Karla Addington–Smith is not only one of my favorite people in the grooming industry, but she’s also one incredibly successful businesswoman. Her diverse career in the pet industry spans more than 40 years as an award–winning Certified Master Groomer, judge, author, columnist, business leader and entrepreneur. And she has made significant contributions to groomer education. Her love for the grooming industry is evident in her accomplishments, but her love for dogs is evident in every aspect of her life.
Jonathan: Hi Karla, I’m so excited that you’re able to chat with me. Let’s start with Groomteam USA! You’re one of the true “OG’s” in the grooming industry. In fact, you competed at the International Competition as a member of the very first Groomteam USA in 1989. How was that experience and how did it come together?
Karla: Honestly, the GroomTeam USA experience was an opportunity I could not have imagined when starting my grooming career in 1976. This was an iconic moment in the grooming industry and we were very excited for the opportunity to compete on an international level. I became a member of that first team by winning the gold medal in the U.S. division of the terrier group with a Bedlington, and then named the Best Groomer in the American classes at Intergroom 1988. GroomTeam USA was not yet a brand. The prestige and status that GroomTeam USA brings to its members has become a much sought–after position and has raised the level of competitiveness and skill amongst those vying for team placement.
Jonathan: You’ve been an entrepreneur from the beginning of your career and you opened three locations of your first salon, Bow Wow Boutique. What gave you the drive to accomplish so much at such a young age in an industry that was just emerging, and in a time when women entrepreneurs were far and few between?
Karla: My success is by the Grace of God and the seat of my pants. I was young, enthusiastic and too inexperienced to be fearful…and honestly, not ashamed to make an ass out of myself. Animals gave me a purpose, and they still do. They taught me about love and loss, compassion and patience. They also provided a pathway to success.
In 1976 I was accepted to Ohio State University’s Animal Sciences program. My home life was complicated, and college was just not in my future. So, I took the very basic dog grooming skills I learned from two years in the animal husbandry program at vocational school and started grooming dogs out of my mom’s house. I also worked alone at a large boarding kennel on weekend nights bathing and grooming dogs that would be going home the next day.
Then one day in 1979, my mom kicked me and my pets out of the house. I moved in with a high school friend, and that was problematic. So, I found a little storefront and gave a three–month notice to the kennel. I opened that little salon with $1,000 I had saved, stumbling through the details, not being aware of what I did not know.
Just a few months into owning my first salon, a reporter from a local television station showed up. The interview was raw and so spontaneous I did not have time to be nervous. And then, during the interview on live television, the salon phone began ringing off the hook and never stopped.
In April of 1982, my friend asked me if I would like to go to this dog groomer trade show in New Jersey. I said, ‘No, what could I possibly have to gain by attending a trade show?’ Well, she convinced me it would be fun, so we went, and that trade show—then known as Groomerama—was THE single life–changing event of my career. I was slapped in the face and punched in the gut by the reality of what I did not know. That incredibly humbling experience changed the trajectory of my life.
I entered and placed in my first grooming competition in July of that same year, then I won First Place in Toy Poodles Divison B at All American in 1983 under judge Liz Paul. The rest is history. I became a regular competitor at all the major shows, ending with the most prestigious 1988 Best American Groomer title at Intergroom.
On November 11, 1984 I became a Certified Master Groomer, certificate number 121, through Professional Pet Groomers Certification. It was a process that took a couple years to complete and an accomplishment that I am still most proud of.
By 1987 I had managed to amass a good team of talent and it seemed like a logical next step to expand to a second and then third location. By 1989 I was spent. The six–day work week became twelve–hour sessions of whack–a–mole as I ran from salon to salon. Finally, it was time for a life change, so I sold two locations and closed the third.
Jonathan: Your drive for success in the industry didn’t stop there. You’ve been the co–author of several books, the author of your own grooming guide, Introduction to The Foundations of Dog Grooming, and you’ve contributed significantly to multiple grooming and pet publications. Where does your passion for writing come from and what part of your writing career are you most proud of?
Karla: Writing is a gift I did not know I possessed, until given the opportunity. I am eternally grateful to Shirlee Kalstone and Sally Liddick for their confidence in me. Words cannot express the surprise, joy and great responsibility I felt when Shirlee, after 17 years of writing for Pets Supplies Marketing magazine, asked me to take over her monthly column in April 1991.
Sally was also an amazing mentor, she gave me the truly rewarding opportunity to help other grooming professionals educate pet owners and build their business as the author of the Groom–O–Grams for over four years, and as a regular contributor to Groomer To Groomer magazine in the 1990’s.
The most prestigious writing opportunity to date, in my opinion, was as the editor of Pet Boutique and Spa magazine from 2007 to 2010.
I am also thankful for my friendship with Sam and Cynthia Kohl. After interviewing Sam for a feature in Groomer To Groomer magazine in 1993, we became fast friends. And, later, I became a contributor to Sam’s book The Business Guide to Pet Grooming. Writing is incredibly rewarding, and is not only a creative outlet, but also a way to educate and entertain others.
Jonathan: All of your success led to some exciting opportunities for you, including starting your own marketing firm, selling on eBay and even being invited by them to speak to other budding entrepreneurs. And now your back to running a salon, tell me how that is going for you.
Karla: I left the sales business in 2010 to open A Fortunate Dog Spa. Now in our eleventh year, I employ 14 staff members and am booked through February of 2022. Crazy! I never had a healthy work–life balance due to my insatiable passion for my work. Though I have had a paradigm shift in the way I view my work since COVID. The eight weeks of closure in 2020 were the most stressful days of my life. I have always lived to work and now I am working to live and trying to take more time for the other things I love.
Jonathan: On another note, besides your love for dogs, you have a special affinity for birds. From Silky Chickens to Conures, you’ve had many, but there was one very special bird in your life, Lefty. Tell me, how did he come into your life and why did he capture your heart?
Karla: I am absolutely enthralled by birds! Besides being beautiful, amazing creatures, they represent a lightness of being, freedom and a sense of spirituality that brings great comfort and joy to me. And for the last 25 years, I have traveled to the trade shows with a bird in tow…Clementine my diaper–wearing Japanese Silky, then Aja the beautiful yellow Cockatiel that we snuck into the swimming pool at Groom Expo, and Lefty, my amazing and beloved Starling that was quite simply the love of my life.
I did wild bird rescue, would go get the bird, try to stabilize them and then take them to a licensed rehabilitator. Lefty was found on the ground, fallen out of the nest. He had a bum left leg that was always weaker than the other. He was so smart and playful. Then, one day, in my voice, he told a person leaving my office to ‘Shut the door.’ He could talk! So, I taught him words and phrases, and I counted over 100 words he could say. He had a vocabulary of a young child and could literally have a conversation with you.
I did some research and found that the longest–living Starling on record in the wild is five years. My sweet boy lived to be 16 years old. His face had little gray feathers and he was quite lame by the time he passed in November of 2019.
Today I share my life with Kiwi, a Green Cheek Conure Princess that lives in a bird mansion and rules the proverbial roost. ✂️