To understand why I am exclusively a cat groomer, we need to go back to the beginning. I was born on…. Wait, not that far back! I bathed my first cat when I was 5 or 6 years old. Why would I bathe a cat that young? Well, my cats slept with me at night and I couldn’t stand the smell of kitty litter on them. They were my comfort as a teddy bear or a doll might have been for others, we couldn’t afford toys, but we did have quite a few cats. I can tell you right now, at that age, you learn quite quickly what works and what doesn’t when it comes to bathing a cat!
Fast-forward a few cat baths and years later. I’m now thirteen years old, I had just run away from home and am living with my aunt and Uncle, because I was in an abusive environment. My Aunt is one of those people who actually take their cats in to the veterinarian’s office to get groomed once a year. This was the first time I learned that people actually groom their cats, wait…People get paid for this?! At the time I had a black, domestic long hair, with fur like a Himalayan, named Pookie. When my aunt would take her to be groomed, they had to sedate her. Who knew my loving little girl was so feisty that she would need to be sedated? You may be wondering why I wasn’t grooming her myself, since I had been bathing cats at such a young age. Well, as a young teenager I was starting to notice boys, adapting to a new home life, adjusting to a new school and I was also starting Grade 10 as an illiterate (I was only able to spell my first name “Maria”, had trouble with my last name “Robertson” and don’t even get me started on my middle names!). I should add that as a kid, I was the one raising my younger siblings, not being able to go to school consistently.
When I was 19, my two-year-old niece decided to smother my loving girl Pookie in Pantene Pro V shampoo. My Aunt was panicking, the vet’s office where she gets her sedation grooming was closed for the weekend. Pookie was completely covered in this shampoo, not a dry patch of fur on her. We were concerned that Pookie would end up really sick (Because cats lick themselves). So, I offered to bathe Pookie, even though I knew she needed a sedative, I was curious to know how she would act. It had been 8(ish) years since I last bathed a cat. It’s amazing how bathing a cat is like riding a bike, it all came back. Pookie’s in the bath. She’s moving around, a little growling, hissing here and there, nothing I found abnormal. I successfully bathed her without any bloodshed. My Aunt was astonished. I looked at her and wondered why they would have to sedate her? At this moment I did not yet realise that I had a gift. I had thought of becoming a veterinarian, but with my Illiteracy I didn’t think it was a goal I could reach. I had never thought about becoming a groomer, like most people I didn’t think about cats being professionally groomed outside a vet’s office. Being paid to bathe a cat wasn’t even on my radar.
In my early twenties I had a Devon Rex who I bathed monthly, as my boyfriend at the time was allergic. Somewhere along the line I gained confidence despite my learning disability. I decided to find a career to help people as I am a nurturer at heart. I graduated dental assisting school with a sense of pride as my learning disability was a challenge, but with the teaching aids the school offered I was successful. And I absolutely loved this field of work. Sadly, in my late twenties, do to trauma as a kid, my neck gave up on me. I was diagnosed with a degenerative disc disease in my cervical spine (Neck). I was told by my neurologist that if I kept my current career as a dental assistant, I would need a spinal fusion within the next five years. So, I made the hard decision to quit dental assisting for good. While my neck was recovering, I started bathing my sister’s Main Coons. Unfortunately, Scar (the male) couldn’t keep up with his coat. Seemingly overnight he would get mats in his armpits, and between his legs. Remembering my aunts’ old vet, my sister went about looking for a professional groomer to see if they would do better than I could. She found a dog groomer through another vet, but they wouldn’t bathe cats, they would only shave them. She went ahead with getting Scar shaved and when he would get home, I’d bathe him. About the third time he went in for his shave, he came home unable to walk properly. We immediately rushed him to our vet. He had slipped a disc in his lower back, he was only two and a half, maybe three years old by this time, the groomer was in denial about the situation. So, I decided to try and shave him myself. I had the basic understanding of how the cut was done based on the look of it (do to my learning disability I tend to have an easier time trying to figure things out based on look). How hard could it be? I mean, I bathe him, others think that’s the hardest thing to do a cat. Haircut day came. It took me four hours to shave him! Oh my God. It was very different then bathing a cat but I wasn’t about to give up. By the fourth shave I was able to do a perfect lion cut on Scar. At this time, I was doing trade shows (home shows, women shows, fairs, etc.) making a decent income. I still wasn’t even thinking about grooming for profit. Just bathing my cats; two Devon Rex’s, my sisters two Maine Coons, giving Scar his lion shave every few months and cutting the nails on some of my friend’s cats.
My Husband, Cats and I moved from Ontario to live in Alberta in 2008 for work. I was on the road doing trade shows across Canada eight months out of the year. I did this for six years. At this point, my sisters Maine Coons were living with me now, getting regular grooming when I was home. I still had my two Devon Rex’s and adopted a domestic short hair. My friends liked the look of my cats and started asking if I could groom theirs as well. I was only home about three days a week, with hardly enough time for my own cats, so I had to tell them no.
I decided to look for a cat groomer here in Calgary. To my surprise, my findings showed dog groomers who will only shave cats. It was at this point that I started considering leaving trade shows to groom cats professionally. Working the trade shows had been good to me financially, but being away from my home, my cats, my husband, took its toll on me. I decided to start a search for a course or a school that I could attend, to be trained as an expert cat groomer. There had to be some sort of program, right? I wanted the confidence of knowing that my bathing and shaving skills were up to par with the best in the business. In multiple dog grooming shops, I was laughed at for believing there was a school dedicated to grooming cats. Apparently, cats were just supposed to be quickly shaved and sent on their way. I was baffled that no one in these shops had official training in grooming cats. I was determined and knew there just had to be something out there. I turned to the internet for further research. It took me sometime to find the National Cat Grooming Institute of America (NCGIA) in 2011, a new school. This was it. This is what I needed. I bought all of their videos and books, I knew there was a market for a cat groomer in my city. It was not feasible with my schedule to do the schooling at the time, as trade shows were often booked up a year in advance. I figured I’d just do the exam and go from there. Well, here’s the kicker. I received the books and videos, but when taking a browse through, I began to panic. I still have a learning disability. I still stumble over my words. I can spell my whole name now without a problem (Ha-ha), but my reading and writing skills were still on a single digit grade level. I knew this meant that I would require visual learning and wanted support with the reading material (if needed). I would have to register to go to the school in South Carolina.
January of 2014 I was off to school. I had a plan, I was excited! I arrived at NCGI, which was smaller than I anticipated, I started panicking again. I know larger institutes have programs and extra assistance for those with learning disabilities, but being a small school, I didn’t know if they were equipped, or willing to offer exceptions and additional guidance. Luckily when I expressed my anxieties on day two about my spelling phonetically and reading not computing as it should (sometimes having to read a single word multiple times before it makes sense). I was concerned people wouldn’t understand my written answers. NCGI was thankfully able to work with me and my learning level. I studied hard, I learned some cuts that I was unaware were a possibility for cats (sani shave, tummy shave and comb cut to name a few). I gained the confidence to work on senior cats and recognize signs of stress, I also learned a few more breeds along with the different colors, patterns and their origins and how to handle cats with situation health issues. I graduated and went home and got prepared to start my business. Fabulous Feline Grooming opened its doors in May 2014.
My friends were weary and a little skeptical that it wouldn’t actually work out since I was cat exclusive (I have a fear of dogs, have you seen their teeth? No thanks!). I kept my trade show job, but cut back my hours a bit, allowing me to assess what my community needed from a cat groomer (hours/Price points). In my city we have about 4 mobile cat groomers and at least 20 dog/cat groomers, even though many do not offer the services that I provide, a big one being bathing. To be honest, I never paid for advertising in the beginning, most of my clientele comes from Google searches and word of mouth. I had gone to dog groomers, dog/cat groomers, veterinarian offices in the neighborhood – I handed out my cards and explained who I was. I posted before, after and bath pictures on my Facebook page (I mentioned to clients that they would be posted in a few days, clients loved this, they felt their cats would be famous!) My website also has a visual link to my Facebook page (I don’t know how I did it, or what happened, but my website comes out on the very first page of local cat grooming searches, just following the advertising links). As time passed veterinarians started noticing my skill level and would refer clients to me (this was happening all over my city). After my first year I began to send out Christmas cards and entered in the yearly cat show, this is all the marketing I’ve done and it has grown my business exponentially.
My five-year plan was to accumulate three hundred cat clients and in three years my five-year plan had superseded itself! I was to my max capacity, I had seen over 800 hundred households of cats, with a returning client base of around 500 plus Families. I couldn’t take on any more cats so I implemented a 2 -3 year wait list. In the summer of 2018, due to cats passing away, moving away, and just not returning, I had some available appointments to fit cats in that have been on my 2-year waiting list! My business has been going great and we are getting ready to take the leap into leaving my in-home grooming space to opening up a cat exclusive grooming and retail shop.
Cat grooming is catching on rapidly and NCGI is gaining momentum for being the top program for cat grooming. The best thing any business can do for itself, is to invest in itself! Having a certificate as a CFMG (Certified Feline Master Groomer) gives you a leg up over your uncertified competition. I am so thankful to Danelle for taking her time to create a curriculum from her experiences of what works and what doesn’t, so that other like-minded individuals can follow in her footsteps and start a successful business of their own. I am extremely grateful for the knowledge of Breed and Health that I gained from NCGI, especially when it comes to speaking with Veterinarians and their staff.
If there is any advise I could give to someone looking to break into the industry or start their own grooming business, it would be to invest in yourself, and education is the best investment you can make for yourself, just ask your doctor, dentist or realtor.
Maria Drechsel, Certified Feline Master Groomer
Fabulous Feline Grooming