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Everything Is in the Timing


I’m so fortunate to live in a place I consider paradise. It’s a combination of woods, fields, orchards, and swamp. Here in West Michigan, we enjoy four seasons. (Okay, winter can drag on a bit too long some years) We’ve been on this large acreage for years.

In my down time, I love to take my dogs for runs, cut new trails, power walk, cross-country ski, snow shoe and horseback ride. I’ve been all over this property in the past 12 years. I know every inch — or so I thought…

A few weeks ago, I was out walking our property. It was one of those rare, gorgeous days in March. The sun was out and the temperatures were extremely mild. Nothing was green yet, but you knew it was coming.

I was Nordic power walking for exercise. I was approaching my one-hour mark but I was not ready to quit. I just crossed a stream and came to a fork in the trail. I was standing at my husband’s deer blind. Normally I hang a left and follow the trail through a field and ultimately back into the orchards towards the house.

But today was so pretty, I thought I’d test out a new path. My husband keeps a large swath brush-hogged for hunting next to one of the horse pastures. It looked like a perfect good-sized loop to explore.

I knew at the end of this open area, over in the corner, there is an old junk area. Almost every old farm has one of these on their land somewhere. We’re no exception.

As I approached the junk area, I looked through the underbrush. I thought to myself, “boy, there’s some big stuff back there — things I’ve never seen.” I needed to investigate. As I ducked under branches and wove my way back into the junkyard, I was surprised at how large the area actually was. There was A LOT of stuff back there!

The years have been slowly swallowing this area with underbrush. For most of the year, this area is so thick you couldn’t begin to see beyond 8 feet. However, on this day, the green foliage was not out yet. I had a clear view once I got back in there.

Wow. Here was this old Chevy truck. I’d never seen it before! How does something this large stay hidden from view? I have no idea what year this truck is. However, I swore I learned how to drive a stick-shift on an old farm truck just like this when I was in high school out west! I wonder what kind of stories this old truck could tell.


I’d been by this area 100s of times. This was the first time I’d ever noticed a virtual graveyard of large farm equipment and vehicles buried back behind the junk area. They’ve always been there — I just never noticed them before. The timing was just right today.

As I departed the area,  in awe of what I just found, I thought; our careers are like that too. Information is presented to us all the time. But what do we picked up on? What do we notice? What do we put into use? It’s all in the timing.
Careers change. Life changes. Information that is available to you all the time will only register in your mind when the timing is right. Can you use this information to improve your life or your career? Will it enhance your job somehow?

When I first started attending grooming seminars and reading books, I was like a dry sponge. I soaked up so much information so fast. It was fun. It was exciting. But then it kind of leveled off. I wasn’t gathering nearly the amount of information I was early in my career.

As I gathered experience, I become more selective about what I retained. When I was first learning to groom, there are priorities I needed to focus on first. How to do you get a pet clean? How do you blow out the coat perfectly?  How do you remove mats and shedding coat? How do you get a smooth clipper cut? I wasn’t ready to learn about breed profile trimming. I wasn’t ready to learn about balance and symmetry. I wasn’t ready to learn about the finer details of grooming. Running a business. Managing staff. Mastering marketing. But as I understood each new skill, I was ready to learn more. I was climbing that imaginary staircase, one step at a time.

I’ve been developing my career for over 35 years.  Just like with finding that old truck, it was all in the timing. As my career has unfolded, I learn new things all the time.  Most of the time, it’s nothing new or revolutionary. But it is to me. It’s fresh and new — to me. The timing was just right for me to apply this new tidbit of information.

Your career and personal development will be like that too. Never stop learning. Always be ready to gather new knowledge when the timing is right. You never know what you might discover.


Play to the Senses


Sight is probably the most developed sense in humans. Next is hearing, followed by smell. When you’re client walks through the door of your business, what do they see, hear and smell?

What type of image you present to your customers? Do you project a professional image? Do you project an air of authority as the expert? Your clients and perspective clients gain confidence in your ability by the clues should give them through sight, sound and smell. Will you handle their dog with compassion? Will the pet be safe in your care? Will you be able to provide a quality haircut that they love? People will automatically question your ability to perform at a professional level if what they see, hear and smell are not up to their standards.

A busy pet care facility can be extremely hectic. Sometimes we get so lost in our daily tasks, we lose track of what our clients see, hear and smell as they walk through our doors. If you’re immersed in the chaos, your senses can become dulled. It’s time to pull back and take a good look at what makes a first impression to your customers.

In Judy Hudson’s Learn2GroomDogs.com video called “What I Know for Sure,” she shares a great story told by a very wise grandmother. She said. “It doesn’t cost a lot of money to be clean. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to be neat and tidy. It does take a little elbow grease.”

Take a good hard look at yourself. Take a good hard look at your support staff. Take a good hard look at your salon. What could be done to present a more professional image to your customers? If customers can’t trust you — they’re won’t be coming back to you.


Start with yourself first. Are you freshly showered? Is your deodorant working well? Is your hair neat and tidy? Is it clean? Is it styled? If it’s long, is it neatly tied back? What about your clothing? Are you neatly groomed yourself in hair repellent clothing? Is it wrinkle free? What about that sandwich at lunch? Is it still stuck between your teeth? If you’re not neatly groomed, what kind of message does that send to your customer? Ask same types of questions of your staff. What kind of image do they present?

What condition is your lobby in? Is it old and tired or bright and fresh? If you have retail, do you keep the stock freshly turned? How organized is your registration area? What about the front entrance of the shop? Is there fur and dust bunnies collecting not only on the floor – but on the pictures on the wall too? It’s amazing what fresh coat of paint can do combined with regular dusting and mopping. If you are mobile, when was the last time you washed the outside of your van?

What do your clients hear when they walk through the door or if the phone is set down without putting them officially on hold? Are you fighting to communicate with the customer over the sound of a vacuum or high velocity dryer? Or are yapping dogs making it so distracting you can barely converse with your client? Worse yet — is somebody in the back room screaming at a dog? Some of these sounds can be controlled — some are just the nature of the business. However, you do have options to minimize the offensive noises through organization and salon policies.

When your customers walk through the door, what do they smell? Wet dog? Urine? Feces? Cigarette smoke? Anything offensive? Bottom line, if a salon doesn’t smell pleasant — it’s dirty. Working with animals is great. But what a lot of people don’t realize when they get into the business, you need to spend a great deal of time cleaning up after our furry friends. I don’t care what kind of animal is — animals create a mess! Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, biannually, and annual cleaning duties all need to be addressed on a regular basis. Not only do you need to deal with all of those, but you’ll also need ongoing cleanup as your day progresses.

That’s just the nature of the beast. A little bit of awareness and a lot of elbow grease will keep your salon looking — and smelling – professional.
You can gain a great deal of trust by paying attention to first impressions. These first impressions are going to be highly influenced by; sight, sound and smell. Clients and prospective customers look clues about a service. If they don’t sense you have what it takes to provide a quality service and build their trust, they look to other grooming services that do have them. So provide clues that will keep customers returning.

Speed & Efficiency: Clocks are Your Score Keepers

clock-bigMy husband Marc and I just did a private salon lesson on one of our recent road trips.  We asked the salon owner what she wanted us to focus on during our time there so we could be better prepared. The request was simple. Speed.

Most of her staff struggled to get even the simplest trims done in under an hour. Bath. Blow dry. Haircut.  Even a basic #7F all trim on a smaller drop coated breed was daunting to some of them.

We walked in and saw a well-organized salon. It was bright. It was clean. The layout allowed for efficiency. The equipment was all top-notch.  Hmmm, we wondered. Why was turning a small to mid-sized dog such a challenge for them?

Then it hit us. There were hardly any clocks visible. We only spotted one clock in the main room. A smaller digital wall clock set on military time. The owner of the salon was career military gal who is now retired. I understand why she opted for that style of time keeper. (And thank you Lori for your service to your country!) I’m just not so sure that style of time keeping is the right for a staff of non-military groomers.  Plus, when I was across the room, I could barely read it clearly. The clock was just too small!

If you want to be a successful groomer that can pay their bills while bringing customers back again and again – you need to embrace time. Watch the time. Track the time. Race against the time. Everything we do with professional pet grooming involves time. You need to be highly aware of every hour, minute and second. Ideally, a professional groomer should be able to turn a small to medium size simple trim in an hour or less. That includes the bath, the dry, and the trim.

The first thing we suggested to this team was; GET CLOCKS! Nothing fancy, they just needed to be large enough to be easily seen across the room. The simpler, the better. Every room in the salon needed one hung on the wall. By having a clock in every room, it makes it easy for the groomers to track their own time with just a quick glance.  But clocks aren’t enough. Every person working on the pets needs to have a watch on too.

For those individuals that are really looking to increase their speed, having a timer at their stations can be really beneficial. Before you can start timing yourself, it’s helpful to know what your starting point is.



Break the groom down into sections. Bathing. Drying. Clipping the body. Trimming the feet. Rounding the feet. Scissoring the legs. Styling the head. If you don’t know how long it takes you to do each one of these items, you’ll never be able to improve upon your ‘best time.’

And it’s far easier to break it down into segments than to look at the dog as a whole. After all, who doesn’t want the opportunity to win at even one or two smaller segments than to get frustrated when they don’t hit the time goal with the overall trim?

Once you know how long it takes you to do each segment — now you can set goals and objectives to beat your ‘best time.’ Push yourself. Make a game out of it. The clock will be your score-keeper. Each time you gain even a few seconds, you’ve won a mini victory!  But you’ll never be able to do that unless you can easily watch the clock. Even with all the clock watching, always remember, speed and efficiency can never come at the sacrifice of quality or safety.


The Westminster Dog Show is Just Around the Corner

I always get excited this time of year. The Westminster Kennel Club dog show is just around the corner! I have firmly planted myself in front of the TV for two nights for almost as long as I can remember.

And this year is no different. I plan to watch the show in its entirety. Why?

Because, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show is the “Super Bowl” of the dog world!

I even used to host a Westminster party. I loved inviting my entire grooming team over to be glued to the TV for two nights as the show aired. For days after the show, we would talk about the newest breeds that had been accepted by the AKC. The unique haircuts we saw. The latest style trends on established breeds.

The show was important for me. I was actively competing in the pet grooming contest arena. In the old days, we would record the show. I can’t tell you how many times I would review those tapes before I stepped into the contest arena. By watching some the most spectacular dogs in the country compete at this level, I was able to get a clear image etched in my mind before I stepped into the ring at a grooming competition. Visualization is a key to success.

Secondly I used the Westminster Dog Show as a way to help keep my grooming staff up-to-date with the latest styling trends. Once I opened The Paragon School of Pet Grooming, we continued to use the show as a key learning tool for students. The annual dog show was instrumental for students learning breed identification and trims styles. Today you can order a high quality DVD of the entire Westminster Dog Show – commercial free.

Great grooming lessons from Cheryl Purcell

Cheryl Purcell earning Best In Show at the NDGAA 2004 Fun in the Sun Show

This week, we are releasing an incredible triple feature on Learn2GroomDogs.com focusing on the Kerry Blue Terrier. Your training partner is Cheryl Purcell. She will be reviewing the common mistakes that people make when they groom a Kerry Blue and how to avoid them.

We are so happy to have Cheryl on our team of training partners. Cheryl Purcell started in the industry as a manager of a pet store. After a fire destroyed the retail section of the building, all that was left was the grooming salon. The owner wanted to continue grooming and the rest is history. After picking up the basics from their in-house groomer, Cheryl has had an impressive career.

It was her Mom who really encouraged her to be a groomer. They opened a shop together in 1994. Since then she credits much of her success with continuing education. After taking advice from a friend, she started taking private lessons from groomers she looked up to in the industry. Cheryl offers private training herself. (See her bio for details)

She has been on GroomTeam USA numerous times since her first competition in 1994. Cheryl can be seen here at the 2004 NDGAA Fun in the Sun where she won Best in Show. I am very proud to have Cheryl on our training partner team. She will continue to be a valuable asset to groomers who want to continue their education.

Photo by Animal Photography

Take Advantage of Continuing Education Opportunities

Continuing education is a must for the successful pet groomer/stylist. Some continuing education opportunities are almost effortless. Other opportunities will take a vested interests in, time, money AND effort.

Trade journals abound. Many are available in the print version. Currently, many are offered in digital versions too.

With the onset of the internet – there are plenty of ways to research breeds and grooming techniques. Google, Facebook, grooming forums, YouTube and websites will lead you down an endless quest of knowledge. www.Learn2GroomDogs is a great example of very talented stylists sharing their knowledge. Word of Warning: The internet is a fabulous research tool but use good judgment. Be aware of the caliber of the information you are receiving. Anyone can post on the internet – regardless of their true qualifications.

Trade shows are held across the country. As professionals, you can step through the doors and be immersed in all the latest products, tools, educational classes. Plus, many have grooming competitions. This is where you can get up-close to watch top stylist groom their way to wins and placements. If you have access to high-speed Internet, many of these shows now stream live as the event takes place. Even if you can’t attend the show you can still see the grooming competitions!

Many award-winning pet stylists host small private clinics, offer personal coaching, and/or have educational DVDs. This form of training will show you the finer points of grooming. You also have easy access to webinars and streaming dog grooming videos taught by award-winning stylists with a few simple clicks of a mouse.

Voluntary certification testing puts your grooming to the test.  Currently, there are three organizations in the United States. All of them have educational programs. Each organization offers written examinations combined with rigorous practical skills testing. The common goal of each certification programs is to assess your grooming skills plus your overall knowledge of the pet grooming profession. The three organizations are;

  • National Dog Groomers Association of America
  • International Professional Pet Groomers Association
  • International Society of Canine Cosmetologists

Attending dog shows is another fabulous way to gather great information. Watching dog shows allows you to firmly etched in your mind of what a good specimen of any breed should be. The better you understand what a good specimen looks like, the better you’re going to be able to work on your pet clients.

The Passing of a Starlet…

When we lose one of our ‘special clients’, it’s always hard. It’s like we lost one of our own pets. Pandy was one of those ‘special clients.’ On second thought, no, Pandy wasn’t just ‘special,’ she was a gorgeous star.

Our love affair started in 2000 when Pandy’s owner brought her to the Paragon School for the first time. She was a striking black and white Shih Tzu, dripping a cloak of fur that literally drug on the ground. She was stunning. We were even more thrilled when we quickly learned; her mother knew how to brush!

Pandy quickly grabbed the attention of all the staff and students at the school. In order to keep her luxurious coat in top shape, her owner brought her in for weekly and bi-weekly brush-outs and baths. Through the years, Pandy taught hundreds of students what a well-kept Shih Tzu should look like.

But Pandy’s ability to help people learn didn’t just stop at Paragon. Her owner, Chris Vandyke is an incredibly generous woman. Whenever we called with a special request – she always was willing to bring Pandy over. When I was working on larger projects like writing Notes from the Grooming Table and Theory of Five, Pandy was always available as a model. When we were filming our first video training lessons, Pandy was there. When we needed a special dog while filming on the set of Learn2GroomDogs.com, Pandy was there.

Pandy was getting older. Chris has requested something that would be easier for her to keep up for Pandy yet still look stylish.  We had a film shoot scheduled that weekend with Learn2GroomDogs.com. We had the perfect slot for Pandy on camera. Again, she helped groomers learn to be the best.

It was an honor to have Lisa Leady do one of her last grooms. Lisa created a haircut that would easier to maintain while still giving the illusion of a full coat. She looked amazing.

Pandy passed away not long after our filming session. Watching her on camera, you’d never know she was 14 years old.

She was a beautiful bright spot for her family and everyone that met her. She helped hundreds of students learn how to brush, bath, condition, trim, and tie up topknots on a dog that not only had a glorious coat – but had a matching personality as well.

As you thumb through any of my books or watch any of our videos, you’ll see Pandy.  Anytime you see a full coated black and white Shih Tzu, that’s her – still helping young groomers be the best they can be.

She was always a star.  Her star still burns bright in our memory.

We miss you Pandy.

Valentine’s Day WOW Factor

I’m so proud of my team at Whiskers Resort & Pet Spa. We opened the luxury pet resort in the fall of 2007.  We’ve managed to bi-pass the worst of our current economy. Instead, we continue to grow. Why?  This team goes out of their way constantly, doing things like this.

Day Care was our slowest area of growth at the resort – until recently. In the past few months, we have been experiencing up to a 50% growth rate over last year’s sales. How are we doing that? By creating the WOW factor.

We don’t do it every day, but occasionally, the Whiskers team ramps up for a day like today.  Valentine’s Day – on a ho-hum Tuesday. How were they going to make that day ‘exciting?” They opted to toss a Day Care Valentine’s Day party – a party for the dogs. The dogs all got special attention and yummy treats. That’s not that unusual for this team to a great party for our canine guests.  But with this party, the team opted to highlight the owners too.

As John Jantsch says in his book, The Referral Engine, “People don’t get emotional and passionate about ordinary products, a satisfactory result, or a fair price. They talk about things that surprise them or make them feel great about themselves – and, in effect, remove the feeling of risk they might have about doing business with that firm…. If the market place isn’t talking about you, there’s a reason. The reason is that you’re boring.”

We have used this concept with great success over the past few years at Whiskers. We want folks to TALK about us when they leave. This is one of those marketing tasks that was downright FUN to do. Not only were the clients delighted – the staff had a blast preparing the 100 roses for our guests AND passing them out! Whiskers had the largest day in Day Care they had ever had – Over 70 dogs took part in the party! Talk about creating the WOW factor.

So my challenge to you is:
What are you doing to encourage referrals with your business? What are people saying around the dinner table, the cocktail party, at the gym or the water cooler at work? Are they talking about YOUR business in an energetic, positive way?  If they aren’t, how can you change that?

If you want to learn more about some of our marketing tactics or how we create enthusiasm within our teams, make sure you catch my lectures at the Atlanta Pet Fair coming up the first weekend of March.

A Unique SOS for Grooming Help

Pina with Poodle puppy

This is an amazing TRUE story that took place a few weeks ago with one of my companies. It’s uncanny how all the pieces of this puzzle fell together. In the end, it was tremendously rewarding to see someone apply a lesson so well.

I currently oversee five different companies in the pet industry. I don’t have a lot of extra time to spend in the social media world. However, I’m lucky to have a team of people around me that are able to spend a bit of time there. They give me a heads-up when they feel there is something worthy of my attention. On this particular day, there was a very loud SOS cry for help from Facebook.

Lea Ann is a newer groomer from Kentucky. She just had a client purchase a 7 month-old, cream, Miniature Poodle show puppy — and she wanted her to groom it! Her first show was in three weeks. Yikes! Although her basics grooming skills were strong, this presented a challenge outside of her comfort zone. She turned to her friends on Facebook for help.

One of those friends is Lisa Van Sweden my illustrator for Notes from the Grooming Table and Theory of Five. Whenever Lisa sees a tough question — or a plea for help — she privately contacts me to see if I can help. Lea Ann had no idea Lisa was connected to me, the Paragon School of Pet Grooming or Learn2GroomDogs.com — all she knew, “was Lisa was well-connected.”

Now this is where it gets weird.

A few weeks earlier we had been in Florida filming for Learn2GroomDogs. One of the Training Partners we filmed was Irina (Pina) Pinkusevitch. Pina did a grooming demonstration on a 7 month-old, cream, Miniature Poodle show puppy! Uncanny.

Not two hours prior to receiving this SOS, I had reviewed the rough edit of this video. We were getting ready to put it up as a ‘Sneak Peek’ in the next few weeks on Learn2GroomDogs, giving people a small taste of what they could look forward to in the Full Length video. The Full Length video would not be available for another four weeks.

I knew this lesson was almost custom-made for Lea Ann! However, if we stayed on track with our release schedule — she would miss her window of opportunity to make the first dog show with her client’s puppy. To complicate a few things, we were missing about four or five minutes of footage in the rough edit. (That’s why I review every video one or two times before it goes up on L2GD!) The footage that was missing was really critical; how to band off the top knot and create “the bubble.”

The next thing that was standing in our way was that Marc and I were headed off for a ski vacation with fellow top stylists, Teri DiMarino and Kathy Rose. Still, I knew I had to get this footage to Lea Ann ASAP.  As we’re driving to the airport, waiting for flights and touching down in Salt Lake City Utah, I was in touch with my office, our editor, and Lisa who was the link to Lea Ann. We needed to find the missing footage, finish out the edit a few weeks early and quietly posted on the L2GD website. The only people that were going to be able to find it in the tangle of over 200 videos, were people that had the inside scoop — namely Lea Ann.

Luckily, she found the video. It looks like it was exactly what she needed. The before/after photos arrived while we were skiing. I was so proud of her work. Teri and Kathy were impressed too. It was amazing to see how easily somebody could grasp the information on their computer screen by watching a streaming video lesson on-line and apply it to a real live dog. She nailed it. Sure, there’s some tweaking that can be done. Even the best stylists in the country are never 100% happy with their work.

Once we got back from skiing, I contacted Lea Ann privately via Facebook. That’s when I learned the next unique piece of the puzzle. She writes this;

“I’ve been a groomer for almost four years now. I was an actually student of Courtney Ramstack. I feel so lucky to have studied with her initially. She was tough, but I felt like I walked away from her grooming academy with the best foundation possible. It was a four week course featuring 40+ hours of classroom and hands on instruction. I LOVE watching her videos as well. It feels like I’m coming home.”

Now I’m totally blown away. She’s “One of Courtney’s girls!” I should have known when I saw the work. Courtney is one of my all-time favorite people. We go back a long way. We all met when PetsMart used the Paragon School for corporate training in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. In fact, two of my trainers and Courtney all competed at the same time around the country in grooming shows. They became great friends and earned the nickname “The Blonde Squad”. Over the years we’ve all maintained our contact and our friendship. She’s even been up to my home and ridden our Friesian horses. Having Courtney as one of our Training Partners for L2GD has been a treat. Not only is she an amazing person with a huge heart, she’s a fabulous teacher!! Lea Ann was fortunate to have trained under her initially — she got good solid basics and it shows!!

Lea Ann is even taken it one step further and contacted Pina where she got a very warm welcome. She also has been able to reconnect with her initial trainer, Courtney. Were excited to see where Lea Ann is going to take this grooming. Hopefully she’s made some contacts that will open the doors of opportunity even much wider for future as a talented pet stylist.

It’s such a small world. It’s amazing that a simple request for help on Facebook can yield the type of results that Lea Ann experienced. Whether you believe in Six Degrees of Separation or The Secret, this entire story has a unique feel to it — a warm fuzzy feeling that reminds all of us why we are in the service business. I love the pet industry and I love being able to help both people and pets through education.


New eBook is here

“Why Dogs Shouldn’t Wear Tutus” is the newest book from Melissa Verplank, with whimsical illustrations by Lisa Van Sweden. This eBook is available for download to your computer. Use your favorite PDF reader to view and print this informative edition featuring 115 tips for professional pet groomers. This eBook features:

  • Informative tips to use every day
  • An easy-to-print format
  • Colorful illustrations
  • Business building information
  • Easy to grasp nuggets of wisdom

This fun little book is filled with great tips inspired by over 30 years in the pet service field. Join ‘Petunia’ (the Bulldog) and ‘Twinkle Toes’ (the fairy) along with a few of their friends as they present the golden nuggets. Twinkle Toes is busy sprinkling the fairy dust of knowledge throughout the pages of this charming new eBook.  Click the cover below to purchase your copy.

new eBook from Melissa Verplank

Order yours today and download right away!


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