By Melissa Viera
Sturbridge, MA — I was fortunate enough to make it to the New England Grooming Show Sunday, October 4th, and along with browsing the booths and purchasing some new products, I found my way to the Creative Styling Awards.
Groomers have to be some of the most fun-loving and supportive people around. The thought and talent that goes into creative styling is impressive, and putting your work out there to be judged has to take a lot of courage. The entire competition was a thrill to watch. The audience was a big part of the competition, showing their support with clapping and cheering, and even choosing the People’s Choice Winner.
There is a special bond between these dogs and groomers, which anyone who witnesses their interaction can clearly see. There were a lot of wagging tails and kisses on stage. One poodle, “Country Poodle Girl”, really caught my attention with her happy attitude and flashy presence.
Groomer Nikki Elie with “Country Poodle Girl” was the winner of the People’s Choice Award. Elie is the owner of Immaculate Pooch Grooming located in Leicester, MA, and has been grooming for seven years.
Elie’s grooming career started when she was an assistant for Jennifer Courteau at Puppy Cuts. “I started by helping her clean her salon on busy days, and quickly worked my way up to bathing and prepping dogs. After seeing the transformation the dogs at her salon went through – from before to after their grooms, I knew instantly I wanted to become a dog groomer. Jenn helped teach me the basics of grooming and helped set me on the path to becoming the groomer I am today”, says Elie.
In 2010, Elie attended her first grooming show hosted by NEPGP (New England Pet Grooming Professionals); attending every seminar she could fit into her schedule. She has since been attending as many shows as possible.
“I truly believe you can never learn too much, the more knowledge you have within your field, the better you can care for the pets you work with”, says Elie.
“After becoming a member of the NEPGP I fell in love with all this organization had to offer. This organization quickly made me feel like I was a part of their family. From attending the seminars they offered and speaking with other members of NEPGP, I was able to gain the confidence I needed to become a professional groomer.”
Elie made the decision to open her own grooming salon in December of 2010 with the help and support of her Dad and friends. “I am very happy with the success of Immaculate Pooch, and the ability to meet so many wonderful pets and people,” says Elie.
This was Elie’s first time being a competitor, and with the help of “County Poodle Girl,” also known as Poodle Marie, Elie was able to calm her nerves and remain focused. “Being on stage in front of and next to so many wonderful groomers was very nerve wracking. Keeping my focus and attention on Poodle Marie’s happiness helped calm my nerves.”
Poodle Marie was surrendered to Elie three years ago, when her family was not able to give her the care she needed. Elie always wanted a poodle, and Poodle Marie coming into her life is what she considers “pure luck.”
Elie’s advice to anyone considering becoming a groomer or who is new to grooming is to never stop learning. Elie recommends talking to other groomers and asking questions, taking in as much information as possible through reading books about both the industry and grooming techniques, and attending seminars. “Ask yourself why you want to be a dog groomer. Set goals for yourself to learn certain aspects of grooming, and never lose sight of these.”
Elie encourages anyone considering competing to go for it. “Putting yourself and your work out there to be judged and critiqued is extremely difficult. The satisfaction of being a part of the competition and conquering that fear is much more rewarding.”
Elie’s first Creative Styling competition took a lot of preparation from growing out Poodle Marie’s coat to picking colors, music, and getting a backdrop in place. Elie is especially thankful for the support of the other contestants in including Angela Kumpe, Kelly Muniz, and Katie Heikkila, along with everyone else who made the show possible, especially the judges and sponsors.
When asked what she loves most about the grooming industry, Elie leaves us with this, “I am proud to be a pet groomer, I have found the industry as a whole is filled with many people who genuinely care about the profession and the pets we care for. There are many of us who have helped not only fellow groomers, but many pets and families in so many ways. I am proud to be a part of an industry where people are quick to help with advice, in times of need or emergencies.”