"Turning a monstrosity into a canine star," says Jolli King. "That's what I like best about grooming dogs. I see a new dog come in and of course I know what we can achieve but when the owners come back - the look on their faces! They never thought their dog could look so great - it's really satisfying."
Jolli King is a member of the Guild of Advanced Groomers and runs a grooming school near Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, Pankington Kennels, which is also an approved training and examination centre for the City and Guilds 775 Dog Grooming practical and theoretical examinations. Not only that, but she is a veterinary nurse and boards dogs at the same premises, so she really knows her onions. Or at least, her poodles, terriers and cockers.
You might think that dog grooming is pretty straightforward: dump Rover in the bath, splosh a load of shampoo on him and try and get it rinsed off before he struggles free in order to dash round the house covered in suds. As a way of reducing children to fits of giggles, this grooming method works exceptionally well. It is also a pretty efficient method of soaking your entire house. But as for producing a beautifully groomed dog, it usually leaves something to be desired.
So training for the City and Guilds exam includes dog
handling, anatomy, physiology, parasitology, health and
safety, first aid, business practice and theory as well as style, shape and grooming.
"Most people need between 30 and 36 days of training over a period of 18 months to 2 years of experience," says Jolli. "But we always advise new people to come for a taster-day first, just to check that they really do want to do it seriously. The thing is, some people like the idea but faced with the reality, they discover that it's too physically demanding or that they just haven't got what it takes to handle dogs."
Dog groomers need to be able to keep dogs calm, relaxed and ready to accept grooming. Some people have the knack already, others have to learn it but sooner or later warns Jolli, everyone gets bitten. So groomers have to keep their tetanus jabs up to date. But of course the more experienced you are, the less likely you are to get bitten.
"I don't like using leashes or tying dogs up," says Jolli. "I just put them on the grooming table and get them to stand still."
"Oh yes. That's why the worst clients are the ones who want to stay with their dogs while we're grooming them. You know, dogs are like children: they often behave much better once Mummy's out of the way. So we've installed a one-way mirror. Clients can watch what we're doing, but since the dogs can't see their owners, they behave themselves and stand still."
The City and Guilds 775 qualification consists of a written exam and a practical during which students groom three dogs - a cocker spaniel, a poodle and a short-legged terrier, ie a Westie. They're allowed to use their own dogs for the exam and must groom to pet standard.
Grooming show dogs is more difficult and is covered by an advanced exam. Professional show breeders tend to specialise in one breed although many show breeders groom their own dogs. Not because clever grooming can disguise bad points - whoops, what am I saying? Clever grooming can enhance good points, of course.
Once you've got the training and the experience under your belt, it's probably best to try and work for someone else rather than set up your own business immediately. It'll give you experience in business practice and handling clients as well as a chance to perfect your grooming skills.
"The one thing I always advise," says Jolli. "If a dog comes in and you aren't sure you can cope with him, or the owner is asking for a clip you aren't confident about, the best thing to do is pass the job along. Your dogs, the dogs you've done, they are your walking adverts. You've no idea the number of times my clients tell me that total strangers have approached them to ask where they got their dog groomed."
Setting up in business involves quite a substantial outlay. Apart from premises, there's equipment and advertising to consider. In the US, there's been a recent growth in the number of dog groomers working out of mobile salons - fully equipped vans - and this idea is starting to take off in the UK.
"Yes, I know someone who is doing that and I think, especially for a one-person outfit, (because you can't fit two people in those vans) it's a great idea," says Jolli.
But whatever business you set up, you really need a large dose of business acumen. It's no use opening a shop on the basis that you love dogs and know how to groom them. You have to count exactly how many dogs you can handle per day and how much you can charge and whether or not this is going to cover your overheads and leave you something to live on.
The maths are sobering: most dogs come in for a simple groom-out and clip which costs between £15 to £20; with help from an assistant you can do around 6-8 dogs a day (it can take up to 2 hours to do a poodle) and out of the profit you will have to pay overheads including rent, council taxes, insurance, staff wages, electricity bills, VAT, shampooing products, cleaning and probably business-loan repayments.
Apart from loving dogs and having a good head on your
shoulders you'll need to be very fit and have a strong back: grooming is physically demanding. You're on your feet all day and often doing more than one thing at once, ie blow drying a cocker while answering the phone, combing a poodle while making appointments with clients.
So to be successful, you have to love being rushed off your feet doing a very demanding job whilst still managing to make the dogs love come to you.
"If the dogs are happy," says Jolli, "you've cracked it."
That's what she loves. Happy dogs. And of course, owners who arrive back at the salon, take one look at their newly groomed, totally-transformed woofer and exclaim "Crikey! Is that really my dog?"
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