By Kathy Hosler
It all started with a small town groomer, her best friend, and a dream. Now 25 years later, Groom Expo is the largest show of its kind in the world!
“Groom Expo’s 25th anniversary has been a mind blower… So many people and such great energy,” exclaims an enthusiastic Daryl Conner, recipient of the 2013 Barkleigh Honors Award for Writer of the Year. “I have had a fabulous weekend! I love being with this tribe of people!”
“It’s unreal,” adds Marlene Romani, inventor of the Clipper Vac Grooming System. “I was at the very first Groom Expo, and over the years I’ve seen it grow and grow. What an incredible idea Sally Liddick and Gwen Shelly had when they began this show. It’s absolutely remarkable what Groom Expo has become!”
The spectacular Hershey Lodge and Convention Center was bursting at its seams as the 25th anniversary of Groom Expo prepared to make history. From the moment the doors opened on Thursday until its close on Sunday afternoon, the action was non-stop in every corner of the convention center.
Mr. Frank Brown, Groom Expo’s welcoming host, faced a monumental task as he set out to personally greet the more than 4,600 attendees as they passed through the registration area of the convention center. Groom Expo had people from many countries attending, and Mr. Brown did his best to greet each of them in their native language.
Thursday started off with powerhouse speakers Joey Villani (the Dog Father) and Colin Taylor, who flew in from England especially for the show. Their enthusiasm and that of the other speakers set the tone for a weekend full of “WOW” moments.
There were many first-timers at Groom Expo this year. To familiarize them with the layout, Joanne Russell (Sparkly Barkleigh) gave guided tours of the convention center and trade show area.
“I’ve been grooming for 17 years, but this is my first time at Groom Expo,” says Dawn Kinney of Woodstock, Georgia. “I loved the diversity of speakers. I especially enjoyed Jonathan David, Irina Pinkusevich, and Kendra Otto. I got so much valuable information and great tips to improve my skills.”
“I’ve only been grooming for two years,” says Christine Martinelli of Ashburn, Virginia. “Groom Expo is the perfect place to gain knowledge of products and groom styles as well as technique. I was super excited to attend the Queen of Color seminar, because I hope to offer color to my clients in my new salon.”
All throughout the weekend there were seminars given by the Legends of Grooming. Dawn Omboy, the Queen of Color, was one of these elite presenters who shared the knowledge that she has amassed throughout her many years in the grooming industry.
Groom Expo draws people in all stages of their careers, from wannabees and new groomers to seasoned veterans, folks looking to make a career change, or salon stylists who are thinking about going mobile. “I’m a wannabe groomer here for inspiration, education, products, and fun,” says Julie Becker. “I’m a retired nurse from Annandale, Virginia, but I’m originally from the UK. I wanted to experience the best grooming show in the world, so I got the Groom Expo VIP package. I am going back to the UK and will get my groomer training in my home town of Grimsley in Lincolnshire.”
Julie, as well as all the other attendees, got to shop at the biggest trade show of all time. There were more than 170 booths filled with anything and everything that a groomer could ever want or need. From the moment the trade show doors opened, the aisles were filled with enthusiastic shoppers who got to see new products debut, watch grooming demos, connect with other groomers, and talk about the products and equipment that they like and use. If you spent just five minutes at each booth, it would take you over 14 hours to make it through the trade show.
“My favorite part of Groom Expo is the trade show,” says Stephanie Freiler of Allentown, Pennsylvania. “With all of the vendors, it really is the best place to learn about all the newest products. I was shopping for scissors, and I could try them on to get the right fit. The discounts are great too!”
There were more than 30 first-time exhibitors at this year’s trade show. “This has been our first time to exhibit at Groom Expo, and it’s been phenomenal,” says Todd Mizer of Tenda Groom Pet Products. “We’ve been so well received. We brought lots of product, but I don’t know if we will have enough to last to the end of the show.”
“This is our first Hershey show, and it’s been incredible,” says Adrian Mitchell of Clipp-Aid. “We asked groomers to bring their dull clipper blades, and we’ve been sharpening them with Clipp-Aid while they watched, and the groomers are going absolutely wild for it!”
Amy Hicks, CEO of Aromalettes, says, “We premiered our products at this year’s Groom Expo. We knew that launching our products at Hershey would be a great way to start our business.”
Besides shopping, the attendees were able to watch the exciting GroomOlympics grooming competitions that got underway on Friday. The Lambert Kay Terrier Tournament and the All Other Purebreds Tournament were held on Friday. On Saturday, the Nature’s Specialties Sporting & Salon Freestyle and The Andis Poodle Tournaments were held. Audience members could watch the competitions from start to finish and pick up some great tips and ideas to improve their grooming.
After a full day and evening of seminars, grooming contests, and trade show activities, the Opening Night Masquerade Party was held. It was a spectacular event with Mr. B providing non-stop entertainment and music, and the party goers, all decked out in their magnificent costumes, filled the dance floor.
Not to be outdone by Friday’s events, Saturday exploded with 28 educational seminars covering business topics, cat grooming, breed trims, the science of skin, and much more. Educating groomers was of the utmost importance to Sally Liddick. That’s why Groom Expo has always been known as the learning seminar, and this year’s lineup was packed with star-studded speakers and riveting topics from start to finish.
Many of the groomers took a break from learning and shopping to enjoy a luncheon hosted by Missi Salzberg along with assistance from the always entertaining Mr. B. These luncheons are the perfect time for groomers to network with each other, make new friends, and enjoy great food.
Another popular hotspot of the expo is the Silent Auction. It was started many years ago to raise money for groomers in need and for other worthwhile projects. This year, all of the proceeds will go to Gifts of Love International. Row after row after row of items are displayed. You never know what you will find there—and that’s part of the excitement. The auction items range from handcrafted objects donated by groomers to whimsical novelties and grooming-related “stuff” as well. There are often good-natured bidding wars for some of the most popular items. The amount raised for Gifts of Love this year was more than $15,000.
The Saturday night awards activities were held in the elegant Hershey Lodge Ballroom. The evening began with a magnificent banquet that was expertly prepared by the award-winning chefs of the Hershey Lodge. That was followed by the GroomOlympics Best In Show Awards. The Best in Group First Place winners from the Friday and Saturday Tournaments entered the ballroom. They showed off their dogs as they paraded them one at a time for the spectators. Then they placed the dogs on tables for the judges to examine once more and make their final decisions.
The crowd fell silent and intently watched as the judges prepared to crown the PetSmart Best In Show winner. Amid tumultuous applause, the BIS Trophy was placed in front of an ecstatic Mackensie Murphy, who had just been crowned the GroomOlympic World Champion for her black American Cocker Spaniel.
Immediately after the presentation of the Best In Show awards, the Abstract Creative Runway Competition began. There were contestants who executed designs on their dogs to match their dresses, shoes, or even their earrings. There was even one contestant that hand-stripped a design into the coat of a Miniature Schnauzer. Awesome and fabulous would really be understatements when trying to describe the creativity that these competitors put into their designs. After what had to be a difficult decision, Kelly Knight and her white Standard Poodle took home first place honors, a $1000 prize, and a gorgeous trophy.
Then it was on to the crowning glory of the evening: the Barkleigh Honors Awards. Missi Salzberg, dressed for the occasion in a snazzy tux, hosted the Honors Awards Ceremony with Colin Taylor as her co-host. One by one, the categories and nominees were announced from Product of the Year to Speaker of the Year and Contribution to the Industry Award. As each winner’s name was announced, they made their way up on the stage and gave an acceptance speech.
The final award of the evening was the Sally Liddick Lifetime Achievement Award. It is presented each year to someone who has impacted and improved the grooming industry in a big way. This year, the award was presented to long-time industry icon Judy Bremer-Taxman.
“I think that Judy was the first speaker to bring fun, excitement, energy, and a passion for grooming when she gave her seminars,” said Todd Shelly, president of Barkleigh Productions. “She made you excited to be a groomer!”
Sunday, the final day of the 25th anniversary of Groom Expo, began as it always has: with morning devotions and the Gospel Breakfast. This year, Jon and Tiffany Aitken were the gospel presenters. The couple shared Tiffany’s near death story and her amazing journey back. The Aitkens told of their journey of faith through their songs, many of which they had composed themselves.
Also on Sunday morning, the Rescue Roundup was underway in the Red Clipper Contest Arena. The idea behind this competition is to groom dogs from rescue organizations to give them a better chance of being adopted. The groomers who entered this competition had no idea which dog they would groom until that morning. The dogs ranged in size from a small Pomeranian up to a Golden Retriever and an Airedale.
The groomers were patient and gentle with their new charges, some of whom may have never been groomed before. The transformations were astounding, and by the end of the competition, you would never have guessed that they were the same dogs that walked on stage that morning.
Right after the Rescue Round-up, Groom Expo holds a Mobile Round-up in the parking area just outside of the convention hall. There was an awesome collection of self-contained units, pull-behind trailers, converted truck campers, and more. Going mobile can be a big investment for a groomer. This event allowed groomers to tour every one of the mobile units that were on display. They could compare them and see which one might be right for them.
All during Groom Expo, giant Hershey Kisses were given out to attendees who could answer trivia questions. By far, the biggest giveaway of the expo was yet to come. In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Groom Expo, one lucky attendee would win a free pass to Groom Expo for the next 25 years. That prize, worth over $10,000, was won by Brandi King.
If it’s Sunday and you’re at Groom Expo, the word of the day is Creative! The highly anticipated Creative Styling Tournament is by far the most watched event of the Expo. In many ways, it is like watching a float for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade being created from the ground up. The competitors start with an idea, then they build on it, and the finished product is simply amazing: the vivid colors, the interesting themes, and the exciting presentations!
Many of the contestants plan their designs months in advance. As they entered the arena, most of the dogs were unrecognizable multi-colored fur balls, but as the competition progressed, fuzzy caterpillars, speedy Road Runners, and Caped Crusaders became sculpted on the living canvases. This competition draws interest from all over the globe. A documentary film crew from the UK came over just to cover the Creative Styling Competition.
Everyone who enters the Creative competition has his or her sights set on winning the People’s Choice Award and appearing on the cover of Groomer to Groomer magazine. As the time to select the People’s Choice winner drew near, every seat in the arena audience was filled. There were people standing in the aisles and backed up far into the trade show area. Each person had their favorite entry and planned to clap and cheer them on to victory.
The field was narrowed down as the crowd favorites appeared. In the final clap-off, Adriane Pope’s entry, “When You Wish Upon a Paw,” was jubilantly declared the winner of the People’s Choice Award. Her winning entry featured characters from the “happiest place on earth” (Disney) and claimed the victory at the “sweetest place on earth” (Hershey, PA). An awesome combination to be sure!
As the tumultuous applause began to die down, the judges awarded their top three placements in the competition. The crowd again roared their approval with each choice. The first place winner, Su Eld-Weaver, traveled from England and brought her own dog to use in the competition. Her fantastic entry portrayed scenes from a day in the life of a geisha. After all the placements were made, audience members flooded the stage to take pictures and videos of all the incredible entries and to ask questions to all of the creative artists.
The 25th anniversary of Groom Expo was drawing to a close. The more than 4,600 attendees got to experience all of the excitement, energy, fun, shopping, networking, creativity, friends, dogs, and chocolate… all because of a small town groomer, her best friend, and a dream.
Thank you Sally and Gwen!