Joey Villani is one of the most recognized professionals in our industry.
His devotion to grooming education dates back to being a graduate and eventual owner of the Nash Academy grooming school in NJ. And education has continued to be a focus and passion of his as he partners with Barkleigh Productions to bring us the renowned, international, yearly grooming trade show event, Intergroom.
His contributions to the grooming industry have been immense. Working to fight negative legislation against groomers and his many partnerships with leading brands have helped propel pet grooming to the professional level we see today. I was fortunate enough to chat with Joey and get to know him a little bit more.
Jonathan: Hi Joey, you and I go way back. Let’s take a walk down memory lane. You were a judge on Animal Planet’s Groomer Has It when I was a contestant many moons ago. It was a great experience and the first reality television show about pet grooming. What effect do you feel it had on public perception about pet groomers?
Joey: I think it had a great impact on the general public. It’s funny, but if you didn’t have a pet that you had groomed, I believe most people didn’t even realize this was a legitimate trade. The show brought awareness, professionalism, care and compassion, and showed the fun side of this wonderful profession. Being a school owner at that time, I noticed that a lot more people wanted to get involved in professional pet grooming, and a lot of it was due to the reality of the show and the strong market of pet grooming because, at that time, we were going through a recession. Pet grooming almost seemed to be a little more recession proof.
Jonathan: After doing the show, you affectionately became known as “The Dogfather.” How did you get that name and what other pet–related film or television projects have you been a part of since then?
Joey: Actually, the name “The Dogfather” came from a gentleman named Hal Abrams. Hal was the producer of a nationally syndicated radio show called Animal Radio which I became the grooming expert on from 2008 to present. He started calling me “The Dogfather” because of my north New Jersey accent and my Italian background. The Sopranos had just come out, so I think it just fit.
I did a lot of pilots for shows that never really made it, and I also did a lot of television morning shows, like Good Day New York, Good Morning America, Mike and Kelly, and a host of others. The thing I’m most proud of that never made it was called Groom School, which was based on the Nash Academy life.
Jonathan: Being “The Dogfather,” you’re also a highly respected leader in our industry and you always present yourself as a professional. How important do you feel it is for pet groomers to project a professional image?
Joey: Thank you for the kind words and I love this question because pet groomers are a unique bunch—I don’t think I have to tell you this. We are very creative, we get our feelings hurt quickly and we take a lot of pride in what we do. Because of this, I sometimes feel it’s easy to come out of your professional element and let your emotions take over. One of the reasons why most people will see me in a suit and tie at an event is not just because I want to dress nice, but it also helps remind me that in order to be taken seriously you have to carry yourself in a certain way.
I’m not saying that I am better than anyone, because I’m not—matter of fact, sometimes I am my own worst enemy—but when I put that suit on, it just keeps me in check. And I think it’s really important for most groomers, when they put on their smock or grooming attire, to represent in the most professional way possible because they are taking care of man’s best friend, and, in most people’s lives, besides their children, their pets are the most important things in the world to them. So I feel we need to represent ourselves in a professional manner for the comfort of our client.
Jonathan: I couldn’t agree more. Your love for animals doesn’t stop with dogs, you’re the pet parent to quite a tenacious Umbrella Cockatoo. I’ve seen some of your videos. What’s your bird’s name and what’s it like living with her?
Joey: Her name is Gurney. Yes, Gurney. I am not very fond of the name, but she was six years old when I got her and was already named. Gurney is 39 years old. She is definitely a handful as she will go in your drawers and throw your clothes on the floor, open up cabinets and help herself to whatever she wants, command attention and all kinds of mischief.
Believe it or not, three years after having her, I developed asthma from the bird. Umbrella cockatoos have a powdery coating on their skin that many people become allergic to, and I was one of them. The doctor told me that I needed to get rid of this bird or I will suffer my whole life. This bird is extremely bonded to me and there was no way that I was going to do this to her. I did suffer, but as time passed on, after about 30 years, I no longer have the symptoms. She’s definitely the smartest pet that I’ve ever had.
Jonathan: Besides catering to your feathered friend, you help to put on one of the most famous trade shows in our industry, Intergroom, which was actually my very first show experience. How have you seen our industry shows evolve and improve over the years?
Joey: I have been going to pet grooming tradeshows since 1980. I don’t think there has been a year since 1980 that I didn’t attend at least one. What’s funny about this question is that I liked the camaraderie of the groomers more back in the early days. The shows had a lot more international groomers—mainly because many of the other countries did not have grooming events and would travel to the US—so when the show would end, the nightlife would begin and groomers from all over the world would get together and have a few drinks, talk about the trade, talk about their family, and just spend some real quality time with people that lived hundreds and maybe thousands of miles away. That still happens, but it’s more on a national level than an international level now.
I can remember one year at Intergroom, it was a packed lobby full of pet groomers from all over the world and someone started to sing the national anthem. The next thing you know, each country of groomers started to sing the national anthem of the country they represented. I believe I counted at least 17 different national anthems. It was one of those memorable nights. Besides that, the education, the standard of grooming, the outstanding equipment and products of today are much better, and I only see this evolving in a positive direction as this industry is still very untapped.
Jonathan: Speaking of Intergroom, I’m thrilled that in–person shows are finally coming back. After being on hold due to COVID–19, what exciting things can we expect from Intergroom this year?
Joey: Unfortunately because of the pandemic we had to cancel the event twice. We are looking forward to having it this October, which is a change from the normal April date, but we wanted to make sure that we can have the event. We plan on following all safety precautions and measures that are required to keep people and pets safe.
We will have the individual Intergroom grooming World Championship and the very popular Mentor competition where groomers are actually mentored by top professionals while they are in the ring competing to help develop their eye and give them a more comfortable feel of what the competition ring is all about. Intergroom will also have the popular Creative and Runway competitions along with some nighttime festivities so groomers can mingle together and have a good time.
Jonathan: Sounds amazing. I know everyone is excited to get back to the shows, and it sounds like Intergroom will be a hit! Thanks for the chat and I’ll see you at a show soon! ✂️