Tandem at the Table
By Daryl Conner
When I was a kid, my dad used to say, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” I took that quote to heart, and it’s mostly a good thing—until it isn’t.
For example, three years ago, while doing chores around my little farm, my boot caught on a loop of baling twine and the twine got slammed in a door, and I did an epic face plant on chicken–poop–covered pavement. When I was able to get up, I knew I’d done some damage to my right shoulder, and despite my aversion to visiting with medical professionals, I went to the emergency room.
Surveying my x–ray, the doctor quipped, “You did a good job.” I wryly thought, “Well, dad would be proud.” As it turned out, I had dislocated my shoulder, torn my bicep muscle, suffered nerve damage and destroyed my rotator cuff. This meant no grooming for me.
My business was only two years old and doing nicely. We depend on my income, and I was in a panic trying to figure out how to continue earning money, keep my business afloat and not disappoint my wonderful customers.
My daughter, Rachel, had been grooming with me since she was a baby in a backpack, and I was a house–call groomer. Later I went mobile, and she and her friends often rode with me on my route. When she was 15, and legally old enough to be employed, she joined the crew as a bather at the upscale spa where I worked. From there, she went on to be employed in other industries, and also groomed in a different state for a while. When I injured myself, she was back home, and successfully embarking on a career selling real estate. Seeing my plight, she kindly offered to work in my studio three days a week and work her regular job the rest of the time. I was elated.
During my long recovery, I would sit and watch her groom. I chatted with customers, tried to help with one hand (I was mostly in the way), answered the phone and was wildly frustrated by my inability to scissor even the tiniest sprig of fur. Rachel put up with it all. To my surprise, the customers took to her immediately. It wasn’t long before they’d look past me, and ask, “Where’s Rachel?”, if she wasn’t in the room when they entered.
As months went by and I was able to do a little more, I would sit at one side of the grooming table, and she on the other. We worked on each dog together; drying, brushing, combing, clipping and scissoring. It worked amazingly well. The dogs got done quickly, it was nice having extra hands on the wiggly pets, and we found that we worked beautifully together. But still, as I became more capable, I began to think happily of the time when she could return to her career, and I could have my studio back to myself.
Then something strange happened. The more we worked together, the more I began to dread the day that she would leave. I didn’t tell her that. I wanted her to follow her own path, but I began to grieve the time that she would go. Then one day she said, “You know, I’m really enjoying grooming. Would it be possible for me to stay?”
There was some discussion of trying to fit a second grooming table into our small space, so we could operate the way most grooming operations do; each person working on their own pet. But instead we tweaked the way we had already started and forged a unique path. I don’t know any other groomers that work the way we do, but we find it to be practical and fun.
One of us pops the dog in the tub to get it clean and conditioned. Once the dog is on the table, we work as a team. We have it all beautifully orchestrated; drying together, then one trimming and buffing nails while the other trims paw pads, sanitary areas and such. Then we each brush and comb the side we are working on. Once the dog is prepped, we decide what we will be doing for grooming. We have two clipper vacuum systems and multiples of all our hand tools and scissors.
During the grooming, we tend to rotate the dog so we both work on all areas, one catching anything the other missed. After three years of working this way, we are almost able to read one another’s mind, handing each other the needed tools, or holding the pet so a tricky area can be safely trimmed.
Our grooming studio is located on the front porch of my home in rural Maine. It is well off the beaten path. The town we are in is so small that we share a zip code with the next largest town. There are no traffic lights, and we can’t even see any neighbors. If the key to starting a good business is “location, location, location,” I was “loco” when I started mine.
Part of my success hinged on a comment the man creating my website made. I was telling him about my dream for my business, and said I was thinking of creating a little area where customers could wait for their pet, since we were a bit of a drive for most people. He seized on that idea. “Hardly any groomers let people stay,” he said, “You should market that.” And I did.
I set up half of my space with comfortable rocking chairs. I put out a coffee maker and a covered plate with home made cookies. I arranged my days so that I only groom one pet at a time, and since I work on animals 50 pounds and under, most pets are done in around one hour. Most of my customers happily pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and either chat, read or surf the net. Some bring needle work, one teacher spreads lesson plans on the floor and stays happily engaged while we take care of her pets. I ask that people not touch their dog or cat while we are working, and I rarely need to remind them.
Customers tell us over and over, “I love to see you two working together,” or “You sure make a good team.” We do. We spend our days chatting and laughing, getting kissed by puppies and often hugged by customers who enjoy rocking away an hour on a farmhouse porch while we pamper their pet.
We now refer to my fall as “the happiest accident.” Neither of us dreamed that we would create this unusual grooming method—and make it work. Last week a customer watching us said, “There is grooming, and then there is grooming. You two do it so well.” Dad had it right. ✂️