The Voices of Experience: Invaluable Advice for Greenhorn Groomers

Grooming Gab

The Voices of Experience: Invaluable Advice for Greenhorn Groomers

When you begin your career in grooming, you are passionate, optimistic and full of enthusiasm. But no matter how much training you have, there is still a lot that you don’t know.

I recently reached out and asked some fellow groomers to share their early career experiences and their advice for new (and not so new) groomers. Their responses confirmed that to have a successful career in the pet grooming industry, you need a lot more than just grooming skills…and there are some things that you only learn through experience.

Canadian groomer Debbie Adey shares her career experiences and powerful advice on some of the most important things that new groomers need to know: 

“When I started grooming, I used up every last ounce of strength I had on each day to fit as many dogs as possible into as short a time as possible. I enjoyed beating my speed as I believe my skills vastly improved during those time trials.

“Set personal boundaries and do NOT overwork yourself due to poor planning on any client’s part. No guilt!”

Amber Leigh Rinker

 I cannot groom at that pace anymore. Nor should I have to, nor should anyone want to. It isn’t wrong to take your time with  each dog and be able to charge enough to cover that reasonable extra time. Yes, I can groom dogs quickly and efficiently, but when I do, I miss out on opportunities for more joy within the profession. I miss out on special moments with the dog, whether while on the table or a few minutes of playtime afterwards. 

I miss out on really getting to know my clients, to understand  what is happening in their lives and be able to have a meaningful, unrushed conversation with them when it is needed. 

Build your business so that you have this time for people. A lot of people choose this profession to work with animals, and I get that, but dogs don’t walk in on their own, nor do they pay your  bills. Client relations are paramount to building not just a successful business, but also a rewarding one.  

I wish I had known in the beginning that I would still be doing this job in my fifties. My body hurts, and while I can still power-groom, demat those ears and  tails, and get every last bit of undercoat out, I shouldn’t and I don’t. 

I wish I had a better understanding back then of how personal finances work and how to really plan for the future. I have had various mentors over the years from many different areas in the world and have learned different things from each of them. I had a great foundation, but it was short and I had to learn a lot on my own. Now my entire future depends on what I have built and how it can run.”

Debbie Adey is not the only one that had to learn a lot on her own. Groomers from all over shared their early career experiences as they tell about the mistakes they made and some of the things that they did not know when they started grooming.

At the beginning of her career, lacking confidence in her skills and abilities hindered Dawn Kinney from pursuing her dream: 

“I had everything it took to open my own business…except the self-confidence. I received top training at a national school, but I think as artists we tend to be our own biggest critic. I wish I had the moxie to just jump right in and open my own shop instead of always having worked for others.”

Groomer Jess Adorno was not happy with a “strictly business” approach to grooming. Now, she has found her niche and couldn’t be happier:

“I wish I had known the power of energy transfer between myself and the animal on my table. When I first began grooming, I was taught to view my clients, both two- and four-legged, ‘like an assembly line’ with no passion behind the groom. 

It’s the main reason I became a mobile groomer. I was looking for a one-on-one connection. It makes a huge difference when a groomer takes his or her time getting to know each pet. This makes for a better grooming experience, and once a bond is created, it’s for life.”

“As your skill grows so will your pocket book and clientele.”

-Brittany Joscak

When I asked about mistakes they made early on in their careers, Lori Craig shared this:

“Pleasing my clients. I used to go above and beyond dematting coats because owners didn’t want them shaved—and I really didn’t charge for it like I should have. And, in all honesty, I should have cared more about the dog than trying to appease the owners. 

Now don’t get me wrong; I still make my clients happy, but I am brutally honest, and if they won’t do the maintenance, I won’t do the fancy trims.”

Carol Fellbaum agrees with Lori on dematting:

“My biggest mistake was to demat most every dog that I thought I could, whether it should have been or not. My body took so much wear and tear over the years. 

When I started, I did not have a lot of people to give me advice, I just had to learn things the hard way. I lived for my monthly issues of Groomer to Groomerto teach me things and give me a sense of community.”

Dawn Kinney shared an “oopsie” that she made as a novice groomer:

“I would just set my clippers down between tasks without removing the blade first, and then it happened. I picked up my clippers thinking I had changed to my body blade (spoiler alert…I hadn’t) and proceeded to swipe a path down the spinal cord from withers to croup with a #30 blade. Of course, the dog on my table at the time was a white Schnauzer.

Unfortunately, some accidents are more serious in nature. Just ask Christein Pearson:

“One of my worst rookie mistakes was using the wrong shears for the job. Using long scissors on the face caused me to cut a dog’s eyelid and tongue. If I had been using shorter shears I would’ve had more control at the tip, especially on small areas like the face and around the feet.”

“Love what you do and the animals you work on. Work hard and never stop learning. Never be satisfied with being mediocre.”

-Jackie Boulton

Financial issues were a big topic of discussion when it came to early mistakes, and grooming business guru Joey Villani shares his: 

“The biggest mistake I made was not pricing my work properly. I think it’s what hurts groomers the most, by not charging what it is worth and struggling to make ends meet when there is really no excuse.”

Multitudes of groomers regret that they put themselves and their needs last. Dawn Omboy shared this about taking care of yourself:

“One thing I really regret as an older groomer is that I worked away my youth and health. If I had a do-over, I would not have worked Saturdays.

Now I am older and my body is more broken than it should be at this age. And what memories did I make? So many missed memories for the sake of ‘squeezing in just one more.’ Don’t be afraid to charge your worth. Price yourself happy and have a life!”

Janelle Duncan-Wookey agreed on the importance of self-care, and had this to share in hopes it would help others:

“In the beginning, I didn’t wear ear protection—what a mistake. Thinking I was super groomer, I picked up all the big dogs alone. Now, my back has four compressed discs.”

If you want to put yourself on the path to success, just listen to the advice Delise Knight received early in her career:

“When I first started grooming, I did not encourage my customers to rebook their next appointment. I attended a seminar where someone told me, ‘Do not let your customers leave without booking their next appointment.’ That was some of the best advice I ever got. 

From that point on I knew what my income was going to be. I never had to second-guess. And, I also was in control of what my days would be like. No more days of every dog being huge, and no more days of just bath dogs. I was in control of how my day went which made me in control of my attitude. It was just perfect.”

Whether you are deciding the best way to groom a dog on your table or how to structure your entire business, Melissa Mitchner gives this advice:

“Start with the end in mind. It is important to have a clear understanding of your overall goal or vision, whether you’re starting a groom or scaling a company.

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you can only groom six dogs well, don’t try to do 10 poorly.”

-Nancy Butterfield

Dream with a magic wand (aka your pen) when planning your career. Write down what you plan to accomplish in the next three years. Then, focus on the foundation, your values, your mission and what it will take for you to reach those goals. What do you already have? What do you need? And remember, one step in front of the other.”

New groomers often struggle with the amount of time it takes them to groom a pet but, “speed kills,” according to Jess Adorno:

“Living in such a multi-task-focused society, moving through tasks quickly in our industry does not always yield great results. For example, not prepping a coat well will affect your entire groom. Following a consistent process will bring efficiency and then speed.”

When it comes to making wise use of your time, Christein Pearson suggests you look at grooming in a new way:

“My best advice to absolutely every new groomer is to make the effort with each and every pet to see the grooming experience through the pet’s eyes. Empathy cannot be taught like other grooming skills can. But if you possess it and can nurture it, that is the link to becoming one of the best groomers. Mindful empathy is also the key to time efficiency and cultivating a roster of dogs who love coming in for grooming.”

Of course, everyone wants to be the best they can. But what if you have difficult pets? Nancy Butterfield shared this:

” Never lie to customers about a dog’s temperament. If the dog is not good for grooming, you must let them know. 

You’re going to form a relationship with not only the client, but the dog as well, so you should be truthful when giving feedback. But there’s a way in which to do it where you don’t insult the client, making them not want to come back.”

Many new groomers worry that if they refuse to groom a pet, they won’t have enough business. There are more than 185 million dogs and cats in the United States, and that number is growing daily. Oliva Glynn shared this about that common concern:

“The best advice I was ever given was from my mentor, who said, ‘There are always more than enough dogs to go around. As long as you’re doing your job well you will always have plenty. There’s no need to worry about what everyone else is doing.'”

On the subject of not being able to serve every client, Amanda Pollard shared this:

“I was advised to adopt the mantra, ‘I’m not for everyone, and that’s ok!’ In my personal and business life, this has saved me from a lot of heartache, stress and unnecessary worrying about clients, employees, etc. that just aren’t a good fit. 

It doesn’t mean I don’t care about what I offer, it means I can’t please everyone. Doing your best while accepting that it still won’t please everyone brings a whole lot of peace.”

Having that peace can help you avoid burnout—and burnout is a subject that a lot of groomers have experienced first-hand. Leslie Waldrep shared this advice on the subject:

“Don’t overbook yourself. It only leads to stress and frustration. The pets pick up on your mood which can make grooming more difficult. Try to provide a calm, relaxing and organized environment for you and your pet clients.”

In addition to keeping your stress level down, Lori Craig made this recommendation to avoid burnout:

“The best way to avoid burnout is to keep educating yourself. There are tons of videos, webinars and articles, as well as tradeshows. Then, try those new techniques you learn. It can be a game changer.”

Dawn Kinney agrees with the importance of learning new techniques and staying abreast of the latest trends, and had this to say about it:

“Learning is an investment in your career. Much like the fashion industry, we are a constantly trending and evolving trade.

Get certified in canine CPR, learn canine massage, watch videos or study books on grooming, attend trade shows and go to the classes offered; basically anything you can to improve and build confidence in your skills. Knowledge is power.”

Where you find grooming education, you will find other groomers, and there is power, comfort and strength when you know you are not alone in this journey. Allison Murphy agrees and had this to share:

“Other groomers are not competition. Whether in your salon or the ones across the street, they can be incredible friends and allies. And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, they may specialize in those nasty biters that you don’t want to do.

Even if you work alone, you are never alone. You are not on an island. The internet is full of experience, ideas, creativity and a shoulder to cry on. You got this!”

If your plan is to become a business owner, you already know it isn’t going to be easy. Teri DiMarino shared three lessons that she learned early on as a business owner:

“1. When you have employees, you can be a friend or you can be a boss, but you cannot be both. And there will always be that one employee who will teach you that more than anything.

2. Good record-keeping is a must!

3. When you need expert advice, pay the pro! The accountant. The attorney. The plumber. The electrician. They know their job and do it well, just like we do ours. I don’t fix my computer and my computer guy doesn’t groom his dog.”

Justine Cosley echoed similar advice about owning your business:

Most of all, take what you’ve learned and build on it. Find your niche and become the best at what you do.

-Lesa Laster

“Keep your business and personal life as separate as possible. I used to use my personal cell phone number to text customers. Now I have a separate number exclusively for customers so that they don’t think that I need to be available to them 24/7.”

Don’t forget to take care of yourself and secure your financial future as part of running a business. Janet Rowell had this to say:

“Take care of your body. Eat right. Take lunch breaks. Charge accordingly so you can make ends meet without killing yourself. Open a 401k or a Roth IRA account with your first paycheck!”

Building a successful career in grooming can be challenging. Justine Cosley shared this final piece of advice to encourage and uplift all groomers:

“Just be you. A groomer that can safely and gently groom an elderly, frightened or pelted pet with skill and patience is just as worthy of merit as someone who grooms a perfect dog to perfect breed standard in the ring.” ✂️

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Kathy Hosler

Kathy Hosler opened her shop in 1971 when she was just nineteen years old. She has built a terrific business and is still actively grooming today. Kathy is also a feature writer for Groomer To Groomer and Pet Boarding & Daycare Magazines, and has been nominated twice for the Barkleigh Honors Journalist of the Year Award as well as a Cardinal Crystal Achievement Award for Grooming Journalist.

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