By Khris Berry
I had a client tell me once, “Just give me the hairstyle I want, it’s not like you are doing brain surgery.” This didn’t change the fact that her dog was shaved down that day with an offer to bag the pelt for her.
If you are a groomer reading this, you likely just rolled your eyes, nodded in agreement or high–fived the person sitting next to you because you had the same experience this week. I wasn’t rude or unprofessional when I interacted with my customer. Biting back a quick reply, I patiently explained how matting occurs, discussed an acceptable maintenance schedule for her dog’s coat needs, secured a matted release form, and her dog left that day with what I like to call a “Matted Makeover”, which is code for removing a pelt with a #10 blade from nose to tail.
Her pet left the salon with a fresh start, clean skin and was comfortable for a while afterwards. My work was complete. I had helped an animal in need, and while not completely satisfied, my customer received what she needed from me and I was confident she would return.
Afterwards, her barbed words stuck with me; I know, as pet stylists, we don’t perform brain surgery. Her insult was meant to demean not only my personal skill set, but my entire profession in one swoop. I wanted her to know the depth of knowledge and experience that working pet groomers offer their clients. I wanted her to know that she was purchasing not only my knowledge of how to safely groom her pet, but also my deep compassion and patience. Her statement diminished my services in one sentence. How did we get to this point?
A working pet groomer needs to possess an extensive range of skills: Basic clipper and scissor safety, a general knowledge of animal health and first aid, high levels of animal behavior knowledge as well as safe handling and restraint techniques, a nearly endless memorization of breed patterns and nuances, tool and equipment maintenance, time management and customer service abilities, just to name a few.
Most groomers leap Leonbergers on a regular basis and make it look easy. What groomer hasn’t stared fearlessly into the jaws of a snapping Shih Tzu and lived to tell the tale, as well as created a cute, round face in the process? As working pet groomers, we understand the scope of our knowledge and the depth of offerings we provide to pet owners. Yet, time and time again when we gather in groups or on social media, we recount situations where our clients diminish our services (or us, personally, for performing them).
When interviewing new employees, we have adjusted our initial conversations to include phrases such as, “we don’t play with puppies”, “it’s a physically demanding (dirty, exhausting, draining, insert your word here) job”. We have found it necessary to include these disclaimers because there is a misconception about what happens realistically in our salons every day. How do we change these misconceptions?
In answer to these questions that working pet groomers face, let’s change the dialog about what we do and how we do it. What if we were brain surgeons? Would you prefer to see a doctor who “practiced” medicine or one who boasted he was finished training a decade ago and knew everything he could ever know?
I meet many pet groomers, and often conversations are framed around their expertise, experience and skill level. I hear introductions such as: I am a Certified Terrier Groomer; I have been grooming for 52 years; I graduated from Grooming School 10 years ago. All of these are wonderful accomplishments and I applaud each of them. But what if we simply became “Practicing Groomers”? What if the introduction was: I have been a practicing groomer for 32 years; I am a practicing groomer who specializes in terriers; I am a practicing groomer with an emphasis on elderly or special needs pets? Just like medical professionals, this leaves room for innovation, experience levels, specialties and indicates a profession—we are dedicated to ongoing improvement of our skills.
By identifying as a “practicing” professional, you can indicate to your clients that our education is never finished. Who among us doesn’t eagerly await the arrival of yet more rare breeds to become mainstream so we can quench our thirst for exciting new breed studies? Becoming a “practicing” groomer also lets your client know that you are responsible for staying abreast of new practices and innovations within the industry on their behalf. A “practicing” groomer has the perfect platform to introduce new products, techniques, and even styles to their clients. By definition, you are letting your clients know that you will continue to improve and learn for their pets’ benefit.
Practice makes perfect. As a final note, when you choose to call yourself a “practicing” groomer, you don’t diminish your experience or skill level, instead you can rest assured that you will instill confidence in your clients because you have been practicing for X amount of time. So, instead of identifying as a professional groomer, I propose that you contemplate changing your mindset. As a trusted care provider working in a highly skilled trade, we are already supposed to be professional. What if you were a “practicing” groomer instead?
My client may have been more wrong than she realized when she indicated that I wasn’t performing brain surgery when I did my job. It may not be medicine, but beginning that day, I adopted the same mindset as her doctor and became a “practicing” groomer.
I am pleased to say that my clients now value the skills, experience and expertise that I bring to their pet every time. And if I find myself having to explain why their dog needs an unsavory haircut, the dialog is easier when I explain that I have been a practicing groomer for X number of years, or that as a practicing groomer, I have acquired education about coat and skin health that I am excited to share with her. The list goes on. Now, go forth and begin practicing your craft.