘People’s Choice!’ ✂

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