Exclusively Dogs will soon celebrate its second year of business, and while their daily focus is on our four-legged friends, owner Michelle Toczek knows the key to their success is the people who work with her.
“It’s a really great group. For me, it’s more about culture. We have plenty of business for however many dogs our groomers want to take on. I think that’s what makes it really fun and special here. There’s not that pressure of having to complete a certain number of jobs per day. That gives them some flexibility with their schedule, which is important,” Toczek said.
“When I opened this business, that was my dream. One, of course, was to be around dogs. But, second, was to be able to offer a place where people like to work.”
Toczek’s team includes Margarita Giannoutsos, who has been with Toczek since the business opened.
“I feel like we wouldn’t have been successful without her It’s tough to join a new business when they are building up clientele, and she stuck it out with us,” Toczek said.
Groomer William Kessler has been with Exclusively Dogs for about a year, bringing ten years of experience to the business.
While grooming a very well behaved client, he said the hardest part of grooming is “not taking them all home.”
When groomers were closed last spring due to COVID-19 related shutdowns, many dog owners were forced to tackle grooming on their own, and many gained a newfound respect for the work of professional groomers.
“I quickly learned when I was learning that groomers make it look easy, but it is much harder than it looks. If you’re cutting a person’s hair, you can ask them to move their head and they can communicate their needs. With dogs, it’s a bit more of a negotiation sometimes,” Kessler quipped.
“A lot of clients after the shutdown ended would tell us, ‘We tried grooming our dogs at home, and we have so much more appreciation for you now’.”
Vanessa Carnes recently joined Exclusively Dogs as a groomer, having completed her training recently with The Grooming Project.
Carnes and Giannoutsos both received their training with The Grooming Project, a Kansas City based nonprofit which helps families in poverty by providing job training in the high demand trade of pet grooming.
The grooming school program includes 644 classroom hours and three internships in local grooming salons. Students are paired with a volunteer mentor who they meet with regularly to work through household budgeting and parenting questions. The Grooming Project also coordinates with many local organizations to address medical service and mental health needs, life skills courses, and parenting and budgeting support.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be here today. Their training is challenging, but it is a good program. They offer great assistance in placement,” Giannoutsos said.
Carnes was referred to The Grooming Project by a local nonprofit, Journey To A New Life.
“I went down a wrong road in my life, and came to Kansas City for something new. Journey to a New Life recommended The Grooming Project, and their employment specialist helped me find this position. Michelle was really welcoming and really great about giving me a chance,” Carnes said.
“I’ve always felt at ease working with dogs, and it is a great career. Many people who have made mistakes in their lives don’t think that they can ever have a career. I definitely think grooming is a great skill to develop, and there are many great opportunities.”
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018), employment for animal care and service workers is projected to grow 22% through 2026, faster than the average for other occupations.
Exclusively Dogs has certainly experienced this growth, and according to Toczek, the key to their success is their team.
“The biggest challenge is finding the right fit when recruiting groomers. It’s always your people that make the difference,” Toczek said.
“We all get along really well and work really well together,” Kessler said.
“We all enjoy each other and joke around a lot,” Giannoutsos said.
At the end of the day, Giannoutsos says it’s the reaction of their human customers that makes their work so enjoyable.
“I love dogs and I love being creative. I really enjoy making the customers happy, and I enjoy seeing their reaction when they see their puppies when our work is done.”
This is a great industry to be a part of,” Carnes said.
“People just really love their pets, and it makes it fun.”
Exclusively Dogs is located at 1060 NE McQuerry Road, Ste. F, Grain Valley. For appointments, call 816-721-5486 or visit www.exclusivelydogskc.com.
For more information on The Grooming Project, visit www.thegroomingproject.org.