Beating the Butterflies

Beating the Butterflies

Eight ways to overcome anxiety and channel nervous energy to perform your best

By: Melissa Verplank

Whether you are looking to certify, enter a grooming competition or other highly visible display, the seasoned pros seem to have total control over their situation: calm, cool, and collected in their thoughts.

Looks, however, can be deceiving. Beneath the surface of total control, even the most seasoned, show-savvy competitors get butterflies in their stomachs. They experience the same sort of show jitters and performance anxiety that plagues those who compete at lower levels. But seasoned stylists eventually learn to use those gut-churning sensations to their advantage. They productively channel their nervous energy rather that allow negative thoughts and feelings to overwhelm them and interfere with their performance.

Everyone gets nervous. It’s normal - even the elite in the pet styling world become nervous - but they learn to work with it. You have to train yourself to like the feeling and see it as an asset.

A Bundle of Nerves

Performance anxiety reveals itself in many forms: stomach misery, sweating, shortness of breath, fidgeting, tension throughout the body, chattiness, uncharacteristic silence. Some stylists are wracked with anxiety from the moment they wake up the day of the competition or certification, others get a burst of butterflies just before entering the stage.

No matter how or when performance anxiety occurs, it usually is fueled by the fear of failure. Many stylists place great pressure on themselves to do well. Others feel compelled to do everything in their power not to disappoint their employers, fellow staff members, or family members. Those who enter the contest arena or testing site with a client dog have the added responsibility to do a good job to please the owner. Some groomers are deathly afraid of embarrassing themselves in front of an audience.

To a certain degree, many people are predisposed to being overly anxious. It’s a part of their persona and temperament, just as some folks are normally laid-back or unflappable.

Actually there’s little difference physiologically between excitement and fear. While one person says, ‘oh boy, here I go’ the next person is saying ‘Oh no, here it comes again.’ The feelings are much the same. The difference is that one is positive while the other is negative.

Those that work through anxiety may be nervous prior to performing, but they are able to set aside the negative feelings and focus on the skills they need when it’s time to compete or start testing. In contrast, stylists who can’t get past their nervousness extract less and less pleasure from competing or testing. Worse still, performance anxiety can crush confidence and divert attention for completing the familiar steps of an established trim, which reinforces the feeling of being unprepared.

Because dogs are highly attuned to our feelings, they can sense when something is amiss with a groomer’s emotions. Although some dogs are not rattled by what they sense from their handlers, others become increasingly anxious, especially when they are already distracted by the sights and sounds of unfamiliar surroundings.

  1. Set Yourself Up To Succeed

Select a good dog you feel comfortable working with, choose a trim you are familiar with, and study high quality reference material.

  1. Develop Proficiency and Skills Beyond What You’ll Test

You’ll be more likely to succeed when you start at lower level that’s less challenging than what you are accustomed to at home, whether that means choosing a simple trim to execute, a smaller dog to work on, or a better coat to scissor. Everything you do should be easier, not more difficult, when you’re in a show or testing atmosphere: that’s what builds confidence.

  1. Simulate the Show or Testing Experience

Attend small clinics or go to a trade show or conformation dog show and hire a seasoned competitor to be your coach. Videotaping yourself adhering to the time restraints of typical grooming class is highly beneficial as well

  1. Focus on the Task

To heighten awareness of the specific challenges that lie ahead, plan your trimming process on the dog. Dissect the time you have allotted for each area of the dog, visualize the finished profile you want to create - see the velvet scissor finish. Think through the entire haircut, don’t just start whacking off hair and hope for a positive outcome.

  1. Accentuate the Positive

Negative thoughts take a toll on your mood as well as your confidence, and they can inadvertently slip you up at an inopportune moment. Concentrate on modifying your thoughts in a positive tone. Remind yourself to keep your shoulders relaxed, your hand smooth and steady, and move with your hips and knees when you are scissoring.

  1. Rely on Imagery to Get You Through Tough Spots

Imagery is more powerful than internal dialog or self-statements when it comes to helping a person access his or her internal resources. For that perfectly scissored coat, think of crushed velvet.  Or visualize a photo or a drawing of the perfect dog you want to create. Close your eyes and take deep breaths envisioning the image perfectly in your mind. Focus on a positive image rather than thinking about failure or a disaster.

  1. Give Yourself Time to Regroup

When all your preparations are accomplished – your dog is bathed and fluffed, you’re dressed to step into the ring, your tools are in order – give yourself a break from the hustle and bustle of the competitive environment and take a few moments to gather your thoughts.

  1. Turn it Into a Learning Experience

Everyone wants to win but facts are facts and the placements only go so high. When I would head to the ring, I always wanted to give my best performance, but I’d play a mind-game with myself too; I would say to myself “Melissa, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” The answer was always, “I could be out of the placements with my dog. I’ve dealt with a lot worse…” One of the best learning tools you’ll ever get is personal critiques from seasoned pros. The grooming tips you can pick up at a show are invaluable to your career as you gain grooming knowledge.

Feeling you can compete with confidence allows you to enjoy the experience. You may always have to work at managing your nerves, but as your self-assurance grows and you learn to channel your thoughts productively into your performance, your anxiety will dissipate. And when you’re done competing, you may even think, “That really wasn’t so bad after all.”

Get used to your anxiety. Don’t be rattled by the way it makes you feel. Embrace it and eventually you’ll discover how to use it to put your best foot forward in every competition.

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How to Encourage New Customers When Building Your Grooming Business


Making Room for New Customers!

By: Melissa Verplank

Recently, I was giving one of my most popular lectures at a large tradeshow. It’s about client management through retention rate, rebooking and referrals. In the lecture, I talk about grooming businesses are about selling a relationship. It’s about trust. It’s about education. It’s about creating repeat business.

Who will survive and thrive regardless of what kind of economic factors are put upon our grooming businesses?

Towards the end of the session, an audience member made a profound statement. Something I had never thought of let alone, touched on. The tip she shared with the audience was brilliant.

I wish I caught her name so I can give her the full credit…

During the warm weather seasons, professional groomers are always busy. Most of us are booking out two - three weeks or more in advanced. Does this sound like you?

When it’s warm, people always want their pets groomed. They’re hot. They’re dirty. Even the once or twice a year clients get their dogs groomed, whether they need it or not. 

But where are those once or twice a year clients during the slower times of year? When your appointment book is not nearly as full. Those of the times when you wish you had more regular clients. Clients who book consistently every two, three, four or six weeks out.

Those clients are your bread-and-butter clients. They keep your bills paid. Food on your table. They are the ones you can count on. Any successful grooming salon wants a roster full of regular customers.

But when you are booking weeks out during your busy times, how do you get more ‘regular’ clients.

Here’s the tip my audience participant shared.

She said she always leaves at least one opening per day to accommodate walk-ins and new clients.


A new client will not wait 2 or 3 weeks to book an appointment with you. They will just move on to the next groomer who does have an opening.  And they only have to be happy one time and you’ve lost them. 

Clients who you already have a relationship with, will wait. Or they will pre-book their appointment to ensure they have a slot with you.

By doing this, she constantly has a new stream of fresh clients. Clients that she can educate. Clients she can count on during the slower times of the year. As she builds up her regular clients, she can eliminate the once or twice a year dogs. After all, wouldn’t you rather work on a super regular client vs a twice a year outdoor farm dog?

$100 for a once a year farm dog seems like a lot of money. But is it?

Let’s say you have a 6-week regular client who you charge $50 per visit. That’s half of the once a year farm dog. You are going to see that client eight to nine times a year. On an annual basis, you’re going to earn between $400 and $450 for that single client. 

The farm dog? You will earn $100.

Which would you rather do?

If you do not make time in your schedule to take on new customers, you might just miss adding a valuable client. One that will keep your bills paid when it’s slow one that will give your staff a reason to come to work when other salons don’t have any dogs to groom.

Which salon would you rather work at?

As a bonus, making room in an already packed schedule allows you some wiggle room. Maybe you don’t have a walk-in on that day. Or maybe you don’t have a new customer calling to book an appointment. That open slot allows you a little breathing room. Probably at a time when you most need it.

Do you have to take every first-time appointment or walk-in coming through your doors? Absolutely not.

I would ask some critical information of the front before you get too far into the conversation. Of course, they will want to know the price. That gives you the opportunity to find out what breed of dog it is. How old is the pet? How big is the dog? And, what condition it is in and/or how long since his last professional grooming?

These few critical questions will help you determine whether you book an appointment for the client – or not. Trust your gut with what the client says. It’s your appointment book.

When you do make room for a new client, make sure you also take the time to educate them. Most clients don’t know how frequently they should have their dogs (or cats) groomed. Talk to them about their lifestyle. How much work they want to do in between grooming. What can you do for them – and what are your limitations based on the condition of the pet. Custom create a regular schedule that will suit their needs and keep their pet looking and feeling it’s best.

We you get it right every time? No. But if you don’t make room for prospective new customers during your busiest times, you won’t have regular clients to carry you through when it’s slow.

This is a great technique to consider when growing your business or adding new groomers and stylist to your team.

About the Paragon School of Pet Grooming

Founded by grooming industry icon, Melissa Verplank, Paragon is focused on the success and career development of pet professionals at all levels, beginner to expert.  Melissa has authored the industry’s most complete grooming guides such as Notes from the Grooming Table and Theory of 5.  Paragon offers grooming education at its On-Campus training center in Michigan. It also brings the on-campus experience to everyone through its Distance Learning Program and  Paragon is regarded as one of the best grooming schools in the world. Ms. Verplank and her team have created award winning platforms with traditional education programs and web-based learning tools.

Education is Everything

Education Is Everything

By Melissa Verplank 

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We have a motto within my companies when it comes to learning. 

Education is everything.

It is at the very core of everything we do. Why?

I see learning as never ending. It does not matter what stage you are in your career. Or what stage you are in your life. Continued learning offers positive opportunities around every turn. 

I was never a great student in school. Traditional academics did not excite me. But once I got into dog grooming, now that was a different story. 

I became passionate about learning. About growing my career. I didn’t seek out traditional methods. Most of my learning was self-directed. Something much more challenging before the age of the Internet! I quickly understood the wealth of benefits continued education unleashed. 

For my grooming skills. For my customer service skills. For my
operational skills. For my management skills. For my business skills. For my marketing skills. Or even my personal well-being, both physically and mentally. The benefits were immense. The opportunities were limitless.

I started learning the value of ‘education is everything’ before I even started my first business. Once I started my first business, I was off and running. The amount of information I needed to be efficient and effective to grow my business while developing my team was incredible.

Today, I think back at those early lessons. The mentors I had. The early industry magazines I kept for years. The volumes of books still sitting on my bookshelves today – highlighted, tagged and totally marked up. The notebooks and journals I kept, and still have. The friendships I made by attending workshops, clinics, industry trade shows, certification programs or grooming competitions. I turned almost everything into a learning occasion.

Every step of my career journey included continued education. And I’m far from done! There is still plenty to learn. Education IS everything!

Have you ever noticed the word learn contains the word earn?
But the benefits go far beyond that. 

Here is my personal list of 7 key areas continued education can have a positive impact on anyone’s career path. 

  1. Knowledge—Knowledge can be both factual and practical. The information you learn is not just interesting. It will also be of great use in your current position and/or where you want to go. If you want to grow your career – you need to grow your knowledge.
  2. Career Advancement—Being well educated allows you to bring new ideas and creativity to the grooming table. Doors of opportunity will begin presenting themselves in areas you never thought of.
  3. Higher Earning Potential—The more skilled you are as a professional pet groomer or stylist typically translates to a higher earning potential. It also means you will attract a higher caliber of pets into your business as your skills advance.
  4. Networking—By networking with fellow pet professionals, you can interact with a wide variety of individuals. As humans, we are wired to help others. It’s what we do. Being exposed to this broader network of like-minded individuals can have far-reaching benefits when it comes to advancing and expanding your knowledge base – especially when you need help.
  5. Dedication to Personal Improvement Creates Growth—When passion and dedication collide, there is no end to the excitement. Fresh ideas and new opportunities will be unveiled at a rapid rate.
  6. Respect—When you combine knowledge with humility, respect comes almost automatically. It comes from the pet you work on. From the pet parents you deal with every day. To your coworkers and your peers. Respect is earned through shared knowledge.
  7. Personal Confidence—When you take the steps to advance your skills, you do more than just gain knowledge. You gain personal confidence - in all areas of your personal and professional life. And guess what… personal confidence is directly tied to your success.

Regardless of where you’re at, you can always advance your career and professional skills. Dedication and focus to learning offers you the edge to take your next step. It is a powerful leg in staying competitive in the field while enhancing your skills. 

It does not matter whether you are just starting your career, or you are building upon years of experience, seeking advanced educational opportunities keeps you moving forward in your career.

Continued education may not be as exciting compared to other things in your life – but the benefits will be lifelong. 

For me, continuing my quest to be the best I could be has never failed me. It’s made my work exciting and interesting. There’s always been something to learn. Something to do better. It has allowed me opportunities to grow and expand my own career. Plus, I’ve been able to help thousands of pet lovers enter the field or expand their careers. 

The positive benefits of continued education has unlimited benefits at all levels. It’s a win for the pets you work on. It’s a win for the pet parents who bring their pets to you every day. And it’s a win for you personally when you know you’ve done a great job after each groom or finished a busy day. 

Education is everything! 


About the Paragon School of Pet Grooming

Founded by grooming industry icon, Melissa Verplank, Paragon is focused on the success and career development of pet professionals at all levels, beginner to expert.  Melissa has authored the industry’s most complete grooming guides such as Notes from the Grooming Table and Theory of 5.  Paragon offers grooming education at its On-Campus training center in Michigan. It also brings the on-campus experience to everyone through its Distance Learning Program and  Paragon is regarded as one of the best grooming schools in the world. Ms. Verplank and her team have created award winning platforms with traditional education programs and web-based learning tools.