Many professions require yearly continuing education for their members. The grooming industry does not. Yet, thousands of groomers from all over the world voluntarily attend grooming shows. Nearly 5,000 of them recently attended Groom Expo, the largest grooming show in the world. It was held in September at the magnificent Hershey Lodge and Convention Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Why would these groomers close their businesses, travel to grooming shows, and spend money to attend the seminars? They come for things that they can only experience at these shows… education – not only by attending the seminars, but also by watching the grooming competitions, and to be able to connect with others who share their passion. In our amazing industry, you can come by yourself to a show like Groom Expo and meet people who will become your lifelong friends.

As attendees gathered in the registration area, the room was brimming with excitement and anticipation. At their fingertips were grooming tournaments, an immense trade show, seminars and grooming demonstrations, and an entire weekend to network with their peers and other professionals.

They were warmly welcomed by the smiling face and the cheerful voice of Mr. Frank Brown, Groom Expo’s host and greeter. Several times a day, Joanne Russell, aka Sparkly Barkleigh, took Newbies on a guided tour of the entire convention center to help familiarize them with the layout.

First time attendee, Tarja Tuulikki, came from Norway expressly to attend Groom Expo. “I found out about Groom Expo over the internet, and it became my dream to come and see it” shares Tarja excitedly. “We don’t have anything in Norway that compares to this. I love the trade show – everything becomes clearer when I can see and touch them in person. And, I am going to every seminar that I can…I am learning so much!”

The seminars at Groom Expo covered almost every facet of grooming – business building techniques, animal behavior and health, grooming demonstrations, mobile grooming topics, and much, much more.

In her Groomer Health and Safety seminar, Lara Latshaw offered a variety of tips to help groomers avoid physical and mental damage. “If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else,” emphasizes Lara. “As groomers, we want to please people – but sometimes – it’s ok to say no.”

During her seminar, Lara involved the attendees and taught them Foundation Training exercises that help to strengthen and protect their bodies while they groom.

Another speaker who showed groomers how to protect themselves was Doug Parson. His day-long seminar, Staying Safe in the Salon, dealt with pet handling techniques, communicating through body language, and how to recognize the different types of aggression and how to deal with them.

“There are 4.7 million dog bites a year,” said Mr. Parson, and then added. “In 2014 there were 42 deaths from dog bites.”

It was not dog bites, but pet oral health that was the topic of Mary Oquendo’s seminar, Dental Care For Your Pets.

“Many owners are not aware how important dental care is,” says Mary. “More than eighty percent of dogs and seventy percent of cats develop periodontal disease by the age of three. It’s estimated that teeth that are in good shape can extend the life of pets by twenty-five percent.”

Learning how to retail pet dental and other products, market your business, and how to turn problem clients into valued clients, were covered during the weekend business topics.

In his The Land of Making Money seminar, Chuck Simons gave non-stop ideas to help you work smarter – not harder.

“Have a menu of the services that you offer – and post it where everyone can see it,” says Mr. Simons. “You are limiting yourself if you don’t post your services and add-ons. Use quality equipment and products and retail them to your clients,” Mr. Simons continues. “And, it’s important to set short and long term goals – including a retirement plan.”

Every pet care professional hopes that they will be able to enjoy a comfortable retirement someday. To help groomers plan for a happy retirement, Michael Garvin presented his seminar, Making The Most of Social Security. People of all ages listened attentively as Mr. Garvin went over different strategies for maximizing the amount of social security you can collect and how to determine which one of them is right for you.

The seminars continued throughout the weekend on topics for mobile groomers, cat grooming and handling, many breed grooming and creative grooming demonstrations, and behavior and health topics.

On Friday morning the colossal Trade Show opened. Over 170 booths, overflowing with the latest and greatest products, equipment, and show specials, greeted the attendees as they streamed through the doors.

Gary and Linda Lalonde from Perth, Canada, came to Groom Expo to buy and to learn. “At Groom Expo, we get to see people who have been in the industry for a long time, talk with great vendors, and see wonderful new products,” says Linda Lalonde. “We always learn things that make our business run smoother.”

“We’re making a new shop, and we want it to be the best it can be,” adds Gary Lalonde. “At this Trade Show we can see the equipment, and even hear how loud it is. Then we can decide what will work best for us.”

First time exhibitor, Cheryl Dauphin, creator of the Equigroom de-shedding tool, was thrilled with the welcome her new grooming tool has received.

“I just started my company in July 2015, and introduced my product through Facebook,” shares Cheryl. “The groomers love it! The Equigrooms are flying out of the booth – I hope I have enough to last the weekend.”

One of the reasons many groomers attend a trade show is so they can try out scissors and other equipment and see how they feel and fit in their hands.

Mr. Ralph Whitman introduced his new stripping tool set, the DiamaStripper. “The DiamaStripper has been nominated for a Barkleigh Honors Award – New Product of the Year,” says Mr. Whitman. “The groomers really love that they can come to our booth to see and try them out.”

The Trade Show continued to be a beehive of activity throughout the weekend – with some of the booths selling out of everything they brought – and taking orders for more.

“The shopping is fabulous at Groom Expo!” shares Dawn Kinney of Marietta, Georgia. “It’s a good thing that I drive up…I may need a bigger car if I keep finding great deals!”

Yes, great deals, exciting new products, demos, and free samples….it was a real party atmosphere. Party? Did someone say party?

We all know that when groomers do something – they give it their all, and the opening night Karaoke party was a testament to that. The participants not only sang with gusto, many of them added choreographed moves as they performed their songs.

“I was pretty sure that I popped a vocal cord while I was doing Karaoke last night,” says a grinning JC Chismar. “But, fortunately, I am still able to talk today…especially since I am competing in the Rescue Roundup Clip-In this afternoon.”

Grooming competitions are a very important part of every Groom Expo. Groom Expo does everything in a ‘big’ way, and the grooming competitions are no exception. Many of the classes were enormous. The Poodle Tournament alone had almost fifty entries.

The grooming competitions at Groom Expo are a true-life example of how dreams can come true…both for the groomers who participate in the contests, and for the ones who watch from the audience.

Groomers who have never entered a competition eagerly watch the competitors in the ring. They have the opportunity to see all of the products and tools that the competitors use, and they are able to watch the grooms from start to finish. And, after the completion of the tournaments, they can go up to the competitors and ‘talk shop’ with them.

The Saturday night events proved to be the pinnacle of the show. The evening began with an elegant dinner prepared by the award winning chefs of the Hershey Lodge. Following the dinner, the PetSmart GroomOLympics Best In Show winner was chosen. The winners of the five grooming tournaments that had taken place on Friday and Saturday went head-to-head with each other to see who would be crowned the GroomOlympics World Champion.

Each of the finalists came out onto the lighted runway, presented their dog to the audience for their approval – and then on to the judges for a final examination. In the end, Amanda Zeller, with her ‘groomed to perfection’ English Springer Spaniel, Ace, became the 2015 PetSmart GroomOlympic World Champion.

That was just the beginning of the evening excitement…

The entrants in the E-Z Groom Abstract Creative Runway Competition took the stage. In this competition, there was minimal or no color used on the entries. Instead, the contestants were judged on their overall grooming skills and the intricate designs that they sculpted on the dogs and cat (yes, I said cat) that were entered. The elegant designs portrayed beauty in simplicity. The thrilled winner was Adrianne Pope who placed a stunning design on her gorgeous white Standard Poodle.

Then it was time for the prestigious Barkleigh Honors Awards that showcase achievement in the grooming industry. There were nearly twenty categories that ranged from Up and Coming Groomer of The Year, to New Product of The Year, to Contribution to The Industry.

This year a new category, the Spirit Award, was added. This award is to honor someone who embodies the true spirit of the grooming industry.  It’s a tribute to a person who lives and shares the spirit that you see and feel when you attend a show like Groom Expo.

“Grooming is an amazing industry because of all the positivity,” says Todd Shelly, President of Barkleigh Productions. “The person that was selected represents all of this – upbeat and positive, continually helping others, always ready to lend a hand, a shining example of what the true spirit of this industry is. And – the winner of the first Barkleigh Honors Spirit Award is…Adrianne Pope!”

Groomers and others in the pet care industry are known for their big hearts and the desire to help others. That’s why there is such great support for the Silent Auction and the GEAF (Groomers Emergency Assistance Fund). Funds raised during the weekend are providing many needed services and are helping those in emergency situations.

Groomers with big hearts were center stage on Sunday morning when the final Rescue Round-up Invitational was held. Everyone, the pets and people alike, who participate in one of these competitions is a winner. Unloved and abandoned pets receive loving makeovers that enable them to have a second chance at being adopted into a ‘fur’ever home. Knowing that they were helping these pets was reward enough for groomers like Alysha Kelly to enter the competition.

“I found out about the Rescue Rodeo Clip-In that was being held on Saturday,” says Alysha. “I entered just so I could help a dog find a home, and to have some fun. I had a Yorkie named Bobbie Joe. I won the class with her and was invited back to compete again on Sunday.

“I drew a mixed breed Doodle type of dog named Bradley for the Sunday competition,” shares Alysha. “In my mind, my only objective was to give Bradley the best groom that I could, so that he might find a great home – winning any kind of prize didn’t enter my mind.”

Well, apparently Alysha’s determination produced the perfect groom on Bradley – because she was chosen as the winner of the 2015 Rescue Round-Up Invitational. Alysha received an all-expense paid trip on a Barkleigh cruise, a huge trophy and a monetary award, and she and Bradley will appear on the cover of Groomer To Groomer Magazine.

All throughout the weekend, Groomer’s Choice Groomer TV broadcasted at the expo so that groomers from all over the world could experience a bit of Groom Expo. They interviewed industry experts, showed many of the activities, and gave in-depth coverage of all the grooming competitions. They were able to show extreme close-ups of the dogs as they were being groomed.

The most watched contest, in person and by those viewing Groomer TV, was the Creative Grooming Competition on Sunday afternoon. Participants in this exciting competition begin to plan their entries months in advance. The stage was completely filled with dogs of all shapes, sizes, and colors. As the competition commenced – the magic began….

The stylists started sculpting and carving designs into the brightly colored canines. Soon, their spectacular creations began to emerge from those mounds of hair. There were colorful super heroes, realistic cartoon characters, beautiful princesses, magnificent butterflies, and more. The audience was spellbound as the walking works of art were unveiled. The excitement mounted as the contestants put the finishing touches on their creations and prepared to be judged.

This is one competition where the spectators get to select their favorite entry as the People’s Choice winner. This winner is determined by the applause of the audience. It may be the most coveted award of all the grooming competitions, in part because the winner is chosen by other groomers, and also because the winner gets to appear on the cover of Groomer To Groomer Magazine.

Every one of the entries was terrific! They showed lots of imagination, creativity, and use of color to achieve their final designs. The atmosphere in the competition area was electrifying! Everyone wanted to see all of the creations and cheer on the one they thought was the best. Every seat was filled, and the crowd spilled far into the Trade Show area.

The audience clapped, whistled, cheered, and screamed for their favorites! There were so many talented groomers and equally awesome creations, that it took three ‘applause-offs’ to select the winner.

Amid deafening cheers and applause, The Mystic Mermaid – created by Angela Kumpe, was selected as the People’s Choice! And, to make that win even sweeter, the judges also awarded Angela first place honors in the Creative Grooming Competition.

Oh, what a thrilling way to end a magnificent Groom Expo! This gathering and these attendees are what the spirit of grooming is all about.

“I leave Groom Expo with such a new energy and excitement that I can’t wait to get back to my salon,” shares an enthusiastic Terri Gates of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. “Meeting presenters, attendees, and exhibitors…it ignites my passion to make the world a better place – one cute dog at a time!”