So you’ve decided you’re destined to become a groomer? Fabulous news! Over 45 million American households have a pet dog and, chances are, most of those dogs are going to need to be groomed professionally. That’s where you come in.
Most groomers begin by attending a grooming school (either a local school or online). This will give you the background and experience you need to get started. Then you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to open your own shop or work for a groomer to gain further experience.
We recently sat down with world champion groomer Julie Pantages, the owner and head groomer at Best in Show in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Julie offered up some advice for new groomers.
PetEdge: Got any secret grooming tips?
Julie Pantages: Always start with a good bath and blow dry. I can’t stress that enough. It’s the foundation of every great groom. If you’re working with white dogs, try out a whitening shampoo to really get their fur looking bright and beautiful.
Many show groomers will actually use human hair dye to dye black (or dark furred) dogs. It ensures that the color is really rich and eye-catching.
PetEdge: What’s the one piece of equipment you just had to splurge on?
JP: Hands down, it would be my force dryer. It cuts my drying time in half and really gets that coat out nice and straight. A lot of handlers in the show circuit still use hand dryers, but it can take them up to five hours to dry a dog. My force dryer works great on all breeds and saves me on microfiber towels, too.
PetEdge: Tell me about your biggest customer challenge? How did you solve it?
JP: Dealing with people. A lot of people think groomers are miracle workers, and that we can solve anything. My biggest customer issue is people who don’t brush their dogs regularly and just don’t get the concept of brushing their dogs. They bring their pets in completely matted and they don’t even see it or feel it.
They are also always the customers who specifically say that they don’t want the dog shaved down, but most times that’s the most humane way to deal with the mats. You don’t want to spend hours ripping its hair out. Plus then you’re the bad guy, and the customer wonders why their dog doesn’t want to come into your shop anymore.
I try my best to educate my customers on the importance of regular brushing and scheduled grooming appointments. Sometimes it just takes that one shavedown to convince an owner that they need to put in the effort at home.
You’ve got to get them to that point where they say "OK, what do I need to do to avoid this next time?" I’ll tell them to either brush more, or to come for in-between groomings (just a bath and a cut).
PetEdge: Do you have a consultation meeting with new customers?
JP: Not really. Most of my customers just stop in and see what the shop is like and check things out. They want to know how we do things here and how we’re different from other groomers. Things like that. If they feel like I’m a good fit, then they make an appointment.
PetEdge: What about mixed breeds? Have you had any issues with customers wanting specific cuts?
JP: We get a lot of mixed breeds and customers are never sure what look they want for them. We get a lot of "give me the puppy cut", but some customers aren’t sure of what a puppy cut looks like. They’re thinking of more of a Bichon trim, but they just don’t know. I get around this by asking them "What do you think a puppy cut is?" To me it’s one length all over. It’s going to be different for each breed.
It’s hard with mixed breeds because there is no specific trim. We just have to get creative. It’s hard for us.
PetEdge: What do you know about grooming now that you wished you knew when you started?
JP: Everyone wishes they knew as much then as they do now. You’re always learning and growing. A lot of the time I look back at photos of shows I competed in and at the time I thought my dog came out great, looking incredible… now I know it was nowhere near what I can do now. I think you just learn and learn more and get a better eye for things. You’ll never really know everything about grooming.
It also depends on breed. I know a lot about poodles, but I’m not great at hand stripping a terrier. You decide which breed(s) you’re best at working with and you grow that skill set.
PetEdge: What are the three tools you simply cannot groom without?
JP: I’m all about the basics. Give me a good pair of shears, a couple of good brushes, and comb.
World champion groomer Julie Pantages is a member of GroomTeam USA (2003, 2005-2009), the Cardinal Crystal Awards 2008 American Groomer of the Year, the Intergroom 2006 International Groomer of the Year, and a Groom Expo Groom Olympics World Champion in 2004, 2005 and 2009. She’s also been featured on the cover of two PetEdge Groomer Stylist catalogs. Julie owns Best in Show grooming salon in Gloucester, MA.