The Meadowlands Exposition Center is familiar to many dog show exhibitors as the site of dozens of pre-Westminster specialties. What is perhaps less well-known among Best In Show Daily readers is that the Seacaucus, N.J., facility is also the site of an international conference that’s been celebrating the extraordinary talent of the pet grooming professional for more than 30 years: Intergroom.
Deemed “the largest international conference of its kind in the world,” according to the organization’s website, Intergroom is a combination grooming competition and trade show under one roof. The annual event features individual contests for the presentation of a variety of coated breeds and offers an extensive series of continuing education classes for today’s groomer and salon professional.
The three-day event, held this year from April 20-22, has previously welcomed as many as 3,000 dog and cat groomers from 21 different countries. The 2013 event, titled, “The Red Carpet Show,” was my first ever visit to a grooming conference of any kind, and the similarities (and differences) between the world of the competitive groomer and the conformation exhibitor are certainly worthy of comparison.
Intergroom is held over an extended weekend, just like many dog show clusters, but the conference runs from Saturday through Monday to better accommodate the typical pet groomer’s schedule. Registration begins each day at 8 a.m., as does the competition.
The grooming contests are divided into several classes, not unlike breed entries at a dog show. Two levels of competition feature the talents of both novice/intermediate and master groomers, and awards are presented to both the Rising Star and International Groomer of the Year.
Classes were judged on Saturday in four categories: Clipped Terrier, Handstripping, Spaniel and Sporting and Mixed Salon Styling. (This last refers to “free-style” grooming that permits non-traditional trims on any dog, purebred or mixed breed.) Sunday’s judging included two popular categories: Other Purebreeds (for Bichons, Porties, etc.) and the Poodle class. This year’s recipient of the title International Groomer of the Year is Lindsey Dicken of Florida and her Bichon Frise.
On Monday the event schedule included some of the conference’s more ambitious contests. In the morning, competitors had just two hours to prepare their dogs for the judging of the Extreme Makeover. For this contest, each dog arrived with several months’ growth of coat and the groomers were required to put a finished trim on them within the allotted time. This year’s winner was Julie Wilkins Pantages of Tennessee with her Standard Poodle.
I was fortunate to be guided around this year’s event by Sally Hawks, familiar to conformation enthusiasts for her Thunder Road Sealyham Terriers. Sally is a salon owner who is also a certifier with the National Dog Groomers Association and past winner of International Groomer of the Year. Sally is also a three-time member of Groom Team USA whose members are the four top-ranked American groomers throughout a two-year cycle. This year’s team will compete against the world’s best in September in Barcelona.
Sally told me that the circuit for competitive groomers consists of a series of monthly contests held throughout the U.S. in cities such as Denver, Pasadena and Atlanta. Unlike shows held under the rules and regulations of the AKC, each organization holds its contest according to slightly different guidelines. For example, some competitions divide groomers into three divisions: entry, intermediate and open, and the judging of the classes may require a single judge or a panel of six or eight different judges.
Although a groomer’s primary clientele are dogs, cats do constitute some portion of any salon’s business, so the appearance of colorful cats sitting calmly on their grooming tables shouldn’t surprise visitors to Intergroom. But I must admit to being surprised – and more than a little amused.
The Feline Fantasy contest, held on the final day of the conference, features any number of creatively trimmed and garishly colored cats. All of the exhibits seemed to relish the attention they received from both their groomer and the amused spectators. At the very least, they put to rest the notion that cats don’t like to be groomed – although we all know they often want to be the center of attention.
One of the more remarkable contests at Intergroom is the Creative Challenge. This contest seems to encourage groomers to use every technique in their bag of tricks to present a wholly original canine creation. Contestants in this event arrive with their dogs partially prepared with an often-outrageous trim and over-the-top coloring. One hour is allowed for each groomer to finish the job before the judges’ deliberation. Most of the dogs I saw were trimmed as part of a theme, with their groomers wearing a coordinated costume, and each worked deliberately before the amused audience against a handmade backdrop. The scene was not unlike that of the grooming area at most all-breed shows, except at Intergroom the use of product is strongly encouraged. This year’s winner was Cindy Oliver of Tennessee and her Groucho Marx look-alike Standard Poodle.
Intergroom, of course, is more than just a fun competition to highlight the talents of the industry’s finest groomers. It’s also an opportunity for novice and experienced groomers alike to continue their education through classes that highlight various aspects of the profession.
This year’s classes were held in four separate classrooms and included such topics as Shear Control, Mechanics of Pet Styling, and Quick Bling and Color. Some of this year’s classes covered material related to business management such as Determine Your Own Pricing and Importance of Good Web Design. And classes such as The 10 Warning Signs of Cancer emphasized the role groomers play in monitoring the healthcare of our pets.
To address the serious business of trimming the purebred dog, classes this year featured presentations of breed-specific trimming techniques. Sponsored by various product manufacturers, these classes were offered for Kerry Blue and West Highland White Terriers, Schnauzers and the Bichon Frise.
Of course, no trade show would be complete without a mini-mall of vendors to introduce attendees to the latest selection of gadgets and gizmos. At Intergroom 2013, nearly 100 vendors offered every possible tool that today’s groomer could possibly need. Everything from shampoos and scissors to mobile grooming vans and elevating washtubs are on site and available for purchase. “If it snips, clips, combs, brushes, strips, detangles, lathers, rinses, dries, or has anything to do with dog or cat hair, you’ll find it at Intergroom 2013!” the website announces.
This year’s stalls included all kinds of shears, clippers and dryers, naturally, as well as a tantalizing array of shampoos, rinses and sprays. Doggie perfume and nontoxic coloring could be found alongside silk ribbons, cotton snoods and nylon bows. Holistic healing formulas were on offer as were baked goods for dogs and chicken wraps for hungry groomers. Most impressive for me were the customized grooming vans parked ringside and the washtub with a pneumatic foot pedal that adjusts the height of the entire unit. Everything a groomer (or dog show exhibitor) could wish for was available.
Intergroom and its sister competitions are a genuine celebration of the human-canine bond and the extraordinary gifts that both dogs and their people possess. The competitors and the attendees seemed to relish the contests and the general carnival-like atmosphere. All of the dogs had a great time too. They were only asked to sit for their groomers for short periods of time, and they wore their new trim with pride, no matter how staid or outrageous the hairdo.
For the pet groomer, exhibitor, retailer, vet tech, kennel operator and dog breeder, grooming contests such as Intergroom are great events that can help to unite all dog lovers. Although it is an entirely different experience than a conformation show, my first visit to a grooming convention proved to me that the love we feel for our dogs is universal and open to infinite possibilities for expression.
Who knows, maybe one year the ever-growing AKC/Eukanuba National Championship will include a grooming competition that introduces the magic and marvel of the pet grooming community to the world’s legion of conformation and performance enthusiasts. As is so often emphasized these days, we’re all in this together.