Groom Expo 2008 wrap-up

GROUPIE!

Pictures of Sunday are here. The first few are of Jonathan demonstrating a Scandinavian clip (a modified Continental with more hair from the last rib back; it’s the clip I see most often in the Euro shows and it’s extreme, stylish, and elegant–which pretty much sums up Jonathan’s aesthetic). By the way, I totally own the fact that I am a groupie, but from a purely objective standpoint he is a good teacher, a REALLY good teacher. He needs to be used more.

The second bunch are the Creative clips, first prep and then finished product (finished starts at #19). These are CRAP pictures. I had a class while the actual grooms were taking place, and then came back as they were finishing up. Both times I was juggling a baby on one hip and taking no-flash (slow shutter speed) pictures with the other. No tripod, no second hand. Most of the 200 pictures I took were too blurry to even upload. So I sincerely apologize for the bad quality and the fact that some of the finished ones have no before and many of the befores have no after.

OK, now begins my wrap-up.

I’ve had a day to sleep and recover, so am going to take the opportunity to go through the classes I took and some surprises I had, and I’m going to make an attempt to capture some of the flavor of the weekend.

My first class was with Sue Zecco, specifically on terriers. She started with a Westie and then did a Wire Fox, and was going to do a Bedlington but ran out of time. Actually, she ran out of time after the Westie but kept going well into the second hour to run through the Wire Fox. Sue is super friendly, talkative, took questions throughout the entire demonstration. Her focus was definitely on “keys” or “rules of thumb” — the Westie head in three circles (around the nose, around the eyes, around the ears), clipper lengths, etc. I felt like the audience was really with her, and everyone was eagerly taking notes. During this class I was pretty furiously writing everything down; I have to go back through my notes to digest it better now that I’ve got more hours behind me.

Second class was in the same conference room, a “short and sassy” class taught by Kathleen Sepulveda. (She is shockingly pretty and young-looking in person, by the way.) This class ended up being a showcase of three heads styles on a Shih Tzu–the body was never touched. I think that arguably this is OK; she probably assumed that watching an instructor doing a 7 strip (a very short coat all over) would be pretty boring, and the heads were the thing.

She did a topknot first (this technique I already knew, since it’s the standard Shih Tzu “bubble,” but was impressive in person). She then moved to a more typical “puppy head” or “teddy head,” where most of the length was taken off and the head was more or less round or daisy-shaped. Again, very well done but not necessarily groundbreaking.

The fun began when she moved to the head she became known for in Malibu–there was a big muttering in the audience when she did this. Basically, she put a Brussels Griffon head on a Shih Tzu. As I watched her do it, it immediately made sense to me–they’re both very short-faced dogs and having a very tight topskull (in other words, no hair there) emphasizes the eyes and expression. I actually love this kind of thinking; if you’re not going to keep a dog in the AKC standard groom (which for a Shih Tzu would mean coat to the floor), why not play around with it. But the audience did not, I think, necessarily agree with me. Someone asked if it was an approved clip for Shih Tzus (Kathleen was very nice about answering–the mean girl answer, which is what I’d give, is that there isn’t any “approved” clip for Shih Tzus, and “pet” groomers have got to stop thinking inside the box so much).

Third class, and most of the rest, were taught by Chris Pawlosky and Judy Hudson in the Oster Grooming Theatre (basically a fancy term for the third conference room in the hallway, though it had a way better A/V system and they gave away some Oster products in every class).

Let me say first that I did not go into the Oster-sponsored classes with very high expectations. Oster is no longer a “sexy” brand. I learned on them, clipping down large animals when I was 10 years old, but they kind of lost their sizzle in the last decade and now everybody talks about Laube and Andis and of course the scissors are all Japanese makers; very few German makers are in fashion and the US makers are “school quality.” But I really wanted some of the classes they were teaching so I went.

And WOW, I was impressed. These are good teachers, they come at it from the right point of view (structure, structure, structure), they start from the show groom and move to the pet groom, they’re clear and they’re funny and they have a great chemistry. Judy has a background in terriers that is really strong, they both do poodles, and they both do American and English Cockers.

And they use not-so-sexy tools to accomplish really pretty grooms, as pretty as any I saw in any classes. It reminded me of what Ken Rockwell always says about cameras. The Oster team is up on technique, they understand dogs, and they are consistent from class to class. As a person who appreciates good teaching, they were a treat to learn from. In fact, after that first class I promptly abandoned my carefully crafted schedule and did every subsequent class with them (except for Jonathan’s house call class on Sunday).

Since I’ve come home, I’ve been transcribing their instructions thusly:

When I am done, I’ll have one on a short lamb cut on a poodle, a strip on a Westie, a nice long cut on a Cocker, and a teddy bear (the sort of generic “short cut” for any drop-coated or poodle-coated breed). The head up there is their teddy bear dog, doing victor-victoria with half of his head done. One thing I really liked about their teddy bear is that it has short ears–I’ve always thought “puppy ears” looked doofy.

Finally, I took a class with Jonathan on house-call grooming. It’s something that I need to sit and muse upon for a while, I think, but let me say that he is VERY impressive as a teacher and he’s VERY nice in person. He went above and beyond in terms of demo-ing technique and he was very encouraging. His big message is that groomers get stuck feeling like they should give away their skills because they’re in a service industry. They think the way to succeed is to bring in more customers at lower prices. He has found that the exact opposite is true; the more you charge the more exclusive you can be, and when you start paying yourself what you deserve you will grow your business. He routinely charges 40% more for a home groom than the shops are getting for in-shop grooms. I don’t want to name names or numbers, but let me just say that if I had half his take-home for the week I’d make as much as my husband does as an IT specialist.

I will be returning to this weekend often, as I digest some of the things I’ve learned, but for now I’d better publish this novel of a blog entry before it makes my computer topple over!

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