Groomer and teacher Suzi Clark gives a personal account of her experiences of working abroad – be warned, working in sunnier climes may not be all that it’s cracked up to be.

Suzie Clarke

Suzi started dog grooming when she was 10 on a Bichon called Souness – her dad was a huge football fan and that was one of the conditions if he allowed Suzi to have a dog was that it had to be called after the famous footballer Graham Souness. Her interest in grooming began when she entered Souness in the local companion dog show and won. She was hooked on showing though she admits that Souness wasn’t really a show dog and so started showing for other people. In 1993 she became the top toy junior handler at only 15. She admits boys became a bit of a distraction after that but a few years later and with a couple of Bichons needing to be prepared for the show ring she decided to become a professional groomer and went to Agnes Murphy to train. She opened her first grooming salon in Dumfries in 2002, which she ran for five years.

After breaking up with her long-term boyfriend she decided she needed a complete change of scene and lifestyle – Australia! She went out there with no intention of doing anything connected with grooming yet she soon found herself managing a salon called Bark Avenue in Willerby, New South Wales, which she loved. She also started studying at the International Grooming Company with Deb Ryan and Sharon Hall. After 18 happy months the issue of renewing her visa reared its ugly head. She had no option but to return to the UK but that was something Suzi really didn’t want to do so she stopped off in Dubai hoping to find some work there. And luck was on her side…she found a mobile grooming company who needed someone to build the business. The money was amazing and it came with free accommodation for six months. It all seemed too good to be true!

She returned to the UK for a couple of weeks to catch up with family and then off she went to Dubai full of excitement and anticipation. Just before she was about to leave she received an email from the business owner saying they couldn’t pick her up at the airport due to some family issues. She was told to get in a taxi and give the driver an address he provided. After a long day’s travelling Suzi was happy to check into a hotel for the night and go to the address in the morning. After over an hour’s wait in the concierge’s office of an apartment block a man turned up and indicated that she should follow him as he would show her to her accommodation. What he showed Suzi was the most disgusting flat she’d ever seen. She informed him that she’d not travelled half way round the world to stay somewhere like this!


Inside the Salon

She felt very vulnerable as her phone didn’t work and she was reliant upon the man to inform her new boss. After conversations with the boss he showed her another flat. It was cleaner than the first but every room was a bedroom including the cupboard in the hall! He opened the door to a room that he said would be hers only to find a bloke asleep in the bed, who was quickly ushered out. Suzi reluctantly took it – at least it had an ensuite bathroom and there was a lock on the door. She stayed for just two nights and then found her own serviced apartment close by which she paid for out of her own pocket. Having sorted out her living accommodation it was time to start work. And again the job description didn’t match the reality. She was sent out in the grooming van with the other groomers in soaring temperatures. On the bright side she became (and still is) good friends with the other groomers, nearly all from Asia. Suzi says they were lovely, hard working and really good groomers. However, they were paid a pittance in comparison to Suzi, worked long hours, were not given any holidays, given poor accommodation and, worse than that, the owners took their passports away so they couldn’t even leave. Suzi found it increasingly difficult to reconcile herself to the conditions of her fellow workers and was also being continually hassled to hand over her passport on the grounds that they needed it to sort out her visa. She worried she’d never get it back if she handed it over so after a few months she decided enough was enough. She booked a midnight flight from Dubai and left, texting her boss just before she took off to let them know that she wouldn’t be coming back.

Inside Suzi’s salon Douge Grooming

Back in the UK, with the help of and Support of Alison Rogers, Suzi embarked on her teaching career, starting out as a part-time teacher at Leeds City College and then at the College of Animal Welfare (CAW) where she set up the grooming school. However, another opportunity to go to Australia appeared – this time with sponsorship – to help set up an in-house salon for a retail business – a bit like Pets at Home. It was too good an opportunity to miss. She was given instructions to get in touch when she arrived, the company would give her a couple of weeks to settle in and then they’d like her to start work. So she did exactly that, contacted them after a couple of weeks when they asked her if she was prepared to travel. She said she didn’t mind and then heard nothing for another couple of weeks. Suzi thought this was a bit strange so she contacted again the person she’d been dealing with and again the response was very vague so she asked to speak to someone senior. She finally was contacted by another person and told that she wasn’t right for the company and there wasn’t a job available! She was devastated – her dream of going back to Oz shattered.

Now back in the UK again Suzi has just set up her own grooming business attached to a veterinary practice in Wandsworth, London. Her flair and determination is remarkable considering the knock-backs she’s had and clearly evident in the way she has kitted out the small space so beautifully. She is hoping to be able to roll out a similar format for the vet’s other practices in London. So for now she’s definitely committed to building a business in the UK but I wonder how long it is before she gets itchy feet again and wants to try her luck abroad again – though I doubt it will be Dubai!