I got fired for wearing a scarf…(why the corporate pet stores are always looking for groomers)

Purebred Bedlington. another breed with such a small gene pool, with  genetic health issues, that the puppy mills have generally ignored.

Purebred Bedlington. another breed with such a small gene pool, with genetic health issues, that the puppy mills have generally ignored.

    I posted this in February 2012.  I have 2 updates…there is justice in the world….

When I was  barely a teenager, I decided that I wanted to learn to  groom dogs. There were so many breeds I was attracted to, I could never own that many dogs, so I decided that if  I could learn to groom dogs, I could be around a lot of different dogs that I liked.  I could be around Newfoundlands and Great Pyrenees, Pulik and Airedale Terriers, Bearded Collies and Pomeranians,  Afghan Hounds and Pekingese, English Cocker Spaniels and Bedlington Terriers. Grooming dogs satisfies me in so many ways:  I enjoy  physically being with the dogs, and interacting and communicating with the dogs…..and I enjoy being creative.  I made a point to learn the breeds and the hair textures  and how to fix faults.  I am an artist.  I take pride in my grooming.  I am always checking out new products and new equipment, and network with many other dog groomers. Josh Dean, in his recent article for  Inc. Magazine:(http://www.inc.com/magazine/201112/meet-chris-christensen-the-paul-mitchell-of-poodles.html) compared dog grooming to topiary.  He totally gets it.  We are a devoted niche market for some products and we will pay for the best because it is a matter of integrity to use the best tools and the best products, and  to not just satisfy—but overjoy our dog owning clients. This is why many groomers have a following  :  we’ve cultivated a clientele  who appreciates us and know we act with honesty and integrity.
But the economy has changed, and more non groomers are now in charge of hiring and supervising groomers.  They don’t care that we are artists and creative people. They want to make sure you can follow instructions without question, no matter how absurd or petty they are—so you can fit into the retail environment. I understand this… however….
Would you agree to take a job that you didn’t know what , exactly, you were going to be paid?  What your hours were… exactly?  What if you knew you were applying for a job with certain job tasks,  but discovered there was no work, so a manager—who had never met you, never interviewed you, and knew nothing about you, had never even seen you groom a dog…. told you to clean what had already been cleaned, and that would be your job because they were paying you—even though you had been hired to perform other job tasks?  What if you  had been told you were coming in for training, but were not being  provided with training (because either there was not enough work, or there were other prospective employees being trained at the same time) , so  they had you cleaning or doing ‘busy work’ instead, rather than have you clock out? Would you keep that job if you could get   dog grooming (or other) work paying better?  If you had the opportunity to make more per hour until  this company could provide you with work for the job tasks that you had been assigned to—would you ask  for a compromise? I have to admit, this is  my fault for not being more skeptical.  I keep thinking  everyone treats everyone else with  respect. That’s not how it is. I should have asked how many groomers there were, how many days or weeks I would be required to be on site for training, and what hours I was expected to be on site.
It started with me going to a ‘job fair’.  I had read in the pet industry press that the  corporation had recently been bought by a venture capital firm and was undergoing rapid expansion.   I walked in a little early and told the receptionist that I was a dog groomer ans was immediately  taken  to the MEN HIRING .  I told them that I was a dog groomer.  I attempted to show them my portfolio, photos of me winning at dog grooming contests, articles I had written for  dog grooming publications …but on my word alone, I was hired—just like that—and given about 20 papers to sign.  I got no copies of anything I signed.  No clear answer about the schedule:  “to be determined…” One of the  papers I signed was the dress code.  It said I had to wear black or khaki pants, and either a shirt provided by the company or a black shirt. It also said:  no scarves, no jewelry, and no visible tattoos.  I didn’t remember that part. 3 days into ‘training’ they brought me  a paper to sign that said I could not work for any groomer within 10 miles of the store, forever, and another paper that said once I brought my clients over, my clients were their clients…no joke. I did attempt to read  anything that was not a tax form, but it all happened pretty fast.   I knew I had no rights, so… what else is new?  The MEN actually wanted me to start the very next day!  I told them  that since I was an independent contractor, I had to tie up some loose ends. Silly me, I  believed that I would  spend a day or so training, and then be grooming. Of course, I expected to clean up after myself…but it got a bit more complicated.
The store I had applied to work for would not be operating for another 3 weeks.  So, I was assigned to work/train at a store  that was twice as far away, that did not need me, and had no plan to train me.  I was as told, by a regional manager,  to ask for 1  of 2 managers on the day I arrived for training. Neither was there.  Really.  So an assistant told me to go to the grooming room, where a surprised groomer tried to get me some training on the computer. That she has  facial piercings and  tattoos…well, so what (this had been mentioned in the dress code…I will return to this).  She has no idea what she was supposed to teach me, but she was very nice,  so I  hung around for a while, tried to get an idea of the software & prices, and then I left, called the regional manager, he made some phone calls, and I was told to ask for another  person  the next day. This was a few weeks before Christmas, right after Thanksgiving, so things were a bit slow, and the groomers were not making commission, and were   stressed.  Yes, they get an hourly draw, but—it is not a living wage in Chicago. Seems that the corporate entity was using this store to train  groomers….but since there was no grooming, they  brought in a corporate grooming manager who did not groom, and she set us to work cleaning.   (I was told I would never see her groom, and, indeed—when another groomer called in to say she had car trouble and  she would be late, this corporate grooming manager stopped taking appointments for the day.  We trainees were puzzled at this.  How could she be a groomer? The room wasn’t a disaster—nobody moves their cages or cleans overhead equipment even more than once a month!   The issue?  Hair behind cages and  on top of equipment a small person would not see.    However, this corporate manager was not addressing the male groomers who would  be in charge of this room.  Just trainees!  How much sense does that make?  Searching for  make-work , this corporate grooming manager  told me to get a ladder out of the store room and climb it to see what was above something.  I told her that SHE COULD GET THE LADDER & CLIMB IT, but I did not yet have insurance.  This infuriated her—&  she told the store manager  to find work for me, so…he had me doing inventory. At least it was not make work.  But she  apparently wrote me up for insubordination—-even though I was still in training.  For not accepting a dangerous task that had nothing to do with grooming dogs.
This Christmas season was a total bust for me—& the groomer I was to be working with. Our new store opened a week before Christmas, but a flyer went out that said the grand opening would not be until January.   It was a fabulous location—but without a washer or dryer, and with the water temp being dangerously hot out of both the cold and hot water taps.   Since  we had just opened, we were  missing the  before Christmas influx that we would have gotten at the more established store.  They were paying an hourly wage (a manager told me it would be between $10—12 an hour—(I had to actually call the  corporate grooming supervisor, and it turned out they were under paying me by $3 an hour!  No joke!), but where we live, $15 an hour for an 8 hour day is barely a living wage. I was gambling that we would be up to  commission in 60 days.  For me, that meant averaging $20 an hour. Whatever was I thinking?  No guarantee, but it was a risk I was taking NOT just because of the location—but because the corporate groomer had told us our basic prices would be higher than they were at the other store. They were not…but…as I learned from working for PETCO—it is totally legal to lie to employees. Although business was slow, and we didn’t get the washer & dryer installed for over 2 weeks, & we almost scalded dogs, I figured that  was how it would be. Dave, my immediate supervisor, was an easy going guy, we worked well together…but another problem was….The Corporate groomers  wanted to keep the grooming room open at least 10 hours a day (store hours are 12 hours).  I didn’t want to hang around 40 hours, no matter what I was being paid, unless I was grooming dogs, because I had to pay a dog walker to walk my dogs. . In fact, I initially asked for part time, which I was told was 30 hours.  So…that meant three 10 hour days, to keep the room staffed for corporate.  Doesn’t make any sense when you have voicemail, and you can’t take a dog in for grooming 2 hours before closing (have to make time to clean up)—but that is their policy—-don’t ask why. One thing I do know:  they would not give me a regular schedule(same days  on and off every week for an entire month)—I am sure to make it nearly impossible to earn money any other way.   This is why it’s also difficult for hospitals to find nurses to work.
I had Wednesday and Friday off at the beginning of the month, then  a Tuesday and a Thursday, and, even though I was told I could not work both Saturday  and Sunday (which would have been my preferred  schedule, allowing me to work 40 hours without having to pay a dog walker), by a scheduling snafu, I had a couple of those scheduled weekends—working both days.  Having Asperger’s, the wacky schedule caused a HUGE amount of physical and emotional stress—but—believe me—they certainly don’t want  any mental  eccentrics on the team—and don’t want to hear about it! But  that was not all….seems, I could not leave at night until an assistant store manager  inspected the rooms and made sure I had cleaned properly.  The corporate groomers  had told the assistant managers no clumps of hair… but if they saw  a strand, they went berserk ans would start spraying water.  Water causes static electricity. The hair becomes stuck to the surface, but they don’t know physics…and..it gets better.  The manager without a name tag insisted the pattern in the floor tile was hair!  Also,the way they had designed the drains , the groomers have to get on our hands and  knees, under the tubs, and take out the grate coverings, and clean the open  gutter drains.   As though we don’t spend enough time on the floor.  Why they would design this like this, I have no idea ( I have a background in basic civil engineering…you really don’t want dog hair  clogging the drains, but the drains were designed to allow hair to clog them!), but no matter.  The irony was….they had a problem with their cricket habitat—and their were crickets  all over the grooming room (I guess that was the logic of being hyper vigilant about dog hair—so the crickets didn’t establish themselves…) .
2 days after we opened, an assistant manager (with no name tag on—dress code violation) brought a customer into the grooming room who wanted to make an appointment for a cat.  As it happens, I do not groom cats without assistance, and my ‘boss’, Dave,who  had been bitten the week before, requiring a hospital visit,  was not grooming any cats until he got the cat muzzles in. Now, when  the assistant manager brought the customer in, what I was supposed to do was take the dog I had—a standard Poodle, off the table, put the dog in a crate in another room, and THEN WALK UP TO THE CUSTOMER.  What I did was say, ” I am sorry, I can’t  leave this dog.  Dave said we aren’t grooming cats until we get the cat muzzles in…”
The assistant manager scowled at me, and said to the customer, “Wait, I’ll ask Dave..” and she went into the back, where he was washing a dog  he could not leave unattended….and came back and told the customer exactly what I had told them. The customer left, and the assistant manager came back and told me, “You were very rude.”
“How was I rude? ” I asked her.  “You just were!”  She yelled.  That helps a lot. A few days later, I  saw she had a price chart.  I said to her, “I know what the prices state, but these are guidelines, our starting prices, and  I don’t groom cats.” “You have to groom cats if you are the only groomer  on duty!” she told me, and, right back at her, I said, “Uh, no, I  have been told I do NOT have to groom cats. Check with (the corporate manager). ”   She didn’t like that. So the problem surfaced that I was not a giddy girl. That I spoke with as much authority as any manager—and that is not allowed.  No paper says that is not allowed, but that is the gist…because… I worked one of the grand opening days, and I thought the corporate groomers would be  happy with my grooming..but  no, they were threatened by it.  In fact,  the  corporate groomer (who nobody had ever seen groom) who had been  giving me the most aggravation  regroomed one of my dogs without setting up the coat (meaning—she did not comb the hair out  to see what length it was, or where it was uneven,  she just started chopping with a thinning shears).  I did not work the 2nd day of the grand opening, and they did not thoroughly clean up, but I would not find this out until… Monday.
I had 1 of my clients come in for grooming.  I put on a scarf, as I knew there would be hair flying around. I didn’t even think about the dress code, because I was wearing a black shirt, and khaki pants.  I was sending the client home, and, apparently,  the corporate groomers took a photo of me with the client and sent it to human resources.  She didn’t address me then, but  came into the room about an hour later , yelling at me to take off my scarf, that I was in violation of the dress code!  I started to laugh and under my breath to say, “For shit’s sake!”  stifling it, when she accused me of using profanity, and called her boss on her cell phone to tattle, and I got a reaming out for wearing a scarf and using profanity.  I could only wear the scarf it in the tub area! It was an honest mistake.  I really had a busy day. I had a Belgian Sheepdog that hadn’t been brushed in about a year.  Not really matted—just extremely hairy.  Now, most groomers would price a Belgian Sheepdog as they would a Rough Collie—but for this corporation, they have priced  the Belgians $15 cheaper to start.  I wanted to charge $15 additional labor (we were offering 50% off the entire cost of grooming for another few weeks—for the grand opening), but the corporate groomer, who did not touch the dog, told me that was too much.  $5 more was ok (for the over an hour I put in)…. and, then, clean up.  I thought I did a fantastic job—but, alas…the day before (when I was off), the corporate groomers and their team ‘cleaned up’ and left—and did not pull out all the crate trays.  Stupid of me—I had only used 3  crates, so I didn’t think to pull out all the trays—-after all, the corporate groomers’ team has cleaned up.  She would have made sure  that they had done the trays—right? Wrong!  I had not  checked, so it was my  bad cleaning. So now, I was totally demoralized and pissed off. I emailed human resources, they emailed me a copy of the photo the corporate groomer had taken of me—wearing the scarf–and emailed me a copy of the dress code I has signed. Sure enough—no scarves…but also…. NO JEWELRY, NO VISIBLE TATOOS. But,  the groomer who trained me has facial studs—eyebrow ring, nose ring, tongue stud, and the 2 other groomers had tattoos! Human resources said they’d get back to me after they talked to the head corporate groomer.  But they did not, The head corporate groome told me it was not working out. Fired. One of the papers I signed was a notice that they could fire me AT WILL with no explanation.  But here is the explanation—I mean—do  I really think they fired me for …wearing a scarf?  No. I  KNEW they fired me because  they expect  employees to do what ever they are told and not to talk back.  Be submissive to  managers, no matter how petty they are.
Trouble is—when you groom dogs, you have to manage your own time, make  critical  decisions, and work in such a way as to avoid injury as well.  Several friends had told me I would have been eligible for workmen’s compensation had I been injured falling off the ladder, or  bit by a cat.  Right—but it would be MY OUT OF POCKET—and they would not reimburse me for lost wages.  But that’s ok.  I will not have people who do not do my job telling me how to do my job. I feel like I’ve been disrespected and taken advantage of, and had my time wasted.
Experienced groomers…people who’ve been able to make a living at what they are doing by providing  skilled artistic services to their clients, have a level of SKILL and most likely common sense and maturity not only to manage their own time, but to clean up, and keep our skills up. We go to dog training classes and performance events, and get a lot of  what is now common industry knowledge/indigenous knowledge:  listening to  experienced dog owners and fanciers explain what they have learned.  This is  how the  market niche for the grain free and other specialty pet foods developed—not by veterinarians recommending the foods, or pet store managers pushing the foods—but by hobby breeders, dog trainers, and groomers suggesting to their pet owning clients that they  do further research and question their veterinarians and  make requests of pet store owners. This is a fact. We are the ones that  pet owners ask for recommendations for  grooming, health related, and training products for their pets.  It’s an ironic shame that we have to  be subjected to  demeaning, immature managers.
So beware. These corporate pet stores have great prices on product, but because of how they manage employees, in spite of the benefits, good groomers are always quitting.  This is why they are always looking for groomers.
Update, May 2012. I went to  see Dave, my co-worker.  He told me a few weeks after the managers got me fired, both the in-store managers were fired for —what? being  Nazi’s? Jerks?    Then, they demoted the corporate grooming managers a few months later!  I rest my case….

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One Response to “I got fired for wearing a scarf…(why the corporate pet stores are always looking for groomers)”

  1. Dog Grooming Says:

    Dog Grooming…

    […]I got fired for wearing a scarf…(why the corporate pet stores are always looking for groomers) « Disparateinterests's Blog[…]…

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