By Michelle Knowles
It’s the same old story: Charlie the cocker comes in to your shop every week with sticky, stinky skin and you are handed a prescription shampoo meant to make him better. Except he never gets better. He always stays the very same. You have the knowledge and skills to help him but you feel like your hands are tied by the client’s unwillingness to go against the vets orders and the vet’s unwillingness to try something different.
This has been going on for decades in pet salons all over the country. The definition of insanity is when you do the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Good skin care is the groomer’s domain. There are virtually no issues that cannot be improved by the practice of proper grooming and skin care. I dream of a better world where the pathways of communication between vets and groomers are paved with respect and knowledge instead of ridicule and mistrust.
Historically, vets and groomers have been on opposing sides of the skin care issue. Groomers may think that vets don’t know anything or are just out to make money. Veterinarians may think that groomers are ignorant and uneducated and are typically dismissed when it comes to dermatological care of pets. It is time to stop the madness. Groomers today are educated, savvy, career professionals that care very much about the pets in their care. Veterinarians are largely unaware of this fact. Here are some steps you can take to form a lucrative partnership with veterinarians in your area:
ASSEMBLE A PORTFOLIO
This means you should have before and after pictures of every groom you do as well as what products you used and what the issues that the pet had when you were working on it. When working on a pet that requires therapeutic skin care, good documentation is the key to impressing a veterinarian.
KNOW YOUR MEDICAL VOCABULARY
A large portion of the miscommunication between vets and groomers is not being able to talk on the same level. Vets are medically trained professionals that use the medical terms for conditions and anatomy. This information is free for the taking if you are willing to do some research.
BOTH PARTIES SHOULD BENEFIT
If you want vets to refer cases and clients to you, you have to be willing to refer cases to them.
DO NOT DIAGNOSE
Not only is it dangerous for the pet but it is illegal in most states. Vets go through years of college to have the knowledge needed to diagnose conditions and administer medications. Teach them in a humble way that you will not play at being a vet and they should not play at being a groomer.
Make sure you have the latest information on pet skin care from the most reliable sources you can find and stay current on the newest technology.
Take them to lunch or pay for an hour of their time. It will be the best investment in your business that you can make. Vets love free food and they enjoy an ego boost. Approach them humbly and you will be rewarded with the beginnings of a great partnership. This is your opportunity to ask them questions, show off your portfolio and let them get to know you in a professional manner.
Remember, it is always better to know your vet ahead of time in case there is an accident, for example:
You have a wiggly pet on the table and he licks the scissors. It is more likely that the vet you call for the repair already knows you and realizes that accidents do happen and will be easier on you when it comes time to pay for services.
You have a wiggly pet on the table and he licks the scissors. Now you call the vet who only knows you as the careless groomer that nicks dogs. This is more likely to be charged at full price as the vet has no relationship with you and no reason to give you a break.
There is something beautiful that happens when both sides begin a communicative, professional relationship. Questions can be asked and answered by both sides and solutions to problems can be discussed. There is a place in the veterinary profession for true skin technicians. Skin cases (or derm cases as they are called) are very frustrating for vets who only have 3 days to 2 weeks training on the skin itself during their college years. Vets are just as frustrated with skin issues as groomers are with the ineffective treatments that are routinely prescribed.
Topics such as nutrition, steroids, vaccinations and a long list of other treatments and maladies can be discussed without animosity when the
vet is your friend. It is time for us groomers to garner the respect we deserve within the medical industry but in order to receive this respect, education has to be our top priority. There is no benefit for either side to continue fighting against one another, because in the end, these relationships raise the value and respect of both professions.
Michelle Knowles, Master Groomer and a certified Pet Medical Aesthetician, has apprenticed, volunteered, worked, owned and managed in salons, kennels, zoos, and veterinary hospitals across the country. A professional pet stylist with 25+ years of experience, Michelle is Spa Director of The Tender Paw Day Spa at Animal Health Services Surgical and Diagnostic Center in Cave Creek, AZ. She has an ISB certification in skin and coat care, extensive experience with fear and trauma recovery, elderly pets, and a focus on managing allergic/dermatological disorders. In 2011 Michelle became the first American instructor for the Iv San Bernard Pet Aesthetician certification program and is a valuable participant in developing the much anticipated ISB American Grooming School. Michelle is also the US product consultant for Iv San Bernard pet products.