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Focus on Key Areas to Excel in Your Job

Focus on Key Areas to Excel in Your JobAs a professional pet groomer, our job is to know how to groom all breeds of dogs (and cats for some). What needs to be done to make a purebred look like it’s supposed to look. How can we make mixed breeds (designer dogs) cute. What’s the best way to remove shedding coat from a full coated dog. Being versatile is our job.

Guess what? Every groomer has a few types of jobs and coat types they really like to work with. What’s your favorite?

For me, I loved grooming the drop coated breeds in adorable fluffy trims. I loved to hand scissor. And there was nothing more gratifying than turning a big, furry, shedding mass of dirty hair into a snug-able, huggable pet.

Most of my co-workers happily let me tackle these jobs when they appeared on the books. These grooming jobs were not their favorites. They were hard for them. They took a long time to do. They never felt like they were ‘done’ with them. They never looked smooth and finished. Or they just cringed at the amount of work required.

For me, I knew I was going to have a great day when I saw multiple drop coated breeds on my roster along with a little mixed breed groomed like a Bichon. The icing on the cake would be tossing a Sheltie into the grooming mix along with something where tufts of coat were falling out. I was highly proficient with these dogs. I could make them look stunning in no time. I knew how to work with my equipment to get the best results in the shortest amount of time. I simply loved working with these types of coats because they were easy for me.

Where they always easy? Heck no! I’m a self-taught groomer. Learning is a lot of work. Mastering skills takes dedication and focus. There were hundreds of breeds to learn. There are hundreds of techniques to figure out. There are hundreds of products to try. I opted to focus on mastering a few techniques that would allow me to soar through my days.

Mastering a cute, fluffy trim on a drop coated breed was more out of necessity than anything else. We simply had a lot of those types on dogs in our client files. Plus, my first contest dog was a little black and white Shih Tzu. In order to do well in the ring, I needed to figure out how to get a plush finish on a drop coat. Not a small feat to conquer. I got good at this trim – really good – and fast.

With every drop coated dog in my client file, I was able to perfect my skills. What shampoo got the fur the cleanest? Which pair of shears worked the best on each coat type? How should I hold the shear to minimize marking the coat? When was it time to pull out the blenders? And which pair of blenders should I use? I analyzed every step. Dissected every move. Stood back and reviewed the overall appeal. Was it balanced? Was it even? Would hair fall out of place when combed or if the dog shook?

I was super critical of my work. As I learned more – discovered new things – I become even more critical. I was brutally honest with myself. I didn’t let up on myself until I was winning consistently with my little Shih Tzu.

Once I mastered one coat type, I moved to the next. As a bonus, through the process, I became an accomplished all breed stylist. There isn’t a breed I would not tackle. However, I focused on just a few techniques I could really master. Breeds or techniques I used a lot. Those are the breeds or types of trims that I loved to see hit my roster. I simply adored grooming them because they become so easy for me.

To improve your workday, concentrate on a few key areas in your job to really excel at. It may take some focused work at first but once you master the technique, haircut, breed, or personality type, you’ll automatically draw that type of client to your daily roster. You’ll enjoy your work day. The time will fly by with ease. At end of the day, you’ll be rewarded with a gratifying and highly productive workday.


Are You Prepared for a Fire in Your Salon?

Fire safety isn’t something any of us should procrastinate on. Many of us ignore taking the basic steps we need to protect ourselves. I’ve always known professional grooming salons can be prone to fire. Until I experienced my own fire, I didn’t know how much you could do to prevent one. And even for those of us that have taken every precaution to prevent fire, unfortunate scenarios can still unfold.

In 2008, my husband and I got a first-hand education in fire. We lost our entire 10 stall barn. It burned to the ground while I was home – and I never knew it was on fire!

I would like to share some of the things that we learned. It doesn’t matter what you lose, the impact of fire is devastating regardless of whether there’s loss of life or not.

  • Read your insurance policy. (Really read it!) If you have questions, make sure to you ask your agent. Don’t blindly accept what they tell you is adequate for your situation. Stop and think. Think about what it would cost you to replace the facility. Think about the value of the contents inside the structure too. Does your policy carry a rider for loss of revenue if you cannot work?
  • Keep a list in a separate location of all the items that are in your salon. One of the simplest ways to maintain current record of what is in your salon (or any structure) is walk through with a video camera and record the entire room. Open up closets and cabinets as you go through the space. You don’t have to spend a lot of time doing this video or DVD. They can be paused at any point for clarity.
  • Make sure you have enough fire extinguishers available. You must also make sure that they are rated for the type of fire that would be typical in your situation.
  • Make sure that all electrical outlets are working properly. That your breaker box is not being overloaded. Grooming salons typically pull a lot of power due to all the electrical equipment in a facility.
  • Keep all the vents and any electrical equipment free of dog hair. This would include many of the typical things you find in grooming salons; furnaces, hot water heaters, pet dryers and clothes dryers — anything with a motor or that involves heat.
  • Minimize the use of extension cords.
  • Utilize a professional electrician to maintain or upgrade your electrical system if you are not qualified to do it yourself.
  • Unplug dryers and extension cords at the end of the day.
  • Purchase the best fire detection alarms you possibly can. The old cliché, you get what you pay for is very true when it comes to fire alarms. If at all possible, have your salon professionally monitored and hardwired directly into the fire department.

Luckily in our barn fire, all of our beloved Friesian horses were safe. They had been turned out for the day when fire struck Trying to absorb what happens within the hours, days or weeks after a fire is challenging. The workload is daunting as you try to sort through the entire situation and rebuild. The recovery from a fire does not take weeks, it takes months.

Do everything in your power to protect yourself from actual property destruction. Don’t underestimate the value of insurance. Make sure to have the proper insurance coverage for your situation. Fire is overwhelming. Not having the means to rebuild can be even more devastating. Be prepared.

Why Am I On The Payroll?

Have you ever asked yourself just why you are on the payroll?Why am I on the payroll?

Have you ever thought about it? Come on – really thought about it?
When we hire someone in one of my companies, we want to see results in exchange for a paycheck. Every job will be different. If you are a groomer, how many dogs can you groom with quality and safety foremost in your mind?

If you are a receptionist, how many appointments can you book error free? How are you helping the salon grow the client list or maintain a steady pace? If you are a groomer’s assistant, how many dogs can you help your team produce?

And with all of these tasks, are you doing it with a positive attitude?

The roll of a business is not to give you a ‘job’. The role of any business is to provide a product or service to a customer. If they do it well – you’ll get a paycheck .Enterprising owners don’t go into business to break even or worst yet – lose money. They open businesses for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons — to chase the American dream. To make a profit doing what they love doing. Working with pets.

So what is your role in the pet care service business? Think about the results you need to accomplish in your job. How many pets do you need to groom to be deemed productive – and profitable – in order to be valued by your supervisor? When a prospective client calls, are you able to book the appointment? Are pets going out the door injury free? Are the trims done correctly and with quality? Are clients smiling when they pick up their pets? Are they rebooking their next appointment in six weeks or less?

Most businesses have goals and quotas. This is the way performance is measured in the work place. Are you reaching your quotas easily? Are you doing the tasks you have been assigned without being reminded? Are you meeting and/or exceeding your goals/ quotas? Everyone that gathers a paycheck at the end of the week has responsibility to help the company in a productive and positive way.

Are you living up to the expectations of your employer? Are you truly earning the paycheck you want every week by being the most productive you can be? Stop and think about it. What can you do to improve the results that drop down to the bottom line, ensuring you HAVE a job every week? That you stay on the payroll.

Happy Trimming!
Melissa Verplank

Hello World! This is the space between my ears.


The Most Powerful K9 comes in colors! Order yours today from www.melissaverplank.com

How to Get Velvet Scissor Finish

Is scissoring becoming a lost art? I’m all for speed and efficiency but if you are proficient with your shears, you can trim a dog almost as fast without the shortcut aids of clippers and guard combs .

If you are serious about creating quality in your finished trims, you need to master the art of scissoring.

How do you do it? How to you get a coat that is plush like velvet?
When you comb through it, no stray hairs stick out. There are no rough spots in the coat. The dog looks great when it leaves the shop. Not only that, the trim holds together for 2 days, 2 weeks or even up to 6 weeks after the grooming.

Here are the 3 Elements of Great Scissoring.

# 1. Core Skills
No matter how capable you are as a scissorer, if the foundation of a groom isn’t sound, you never get that velvet finish. The dog needs to be clean, really clean – squeaky clean. The coat blown is blown dry so EVERY hair is straight. No waves.  No curls. When you sink a comb deep into the coat, it pulls through smoothly. There cannot be a mat or tangle in the coat. Every hair shaft is separated, light and airy.

These items are ‘core skills’ – skills that need to be mastered to perfection in order to accomplish gorgeous scissor work.  Your core skills of the grooming process must be solid.

If the foundation of a building were not sound, would you feel comfortable spending time there?

#2. Tools
You’ll need a variety of tools and products to get a beautiful result. You’ll need few pairs of straight, curved, and blending shears in a combination of lengths, curvatures and tooth configurations. The higher the quality of the shear, the better of a cut you will get.

This doesn’t mean you need a hundred pairs of scissors in your collection – but you do need more than two.

Generally, the quality of a shear is directly related to cost – like everything else, you get what you pay for.  Don’t be afraid to spend a few hundred dollars on a good pair of shears. If you take care of them, they will last for most of your career.

Build your collection over time. You don’t need to do it in one swoop. Before you invest, try them. Talk to leading stylists and find out what shears they like. Don’t forget, one of the most important items when buying scissors, make sure they fit YOUR hand and feel comfortable as you run them. Trade shows are one of the best places to shop for shears. You’ll find hundreds of choices.

#3. Running the Shears
You must hold and run the shears correctly. Holding them correctly will balance the shear in your hand minimizing stress. You will have the most control over your shears if you run them with your thumb and ring finger. TO get that velvet finish, you’ll need to scissor with your body, not just your hand or arm.

You need to move – following over the dog’s body in a fluid motion. Depending on the shear, sometimes you need to keep you hand dead steady as you run the shears. Many times with thinners and blenders, you’ll need to give the shear a slight bounce. If you look, there are books, videos, exercises and seminars on this topic alone.

There is nothing more gratifying than seeing an exquisitely scissored dog. It could be in the contest ring, at a certification test site or simply walking out of your salon on a daily basis. It represents top quality work. Consistently producing top quality grooms represents success to any pet groomer or stylist. Mastering the art of a velvet scissor finish on a dog is a testament to a true artist.

There are many scissoring lessons from champion groomers in the training library at learn2groomdogs.com. One of my favorites is from Colin Taylor. According to Colin, “Scissors are like shoes.” Start your collection and you’ll see what he means!

Click here to watch a sneak peek of
Colin Taylor: Basic Shear Control for a Velvet Finish

Click here to watch a sneak peek of
Kendra Otto: Confessions of a Shears Junkie

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

My Personal Pet Peeve: Lack of Professionalism

If you want to be treated as a true professional, you need to walk-the-walk and talked-the-talk.

Years ago when I was still at my grooming table every day, I was out to upgrade the image of a pet groomer. My clients were amazed when I greeted them in a skirt. My hair was done. My make-up was in place. (OK – by the end of the day it wasn’t quite as fresh as when I started out) My nails were always done professionally. (…and it hid the problems that come along with trimming toenails a tad too short!)  I found lipstick that was a stain, giving my lips a hint of color instead of magnet that attracted dog hair. When I met a client for the first time – my introduction was a warm greeting, a big smile and a handshake.

I constantly looked at ways to be a more knowledgeable groomer. With a bit of effort, it didn’t take long before I honestly turned the corner from a basic groomer to a pet stylist.  I made a very positive impression on my clients. I sweated the details – and it paid off ten-fold.

Sweating the details translates into all areas of your salon or mobile unit too. It will be influenced by; what your client sees, what your client hears and what your client smells.

In most professional services, you are not really selling expertise, your expertise is assumed. Generally, your prospect cannot intelligently evaluate your expertise anyway. Instead you are selling a relationship – a professional relationship. Your perspective may not know at first if you are competent at your craft.

But they do know if their phone calls are answered promptly and politely. They can sense instantly how a salon looks. Does it look crisp and clean? Does it smell bright and fresh? They know if their pet is treated with compassion. And they certainly know if they are being treated respectfully.

Your clients have four options;

  1. use your service
  2. use a competitor service
  3. do it themselves
  4. not do it at all

Give yourself the edge. Sweat the details. Take the time, and effort, to present yourself as a true professional. Make sure your personal presentation is well pulled together.  Gain the skills you need to communicate effectively with your clients. Enhance your grooming techniques so you can give them the best job possible in the least amount of time. Always remember to keep the safety of both you and the pet foremost in your mind.

Happy Trimming

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.

How to Hold & Run Shears Correctly

Does your scissor work look like crushed velvet?  Do you enjoy the process of hand scissoring the coat of a pet? Can you get plush finish in a short amount of time? Or do you whittle away the coat way S-L-O-W-L-Y? Flawless hand-scissoring is almost becoming a lost art.

If your hand-scissoring skills could use some help – here are a few tips.

Simply improving how you HOLD the shears can have a huge impact on your end product. Master these few tips, and you are on your way to a velvet finish on the Poodle coat!

As you work your shears, only your thumb should move. Open and close the shear blade while the rest of your hand remains motionless. The scissor should stay balanced in your hand, at right angles to your index finger. Keep it steady and flush with the plane on which you are working; there is no bouncing with smooth-bladed shears. With thinning shears, you will have a small bounce to clear the trimmed coat before you close the blades for another cut.

Once you gain full control and balance of the shears, it’s time to consider how this motion works with the rest of your body. The fluidity of proper scissoring stems from your body – the placement of your feet, the bend in your knees, the flexibility of your waist and the position of your arm and shoulder. Your entire body becomes a machine that effortlessly runs the shears.

There are methods you can learn to produce a smooth, satin finish – a perfect scissor finish. However, one of the keys to mastering the art of hand-scissoring is perfect practice. And I mean hours of PERFECT practice!

Holding your shears and moving your shears over the dog properly is just a start to perfecting your scissoring skills. Notes From the Grooming Table and Learn2GroomDogs.com both have some great lessons on how to scissor correctly. (Colin Taylor and yours truely both have video lessons on correct scirroring) Plus, at both of these locations, you’ll find exercises to improve your scissor technique too.

Happy Trimming!

How to Improve Clipper Technique

For maximum freedom of movement and improved efficiency, hold the clipper like a large pencil, between the thumb and fingers. “Palming” the clipper makes for clumsy, awkward clipper handling. It also puts the pet at risk for cuts, nicks and irritation. Concentrate on positioning yourself so that the clipper is pulled toward you for the majority of your work. There are rare times when holding the clippers in your palm will improve dexterity, but this applies to very few moves.

To create the least amount of stress on your fingers and wrist, grasp the clipper at the “balance point” so the weight is equally distributed between each end. Hold the clipper in the correct position, and then rotate it between your thumb and fingers. This positioning keeps your wrist firm but flexible, yet allows for almost unlimited wrist movement. This hold offers access to the most difficult corners of the pet with minimum effort. Concentrate on minimizing your wrist action.

Allow the weight of the clippers to do the work. Your hand and wrist are simply its guide. As you move from the top of the pet to make downward strokes, simulate the same amount of pressure that gravity provided on the top.

Your hand and wrist will act as a shock absorber while clipping. As you clip, you’ll be leveling out the bumps and dents. This will allow you to obtain a satin-smooth finish.

No matter what blade you use, it is important to maintain a consistent degree of “tip” to the blade. This is also known as “keeping the blade up on its cutting edge.” Imagine a pencil being held right under the blade as you guide it over the body. The closer the pencil is to the teeth, the higher the tip angle; the farther back you keep the imaginary pencil towards the heel of the blade, the lesser the degree of tip. Generally speaking, the closer the blade cuts, the higher you need to tip the blade for it to be effective.

It’s Shedding Season

High velocity dryers aren’t just for dogs and cats!

This is the time of year that the fur really seems to fly. For those of us that live in areas where we experienced a climate change — the annual springtime shed represents lots of extra dollars in our pockets. For me, working on a dog that’s in the middle of a big-time shed is one of my favorite jobs to do. I know — I know, you think I’m nuts! It’s super messy.  That’s why I like it so much. You can take a dog that is dirty and nasty looking and in ho time, turn it into something gorgeous. With the right tools, the right products and a little bit of elbow grease, you can make a HUGE difference in the way a pet looks and feels in just a few hours.

A powerful high velocity dryer is my tool of choice for those magical canine makeovers. But how many of you cross over into the equestrian world? I do. Have you ever taken your high velocity dryer down to the barn? No?  Where have you been?? You’ve gotta try it!

Of our 6 horses, there isn’t one that doesn’t enjoy being blown out with a high velocity dryer. Many of our horsey friends have seen us work with this tool around our own crew. They have been amazed at the results. Almost all of them have asked if they could try it on their horses. They’re in awe of how well their horses have accepted the process when introduced correctly. (Just like a young puppy — low and slow)

If you are horse owner like me, I encourage you to check out my YouTube video about de-shedding a horse with a high velocity dryer. The birds will love you for it!

Happy Spring!


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.

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