Groom Expo: Bringing Groomers Together for 30 Years

Grooming Gab

Groom Expo: Bringing Groomers Together for 30 Years

By Kathy Hosler

For thirty years Groom Expo has been bringing groomers together. From the moment you enter the welcoming lobby at the convention center, you are surrounded by people who really understand you.

“Groom Expo has changed my life,” exclaims a beaming Jeanine Palmiteer. “I feel like a whole different person. The convention, classes and hands–on were amazing! Helping each other and being with each other, this is what it’s all about. I am so thankful for this experience.”

“Hershey is truly a magical show for groomers,” adds Irene Short. “You find a family you never knew you had.”

For thirty years Groom Expo has been bringing groomers together. From the moment you enter the welcoming lobby at the convention center, you are surrounded by people who really understand you. 

 If you attend by yourself, you don’t need to feel nervous or apprehensive. At Groom Expo, you are never alone. You can be in line at the registration area and start a conversation with a complete stranger. Soon you will be comparing notes about the tools and products you use, or what seminars you plan to take.


This year, as always, Newbie tours were held all throughout the weekend to help first–time attendees meet each other and familiarize themselves with everything at the expo.

The Internet Mingle on Thursday evening was open to everyone. It provided the perfect setting for groomers who have become friends online to meet in person. And, the Opening Night Party provided a great opportunity to unwind, make new friends and show the world that groomers really know how to party. After de­­–stressing and recharging their batteries, the groomers were ready to learn….

 Education has always been a primary objective of the expo. All throughout the weekend, industry experts presented seminars that featured cat and dog grooming demonstrations, business building basics, creative grooming, client relations, mobile and house–call grooming, and much more.

“I love the VIP package!” says Michelle Jessop. “I have trouble seeing and hearing so guaranteed spots in the front rows are well worth the money. The VIP lounge is also a huge bonus that I visited every day.”

Many of the speakers emphasized the importance of furthering your education, learning how to run the business side of grooming and how to effectively deal with your clients.

“The biggest mistake most groomers make is the way they conduct business,” says Joey Villani, in his seminar Sign of The Times. “They are great at grooming, but not so much at running their business.” Then he gave the room full of attendees specific techniques and tips on how to create and operate a successful business.

In her Pet Business 101 seminar, Melissa Mitchner says, “You need to start with the end in mind. Determine your policies on late arrivals and pickups, cancellations and no shows, then when one of those situations happens, you already know how you are going to handle it.”

Irene Cavatairo traveled from St. Louis, Missouri to learn the ins and outs of mobile grooming. “I am now the proud owner of an ambulance,” says Irene. “I am re–fitting it to do mobile grooming. All of the stainless steel surfaces in it make it a breeze to keep clean. I learned a tremendous amount at the mobile and all the other seminars that I took.”

Jessica Adorno, in her Mobile Grooming 411 seminar says, “Always have a Plan B for when things go wrong (because you know they will). Downtime can be a real killer.” Then Jessica related a story about how her well–maintained mobile unit had its axle break as she was driving it to a client appointment. Do you have a Plan B to handle problems when they happen to you? 

Whether you are just beginning your career, or are a seasoned veteran, Teri DiMarino’s seminar was packed full of information and tips to make your workplace more efficient, provide a safe experience for pets and help your grooms look better.

 “Your equipment is only as good as its operator,” says Teri in her Bather/Brusher Certificate Program. “You can have the most expensive tools and equipment, but if you don’t know how to use them properly, you won’t get the results you want.”

“Learning how to use software and social medial to your advantage can take your business to the next level,” says Evan Gummo in his Marketing Tips Revealed seminar.

“Help people fall in ‘like’ with you,” Evan said. “I’ll show you how to give them a thumb–stopping experience.” Then he shared a wealth of information about how to use social media to increase your online presence and improve your marketing–even if you are not too tech savvy. 

“This was my second year at Groom Expo,” says Amy Levine, a groomer from ‘down under’. “I am so motivated that I am now opening my own salon in Australia. That’s why I attended all the seminars I could to learn about the business side of grooming, what products I want to bring into my salon, and how not to undervalue my services.”

 In between seminars, Amy and nearly 6,000 other attendees flocked to the enormous Trade Show in search of the newest and greatest products, tools, equipment and bargains.

“The Trade Show was full of vendors willing to answer any questions about their products,” Amy shares. “Everyone is so warm, welcoming and like–minded. Attending Groom Expo makes me fall in love with the grooming industry all over again.”

Like Amy, we all have the need to be with others who understand us and everything we go through as groomers–and, we all have to eat, don’t we? 

The meals at Groom Expo have always been a place where you can sit at a table with someone you have never met, enjoy a meal and talk about all the things you have in common. Soon you are exchanging business cards and ‘friending’ each other on Facebook.

Grooming competitions at the expo are phenomenal for the participants as well as the spectators. When the competition registration opened, almost every spot was filled in a matter of minutes.

The Friday and Saturday Wahl GroomOlympics tournaments hosted some of the most talented groomers on the planet. Spectators had the opportunity to watch these gifted artists groom their dogs from start to finish, and see the tools and products they use. GroomerTV broadcasted the competitions and featured close–ups of each contestant as they worked.

Everyone knows that groomers are generous with their time and talents. A Silent Auction is held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with the proceeds going to benefit rescue groups. Many of the vendors and attendees donate items for the auction. Table after table of unique auction items filled the room. The bidders all had fun, got some great bargains–and they helped support a terrific cause.

The expo also held Rescue Round Up competitions which were created to help homeless pets find their forever homes. Nella deCosta made a trip from Ireland to attend Groom Expo and to compete in the Saturday Rescue Clip In.

 “I first heard about Groom Expo through a post on the IPDGA (Irish Professional Dog Groomers Association) Facebook group,” says Nella deCosta of Ireland. “Amanda Madtes, an Irish groomer living in the U.S., put up a post saying she would like to invite an Irish groomer over to experience Hershey. I replied and we started exchanging phone calls and texts. Nothing, I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the grooming extravaganza that I experienced–it was fantastic!” 

“Three days of watching top groomers compete, a never ending sea of stalls with everything imaginable related to dog grooming, and hundreds of people with equally warped sense of humour that thought (just like me) that having a 20 minute conversation about face combs is perfectly normal,” says Nella emphatically.

Saturday evening at the Expo boasted several huge events. It began with a fabulous banquet expertly prepared by the award winning chefs of the Hershey Lodge. That was followed by the Wahl GroomOlympic Best In Show Awards. The winners of the Friday and Saturday GroomOlympics tournaments presented their dogs on stage for one final judging. After much deliberation, Michelle Breen, who groomed a spectacular black Standard Poodle, was crowned the 2019 GroomOlympics World Champion.

Then the E–Z Groom Abstract Creative Runway competition was held. Contestants paraded their dogs and a cat (yes, a creative cat) on the lighted runway, amid applause from an appreciative audience. The winner was Leslie Waldrep and her gorgeous Poodle. 

Then it was on to the pinnacle event–the 9th annual Barkleigh Honors Awards. They were viewed by pet care professionals in the ballroom, and broadcasted worldwide on GroomerTV. 

“The Barkleigh Honors Awards recognize those that go above and beyond in their contributions to our industry,” says Todd Shelly, President of Barkleigh Productions. The award categories cover everything from best new product, to best seminar speaker, to groomer website of the year–and many more. Several special awards reflect the recipient’s deep love for the pet care industry and demonstrate how we all really are a family.

Jackie Bolton received a standing ovation as she presented the award that has been named for her late husband, The Brian Stopa Award for Spirit and Congeniality. “Brian was the most supportive, encouraging, non–groomer on the planet,” Jackie said, as she presented the award to Sue Zecco. “He had a deep, deep love for our industry and all of its people.”

The Barkleigh Honors Lifetime Achievement Award was given posthumously to Liz Paul. Teri DiMarino accepted the award for Liz’s family and said, “Liz’s encouragement helped shape our industry. She set standards in the contest ring that still hold true today.”

Mr. Mark Dunn, Executive Vice President of the American Kennel Club, presented the AKC Leadership Award. “For 135 years the AKC has been all about dogs,” said Mr. Dunn. “We realize the important role groomers play in the health and welfare of dogs and in the lives of the people who love them.

“I am honored to present the AKC Leadership Award to Mr. Sam Kohl, who through his genius and generosity has impacted everyone in the industry since the 1970’s.”

The entire audience exploded with thunderous applause and rose to their feet in tribute to Mr. Kohl, and to acknowledge his decades of tireless work and countless innovative contributions which have enabled our industry to become what it is today.

Sunday afternoon featured the amazing Conair Pro Pet Creative Styling Competition. Many of the contestants had worked for months designing and planning their entry. Sixteen mind–blowing dogs filled the stage. It was standing room only as the crowd watched the artists transform mounds of brightly colored hair into incredible creations–Baby Sharks, Beekeepers, Harry Potter, Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood and many more. The depth of color, spectacular designs and level of originality was astounding.

Amid cheers and tears, Lori Craig (who is retiring from the competition ring) accepted her final People’s Choice Award.

“My design, The Last Pow Wow, is dedicated to my grandmother, who was a groomer herself, and proud of her Native heritage,” Lori said. “The design embraces my love for family, heritage, grooming and art.”

Even though Lori Craig (and several other creative artists) are retiring from active competition, the creative stage will continue to be filled with talented stylists.

“This was my second year at Hershey. I learned soooo much, and every bit of it is priceless to me,” said Jilly Mooch. “I learned technique, tools, made friends and family, and most importantly for me, the little flame inside I had for creative grooming turned into a fire. I’ve decided I’m all in…competition here I come!”

For thirty years Groom Expo has helped groomers like Jilly find their passion. And, it has allowed groomers the world over to feel connected to the industry and to each other.

“My visit to Hershey gave me a very valuable insight into the grooming industry, and I learned so many things,” shares Nella deCosta. “Not just about grooming techniques and products, but about the profession, and what it means to be a groomer.” ✂️

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