Groomer to Groomer

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Being an Effective
Leader of the Pack

Part One: Hiring

Paw Inspiring

By Missi Salzberg

There are many different aspects to being an entrepreneur. Juggling the demands of being a business owner or manager is always a challenge. Whether it’s balancing the books, dealing with workers compensation, processing a payroll, managing federal and state taxes, or simply mustering the energy to keep yourself motivated for the multitude of hours you spend running your business, being a boss is certainly one of the greatest challenges.

It can be a slippery slope, because it involves real-life, real-time relationships with assorted egos, goals, skill levels, and temperaments. You can put off one-dimensional duties for a bit, but you cannot ignore the responsibilities of being the boss. You can try, but in the end, it will just bite you in the tail end. (No pun intended!)

Whether it’s in business or in another context, being a leader is really about being a role model and trying to replicate the characteristics that you define as successful and meaningful. In the professional pet care industry, there is clearly nothing more important than surrounding yourself with people that love animals, but what are the other important pieces to being a successful employer in grooming?

It would be so simple if it were true that groomers get paid “to play with puppies all day.” We know that myth is bunk, so what’s really important? How do we hire and inspire our team members along the path to creating a successful business with healthy interpersonal dynamics?

The first part in this three-article series will be on hiring. I will follow this up with a piece on inspiring employees and close the series with admiring and supporting employees.


The hiring process is not easy, and finding skilled groomers can be difficult. Whether you are hiring a finish groomer, a receptionist, or a bather/brusher, in the end you are looking for the same characteristics.

First and foremost, a new hire needs to be enthusiastic about the job itself and possess a longer-term excitement about their future and their goals. Whether their future is in the professional pet care industry or not, someone with long-term goals and future plans is committed to their future. This is reflected in all of the work they do.

I have had a few bather/brushers over the years who did not intend to become groomers, but they had their eye on another prize and were working their way through school by working at The Village Groomer. One woman came on as a bather and put herself through school to become an acupuncturist. She knew she had goals, and she was committed to her plan.

On the flipside, I’ve seen bathers come on that didn’t intend to become groomers, but they fell in love with the job and mastered the art! The point is that they had a verve for life and their own definition of what it means to be successful, and that touched every aspect of their life.

Secondly, new hires must be open to embracing the culture of your particular business. When a potential hire fires back, “It’s not the way we did it at my last job,” it may be the perfect time to remind them that this is a new start, a new business, and a new boss. It’s time to look forward.

This is critical when it comes to the standard of the work in your grooming room. What may be acceptable at other grooming establishments may be out of the question at your salon, and you must be very clear from the start about your expectations. You set the bar for your quality, and between you and your grooming manager, that consistency is key to your success.

I will never forget when Annie, my grooming manager and team member of 17 years, responded to a subpar grooming job by a former employee. She said, “When a bad grooming job goes out the door, they don’t say that you personally did a lousy job! They say The Village Groomer did a lousy job, and I’m The Village Groomer!” New hires have to get on board with the quality of work expected and own it. It may take some relearning and education, or it may mean breaking some bad habits, but it is not up for debate.

Another aspect to the culture of your business is the treatment of the animals. There are plenty of heavy hands and verbally aggressive groomers out there, and you must decide if that is acceptable for your business. We have all seen it, and we have all cringed. It’s very important to have clear boundaries from day one about what your expectations are regarding respect of your four-legged clientele.

I had to fire a young man for verbal aggression toward a pet in our care. Just a few days into his employment, he let loose a series of expletives at a senile girl we had been grooming for 16 years. In my mind, there is a fine line between verbal abuse and violence, and there is no place in my business or my world for either. Being absolutely clear about standards of behavior with the animals means never having to backpedal and make excuses for unacceptable actions down the road.

It is also key to define to a new hire your expectations regarding interpersonal dynamics with coworkers. This is probably the biggest challenge, again, because of all of the different personalities and pasts that are coming to the table. At our salon, we joke that we are one big happy, dysfunctional family, and although it’s tongue-in-cheek, there is some truth to it! Anytime a group of people work in tight quarters on the clock and depend on one another to complete the demands of their job, things come up. The important thing is they get resolved in a timely manner and people move on. This is much easier to do when the other expectations regarding quality and standards are very clear. If everyone is on the same page regarding the goals of the organization, there is less room for error. There will always be days that are challenging, but if the nucleus of respect is strong and clear, it is much easier to bounce back and move on.

When hiring groomers, I always try to hire talent and the potential for talent, not just trainable skills. I am looking not simply at what this person can learn over time but what innate spark they have in their hands from where they are now in their career.

For example, I have had groomers with years of experience come in and do a demo for a job, and I knew immediately that their sense of balance and what they considered a good finish were not in line with our standard. On the other hand, I had an 18-year-old fresh out of school come in and show me her portfolio, and I hired her on the spot. The balance and symmetry in her work and the way she made the character of the dogs “pop” was amazing for a young woman just starting her career.

I like to think of my parents in this sense. My dad was the one who started the grooming salon, but seven years later when my mom joined the business, she quickly surpassed him in terms of skill and panache! Our eyes don’t always see things the same way, and our hands hold different levels of talent and ability to express. Look for the potential!

Be authentic with people potentially coming into your business. Be transparent about your own goals, the goals for your company, and your goals for someone just joining your team. Ultimately, any business owner wants to reflect their most important business priorities in a new hire. You want them to care, you want them to be invested, and you want them to feel like they are part of something bigger than the job. Be committed to their professional growth and let them know they’ll be supported if they’re hired.

Hiring a new person is the opportunity to mold and create another powerful player on your team. Don’t take it lightly. We have all seen how one negative person can bring down the wellness of an entire group, so hiring the right person is crucial.

I often tell the story of the surly groomer when I teach workshops. She was an amazing groomer and award-winning stylist, and she obviously had a gift, but she was so angry a lot of the time that when she struck out on her own, she had a hard time making a living. When you hire a new person, you have to believe that they will be a positive asset to your business. Like Annie reminded me the day the aspiring groomer gave that bad haircut, everyone on your team is your business. You can never lose sight of that.

J.C. Penney once said, “Give me a stock clerk with a goal, and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals, and I’ll give you a stock clerk.” When you hire, you are putting in place an intricate piece of your business puzzle. One person on a small team makes a big impact, so take the time you need to do it right.

Next month I’ll talk about keeping employees inspired for the longer haul. Until then, Happy Valentine’s Day! ✂