Chocolate and puppies…What groomer wouldn’t want to spend a weekend surrounded by chocolate and puppies? But that was just the tip of the iceberg of what was in store for the more than 5,000 people who attended Groom Expo this year in Hershey, Pennsylvania, which took place September 18th — 21st. Groom Expo is the largest and most exciting show of its kind in the world. And, it has something for everyone that is in the pet care industry.

From the moment attendees entered the spectacular Hershey Convention Center, they could feel the incredible energy of the show. Mr. Frank Brown, official Groom Expo host, can always be found in the registration area. He warmly welcomes all of the attendees and helps direct them to seminar areas, rest rooms, or any part of the convention center that they are looking for. Several times every day, Joanne Russell, aka Sparkly Barkleigh, conducts guided tours of the entire convention center. She helps to familiarize new attendees with the show and its layout.

From the very beginning, one of Groom Expo’s main focuses has been to educate groomers and to help them have successful and satisfying careers. Groomers flocked to the more than forty seminars, ready to soak up knowledge on a wide variety of topics.

On Thursday, Cliff Faver, DVM, taught a day-long class on pet first aid and CPR. He stressed the importance of being prepared before an emergency occurs. “Make a plan so you will know what to do and who to call,” encourages Dr. Faver. “Keep Calm. If you panic, you are worthless in an emergency situation.”

All throughout the weekend Jay Scruggs, Olga Zabelinskaya, and others gave in depth grooming demonstrations. Everyone in the seminar rooms was able to see every snip and clip as five big screen televisions were placed throughout the room to give everyone great close-up views. There were seminars geared to help groomers in every aspect of their career — from building and running your business, to grooming difficult dogs, everything mobile, dog behavior, cat grooming, the super popular creative grooming and Asian freestyle classes, and much more!

“It’s been five or six years since I’ve been to Groom Expo,” said Diane Marie of Olean, New York. “But when I saw the recent cover of Groomer To Groomer Magazine, I just had to come and learn all about how to put color and rhinestones on dogs. The seminars were WOW!”

“My favorite speaker was Kim West,” shares groomer, Cathy Hartly of Palentine, IL. “Her Seminar on Tear Stains was fantastic and filled with info. Her research was incredible!”

While the seminars were going on, the PetSmart GroomOlympics grooming competitions got under way. There were three divisions in each competition — Entry, Intermediate, and Open. There were entrants from all over the world and the classes were huge. The Andis Poodle Tournament alone had forty-eight entries.

GroomerTV was live streaming all of the competitions. The attendees in the audience, as well as those watching online, got great close-ups of the dogs and competitors. The live commentary by Missi Salzberg and Jay Scruggs, as well as the industry professionals that they interviewed, kept everyone up to date on all the activities at the Expo. GroomerTV also featured grooming demonstrations, conducted interviews with vendors at the Trade Show, and showcased new and interesting products that were debuting at the show.

This year’s gigantic Trade Show had over 170 exhibitor booths and was packed with eager shoppers as soon as the doors opened. Everyone was trying out scissors, comparing tubs and tables, and checking out the hundreds of shampoos, styling products, and fragrances. Anything a groomer could want was there — from specialty bows to complete mobile vans and it was very evident that these groomers had come prepared to buy. They were stocking up on their basic supplies, taking advantage of the great show specials, and checking items off of their wish lists.

Caleb Tuber, owner of XPain Solutions said, “This is our second year to exhibit at Groom Expo. It’s been awesome. We sold out of everything last year and this year too!”

First time exhibitor, Michael Lisk, co-owner of Styp-Tips, was overwhelmed by the interest groomers had in their new product that solves the problem of a nail that’s bleeding after it has been clipped too short. “We brought all of the Styp-Tips that we could,” says Mr. Lisk. “The groomers went wild over them! We sold out of everything that we had.”

Besides all of the seminars, grooming competitions, and Trade Show activities, the Silent Auction opened its doors. All of the proceeds raised from this popular feature of Groom Expo go to support the Gifts of Love International and local animal rescue, Castaway Critters. Attendees love the many one-of-a-kind items and they search for bargains and treasures while they are helping a great cause.

Friday night exploded with the fabulous Opening Night Rock Star Party. Mr. B and his crew had the place decorated in true rocker fashion and the music got everyone in the mood to party — and party hard! Within minutes of the doors opening, the dance floor was filled with eager rockers all decked out for the occasion. The attendees even got to pose and have their pictures put on the cover of the “Rolling Bone”.

Saturday was packed with even more seminars and grooming competitions which were followed by the spectacular Barkleigh Honors Banquet. It was held in the gala ballroom and the exquisite meal was expertly prepared by the award winning chefs of the Hershey Lodge. Immediately following the dinner were the PetSmart Best In Show awards. The first place winners of the Tropiclean Terrier Tournament, the Nature’s Specialties All Other Purebreds Tournament, the Earthbath Sporting & Salon Freestyle Tournament, and the Andis Poodle Tournament entered the ballroom. Each winning stylist brought their dog up for one final look from the judges and to show them off for the audience. When all the votes were tabulated, Mackensie Murphy, with her flawless Bedlington, became the 2014 GroomOlympics World Champion. She won a spectacular trophy and an amazing prize of $5,000.

Next was the E-Z Groom Abstract Design Runway Competition. The contestants paraded their stunning creations one at a time on the lighted runway, and showed off their unique designs. There were eleven contestants — ten dogs and one brave cat. The ultimate winner of the $1,000 prize was Cindy Oliver with a beautiful black Standard Poodle.

After the Abstract Design Runway Competition, the Barkleigh Honors Award Ceremony got underway. It was truly an evening not to be missed or forgotten. Missi Salzberg had the audience rockin with her as she sang a spoof about the grooming industry, and accompanied herself on the guitar. Then the award presentations began with Missi and her co-host, Jay Scruggs, presiding. As the nominees were announced for each category, their photos appeared on the huge screens on each side of the ballroom. When the winner of each award was announced, they came up on the stage to receive their award and make a short acceptance speech.

Every award is special, but one of the top honors is the award for Contribution to the Industry. This award went to Groom Team USA. The Groom Team won Gold this year at the World Grooming Championship that was held in Barcelona, Spain. An exciting video of their once-in-a-lifetime journey to Barcelona was shown. The video followed the team as they prepared for the competition, the competition itself, and it concluded with the amazing moment when they won the world title and received the trophy.

The final award of the evening was the Sally Liddick Lifetime Achievement Award. It was presented to industry leader and icon, Marlene Romani. Her lifetime of passion for the industry and for groomers has been evident in everything that she does. Marlene has been a groomer, educator, speaker, inventor, and more. Her efforts have helped our industry to grow into the respected profession that it is today.

Sunday at Groom Expo always begins with a time for ‘early risers’ to enjoy morning devotions, which is followed by the Gospel Concert and Breakfast.

“For me, so much of Groom Expo is about the people who attend,” says Joanne Russell, aka Sparkly Barkleigh. “Sally and Gwen (Groom Expo’s founders) always wanted Groom Expo to be a place where groomers could meet and network with each other, continue their education, and to help others who were in need (with the silent auction, GEAF, and other worthy causes). That’s what Groom Expo is all about. You can really feel that, especially on Sunday mornings.”

Sunday was also the culmination of a very special competition that was almost a year in the making. It was the Lambert Kay Rescue Roundup Invitational grooming contest. Throughout the year Rescue Roundups were held at various shows. The main purpose of these competitions was to have the contestants groom dogs from local shelters and rescue organizations in order to help them get their forever homes. Donations were given to each of the shelters and rescue organizations for providing the dogs used in the competitions. An amazing ninety percent of the dogs were adopted by the time they are finished in the competition.

The winner of each Rescue Rodeo was invited to Groom Expo at Hershey for this final competition. There were sixteen entrants in Sunday’s competition. Most groomers have a real passion for the underdog and many volunteer their time and talents to help these pets. They ask for nothing, except the satisfaction of helping pets find ‘fur-ever’ homes. But, in this competition, not only do the pets win — there are some really spectacular prizes for the winning groomers. The first place winner of the Rescue Roundup Invitational will appear on the cover of Groomer To Groomer Magazine, receive a trophy and $1000, and — will win a Barkleigh Cruise! At the end of the competition there was a stage filled with adorable dogs, and judges that were faced with a very difficult decision. Ultimately, the triumphant winner of the first Lambert Kay Rescue Roundup Invitational was Anne Francis with her cute little mixed breed named Shea, who was quickly adopted.

Sunday afternoon featured the Groomer To Groomer Creative Styling Competition. It’s one of the most highly anticipated events at the Expo. Contestants begin to design their creations months before the actual competition. After much planning and preparation, the stylists unleash all of their artistry, imagination, and creativity in the ring. The audience in the arena and those watching on GroomerTV, got to see the transformations from start to finish as the stylists worked their magic on their vividly colored entries. Super heroes, cave men, punk rockers, cartoon characters, and more began to emerge and soon the stage was filled with living works of art.

This unique competition draws interest from all over. Photographers and videographers from USA Today were at the Creative Styling competition and were totally impressed with the artists and their creations. The Peoples Choice award is the one that everyone who enters the competition hopes to go home with. For the stylists, there is no greater recognition than to be chosen as the best by your peers. As the judging began, every seat was filled and the overflow of eager spectators spilled far back into the trade show area. The audience clapped and cheered for each of their favorite contestants. The auditorium got louder and louder as the people applauded and shouted their approval for their favorites. It was narrowed down to four finalists…and then to one.

Amid whistles, cheers, and thunderous applause, Lori Craig with her entry — The Phantom of the Opera, was definitely the ‘Peoples Choice’. And to top it off, she was also awarded first place by the judges. After the presentation of the trophies, the attendees flooded the stage to take videos and pictures of the winners and of all the contestants and their spectacular entries.

Groom Expo began to wind down and every one of the 5,000 people who attended had a story to tell about what they saw and experienced, and what Groom Expo means to them….

“I’ve been grooming for thirty-six years,” says Cathy Hartley of Jimminy Clippers. “Lately I had been feeling depressed and burned out. I had never been to Groom Expo, but my best friend and I decided to go to Hershey, Pennsylvania. My first thought when I walked through the convention doors was, Wow, wow, wow!  It was bigger than big could be. The classes and people were great, and this old dog has learned new tricks. I feel renewed. Now I’m sure that I have a few more years left in this old groomer’s body!”

“This is my fourth Groom Expo and my second year as a competitor,” shares an ecstatic Krista Creekpaum, of Grove City, Pennsylvania. “It was a wonderful growth experience. Some people have said, But, you didn’t win. I say- Yes I did. I was here and I learned. Competing is a blast of education — everyone wins!” Then Krista adds, “Each day I look for inspiration to become a better groomer, friend, and person, and that’s what Groom Expo does for me.”

What’s your Groom Expo story?