by JB Hyppolite and Len Lear
The U.S. pet industry is expected to command more than $50 billion this year, according to the American Pet Product Association. The category of “other pet services,” which includes grooming, commanded $4.39 billion of that revenue last year and is projected to increase to $4.68 billion for this year.
Cynthia (Cyndi) Rekos, 30, would be thrilled just to get a small piece of that business. She recently opened GroomLab, located at 831 Bethlehem Pike in Erdenheim, the same building where Sudsy Dog has been for several years. Last year she worked for Bone Appetite, a store in Chestnut Hill that sells pet products.
“It’s been going really well,” said the blue-haired groomer. “I have a lot of great clients and am still growing. My first priority is the safety of the dog … I work for my clients, so I don’t push my haircut preferences on to people … Grooming is not an art; it’s a science!”
Rekos, who grew up near Washington, D.C., started GroomLab late last year. She had been grooming over four years for big and small dog grooming businesses, but she always had a knack for wanting to do things her own way. No matter where she worked, she wanted to be in charge, so she eventually decided to do just that.
Cyndi had a dachshund growing up and has always loved dogs, but since the dachshund was short-haired, she didn’t even know grooming existed until she was much older. “I was pretty much always interested in any dog I ever saw,” she said. “I now have two dachshunds of my own, and I use them all over my website and business cards.”
One of GroomLab’s upcoming additions will be a “Mobile Lab” that makes home visits for people who are not able to bring their dogs into the salon for whatever reason. “I really like being independent and doing things on my own, but it is still nice to have some kind of support,” said Cynthia, referring to Anne-Marie Forde, owner of Sudsy Dog. The two have a non-competitive relationship despite operating from the same building.
“Even if we have slightly different styles, nothing clashes,” said Rekos, “and even if it did, we don’t work for each other; we just work next to each other. When new customers come to her, if she’s not able to take them in, instead of having to turn them away, she’s able to refer them to me.”
Cynthia had a great mentor named Susana Mejia Zimmerman, a 20-year grooming veteran who currently runs a grooming business in Rockville, Maryland. “She was amazing with dogs, not just the training part. She trained search-and-rescue dogs for FEMA in Peru. She knew everything about animal behavior, and that really helped me because grooming is a lot more than just doing a haircut. You’re working with the dog, and you need to be able to communicate with it.”
Cynthia’s foray into dog grooming wasn’t planned. It began as a part-time job at PetSmart as an assistant while she was studying for her B.S. in psychology at the University of Maryland. Unfortunately, she got into a motorcycle accident and had to leave her job. She never finished her degree, being about 18 credits short, but by that time she had already fallen in love with grooming. She started working as an assistant to a groomer in 2008. She started college as a music major and switched to psychology but really didn’t have any solid career path in mind at that time until she met Susana. “I was asked if I was interested in the training program. I said yes, and it took off from there.”
According to Cyndi, dog grooming is half handling ability and half styling ability, two different skills one has to work on to master. One thing she really takes pride in is working with difficult dogs that were turned away from other shops. “Not that a difficult dog is pleasant to work on,” she said, “but most of the time I’ve been able to accomplish more just due to being patient and having so much education and experience with behavior issues.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to know dogs that used to bite or have extreme anxiety issues but who get better over time. Everyone wins; the customer doesn’t have to keep salon-hopping or apologizing for his or her dog, the dog is obviously less stressed out about grooming, and I did more than just a haircut on a dog. I made a part of his or her life no longer something to dread.”
For more information about GroomLab, call 267-400-1589 or visit www.groomlab.com.