by Sep 28, 2016Student Stories, Supporters

You might say dog grooming is in Teri Aalders’ bloodteri-empire-pets-crop

The owner of Empire Pets grooming salons in Mission and Lenexa, Kan., she’s been a groomer for years. Her mother groomed dogs for more than 40 years. Her three sisters are groomers, one in Independence, another in Claycomo and the third in Gladstone.

And these days, Teri not only employs one of our graduates – Christine Banks from our inaugural class works three days a week at Teri’s Mission salon – but also helps our students learn the trade that has been such an integral part of her family’s life and livelihood.

Sharp skills + caring attitude

For Teri, her involvement is a chance both to help solve a significant need of the grooming business, and advance The Grooming Project’s mission to break the cycle of generational poverty by training single parents facing chronic employment challenges in family-friendly trades that pay a living wage.

“Finding good groomers is our biggest challenge,” says Teri, acknowledging an industry-wide issue. “Good groomers must have the grooming skills as well as a caring attitude in how they treat the animals. It can be hard to find all of that in one person.”

Through careful screening of students accepted for the program, Grooming Project Executive Director Natasha Kirsch takes care of animal empathy. “Her students are definitely champions for the dogs, even those who have never had dogs before,” Teri says.

As for the grooming skills, that’s why Teri comes to the school every Wednesday afternoon, to help Training Director Samantha Calvert and Training Assistant Lacey Adair with training and to provide counsel on program improvements from the perspective of a potential employer.

She also answers students’ questions about the business they intend to enter once they graduate and move into good-paying careers as groomers.

“They’re very interested in learning about what we do at my shop,” she says. “For instance, they have noticed our good reviews on Yelp – 4.5 stars out of 5 – and wanted to know how we get that.  I told them we work at it every day, by listening to the customer and sharing how to help them take care of their dog.”

Setting expectations

christine-at-empire-pets-cropGrooming Project graduate Christine is doing well in her salon, Teri says. She can groom as many as six dogs a day, a pace usually achieved only by groomers with several more years of experience, and has a calm, assertive attitude that’s reassuring for the dogs. Christine’s new teammates love working with her. And she has both the skills and the caring attitude Teri says is so difficult to find.

Good groomers can earn $50,000 or more, and demand for them is high. But it’s hard work, too, and Teri’s experience supplementing the school’s training gives students a taste of employer and real-world expectations.

“There’s a lot of standing – 8 to 10 hours a day – and lots of lifting, bending and stretching,” she says. “The dogs don’t always want to cooperate so there can be plenty of pulling and tugging.”

But the rewards, in the form of happy, sweet-smelling pups with trimmed toenails and beautiful make-overs – as well as the stability of a good job that enables these single parents to focus on raising their children — are worth it.

“I tell the students it’s important to know that the end of training isn’t the end of learning,” Teri says. “They are all goal-driven; they know where they are headed. I want to help motivate them to get where they need to be to be successful.”