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Category: Groomer Interviews

Be Unique. Be Creative. Be Yourself. An Interview with Britt Johnson

Britt, please tell us how you entered into grooming & the pet industry

I have always loved animals, in fact in the very same place I chose to set up my “Grooming Garden” this summer is where I used to have my childhood chicken coop and baby rabbits. If someone would have told me that in that same place a few decades later I would run my own professional business and people would be paying me to make flower crowns for their puppies, it would have blown my ten-year-old mind.

I graduated high school and moved from Orcas Island (population 4,000… minus one) to the big city of Bellingham, WA to attend community college, I needed a part time job, so I walked into a PetSmart and they hired me on the spot to be a dog bather! At that point I didn’t even realize there were breeds that needed professional grooming every month, I didn’t know what a continental cut was, and I thought a coton de tulear was a fancy dessert. Everything was new and exciting. Meanwhile at college, I took some classes like Spanish and a film making class (which I almost flunked), but at the end of that first year I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, so I dropped out! I moved to Central America for 5 months, and when I got back I wanted to groom again, so I went back to PetSmart and they put me through academy to learn to cut hair.

But underneath it all, my passion for travel and filmmaking was slowly growing more and more. Steve and I got married when I was 21 and together, we would go through this cycle of working really hard and saving up for a year, then quit our jobs for a couple of months to travel, come home broke, then get jobs and start saving again. Grooming (and Steve working as a barista) afforded us to be able to travel to over 30 countries now, I have quit grooming four times (going on five) and somehow, I always come back to it. My clients love-hate me. haha

After 8 years with PetSmart, we backpacked around the world for a year and when I returned, I helped to start a grooming salon at a daycare/boarding facility. I bought a couch (holla Jess Rona) for $50 on craigslist and on my first day I decided to take a photo of every single dog I groomed. That simple challenge ignited this new joy in my heart to combine my grooming and filmmaking passions. Little did I know that it would lead to brand sponsorships, viral TikTok videos and big features on sites like The Dodo & 9gag. After two years I quit again! We moved back to Orcas Island to prepare for our next journey… to build a campervan and drive to South America! But somehow, I’ve started my own salon out here too. I can’t stop you guys. haha. Doggos are my druggos.

You are a very creative individual. Where would you say your creativity comes from?

Thank you, that means the world to me! I guess it’s just the way God designed me. Last week my mom told me a story of when I was seven years old and the time that everyone forgot her birthday. As the story goes, I noticed she was sad and asked her why, she told me the reason, and apparently, I ran into my bedroom and after a while I came running back to her with this wadded up blanket. I flung it in the air and inside I had cut up construction paper into a zillion little pieces of confetti that showered down on her. I also wrapped up some of my favorite tiny shells and rocks as presents for her. It was all I had, but it moved her to tears. She told me I was always trying to use my creativity to bring people joy, and I definitely feel that draw still today.

Grooming is just one fulfilling outlet for my creativity, I believe a lot of groomers can relate to that. I believe that if you’re a groomer that you are already wildly creative. There are so many constantly changing variables in dog body shapes, coat types and behavior. You constantly have to adapt and try doing things in different ways. I think the challenge to sculpt something different each time keeps my mind passionate for this art. It’s so much more than washing pets. We sculpt moving breathing little things that have their own thoughts and feelings and agendas. And at the end we bring so much joy to their owners! It can be really rewarding.

What advice would you have to those that want to be more creative and want to better market themselves on social media?

One of my Indian friends told me about this Hindi word “Jugaad” which in English is defined as “a flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way.” or as I would like to say, “just start with what you have!”

When it comes to social media and marketing it can be really easy to get caught up in comparison and saying things like “oh, if I only had a better camera,” or “if only my work environment was more beautiful,” and so on. My best advice is:

 START NOW and work with what you HAVE.

I’m in the process of making an online course sharing the tips, tricks and wisdom I have learned in my videoDOGraphy the last decade, stay tuned! But here are two ideas you can implement today!

The first is creating a better workspace aesthetic:

When I helped start the grooming program at the kennel I decided that wanted my salon to feel more like a living room than an industrial shop and I admired the aesthetics of salons like @groomingbybryanna and @jessronagrooming. My boss gave me a budget and we transformed the space from these horrid band aid/plum colored walls to this beautiful space that I actually wanted to create in.

When taking pet photos, train your eye to look not only at how cute the dog is, but at the things that might be distracting in the background. Is there hair on the floor? Are your tools strewn across your table? Maybe you don’t have the budget or the freedom to completely remodel your space, but I have seen so many groomers set up cute photo backdrops or use a colorful Pawmat to change the feel of their photos. Think outside the box, see what you can find for free online, and don’t underestimate the power of a $30 bucket of wall paint.

Secondly, let’s talk about your gear.

Most of my most viral videos were shot on an iPhone 5, which goes to show that camera quality is always second to your content. Actually, probably not even second... its way down the list! Haha. Don’t get caught up in having the best gear. Start with what you have RIGHT NOW, and only upgrade your gear when you come to a creative limit that you want to push past. For me it was wanting the Bokeh effect (aka “portrait mode” where the subject is in focus and the background is blurry) so I saved up my tips for a used iPhone 7 plus. I got it for $145 from a dude on craigslist. Sure, I wanted the iPhone 11, but I knew that was the one feature I wanted next and I didn’t need to spend $1000 to get it.

I think people sometimes underestimate the power of their little phone cameras. My first big film making camera I bought (for my side jobs like weddings and commercials and such) I spent thousands of dollars to be able to have this one thing… the ability to shoot at 4k @60 fps. The crazy thing is, now every new phone has that sacred ability! 5 years ago, that was completely unheard of. Every year you can get better technology for cheaper and cheaper as they constantly upgrade. Half the photo/video features on an iPhone 11 you probably would never even use, but it’s absolutely amazing to me that its right there and available once you have a reason to use a certain feature.

The better question then would be, WHAT do you care about showing to the world? and WHY do you want to share it? Find your what and why first and then USE the quality to boost your content. Let me tell ya, there is plenty of high-quality pointless crap out there. My dad has this term called “turd polishing” where you take something crappy and throw some glitter on it and try to call it good. Beauty without purpose is vanity, but something with great purpose becomes beautiful in itself. Focus on the purpose of your effort, and if you practice each day, I promise your quality will follow close behind!

Jugaad you guys. Work with what you have.

Britt, one of the things that I think we all admire about you is your ability to be wacky, silly, and unique on social media. What would you say to those looking to emphasize their unique qualities?

The only difference between where you are creatively right now and where I am today is the amount of time I have put into this. Creativity is like a muscle. Work at it every day. Trial and error till you find your own thing that you are passionate about that feels like the “you” you want to portray. Take risks, try doing things you see others doing and put your own twist on them. You are the only you, so even if you try to copy someone exactly, your perspective and uniqueness will creep out into your work. Chase after those subtle differences and develop them so that they have a louder voice until it just becomes that little thing that when someone sees your work they will instantly know who created it... like taking slo-mo hair blowing in the wind videos, turning poodles into zoodles, or putting flower crowns on floofers. It’s pretty rare for someone to be an “overnight success”. I have found that when you investigate anyone you admire, you’ll be able to see that they all started at the same place. That should be encouraging to hear.

The only way you’ll find your thing is if you actually seek after it. Just do the next thing. Your life has purpose, and that purpose might not be to find your voice on a social media platform or take cool photos or videos, but in everyone I meet I see this unique light that is meant to shine in only the way that they can shine. Maybe grooming dogs can be one of your ways you get to shine that light brighter and bring more joy into the world. Maybe it’s something else. But rest assured, your life is not an accident, you are designed with all of your little quirks and passions for a reason. The world is truly a better place because you are in it and we NEED your expression of life. It would be a shame if you hid your little spark under a basket when you were destined for impact. I get so pumped when I see people living out whatever it is that sets their soul on fire. I believe that when we see other people taking risks and chasing their dreams that it gives us the permission and bravery to want to try taking risks too. Like this chain-reaction thing.

I still feel like I’m growing and learning who I am and what I’m living for, “finding my purpose in life” but I’m holding onto this promise that my simple existence is proof that I am here for a reason. Life is this wild adventure. Like grooming, there are so many changing variables and exciting twists and turns that challenge us and grow us. Then in the end, the client comes to pick up their dog and you see the result of all your effort - the joy in the owner, the trust they put into you coming back as this beautiful piece of art. The dog tippy-tapping around showing off your hard work, the fulfillment and pride as you look at your job well done. At the end of my life I hope I can look back and say, look at this beautiful thing I sculpted! Look how I persevered through the hard parts and how my passions brought joy to others! A job well done.

When I dropped out of college, I didn’t know what I wanted to “do” and I still don’t know what I want to do. But I’ve decided that in whatever I do, I just want to give it my all. And maybe, just maybe, my life could impact others!

(Check out this DOPE video Britt and Jess Rona created!)

View this post on Instagram From the infamous grooming salon of Jess Rona comes a song made entirely out of raw soundbites captured during spa day. Check out Jess Rona's amazing dog videos, photos, and tutorials (she's freaking hilarious) @jessronagrooming ✄ Big thanks to Richard, Jay, @Christinekeeseegrooming, @Ericjedelstein & Jess for welcoming me into your grooming fortress, showing me so much love, making my dreams come true, and in general setting the bar for next level dog videos. Jess, you are the OG video master. Lets make more weird things! ✄ And another huge thanks to @dannmace for the skillshare class on how to master #seeingsounds and this incredibly fun challenge! It was because of you that I brainstormed this video idea and found myself in a place I never in a million years thought I would be! THANK YOU. I understand now how much work goes into your videos now! hahaA post shared by 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘃𝗶𝗱𝗲𝗼𝗗𝗢𝗚𝗿𝗮𝗽𝗵𝗲𝗿 (@itsbrittjohnson) on Aug 29, 2019 at 2:03pm PDT

Is there anyone in the pet industry you’d like to give a shout out to?

Wanna know a secret? I have this huge video project I’m working on that’s kinda like this huge Britt thank you letter mixed with highlighting the people that I feel like are doing beautiful things in our industry. There are so many people doing crazy cool things and I wanted to somehow find a way to shine their light just a little brighter in hopes to inspire others to follow their example and take more risks!

Can’t wait for you guys to see it! I’ll be posting it on my YouTube channel so be sure to subscribe to get notified when it premieres. It’s gonna be a party! 

Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the grooming community?

Even though I’m SO STOKED for another exciting travel cycle for us, I am grieving a little thinking about not being an active part of this online groomer community anymore. But yesterday I received this beautiful and unexpected package from Bryanna with a little present and a little note saying that she hopes it will serve as my reminder that the grooming community will always be here for me and that they will always love and support me in all my endeavors. It made me teary!

This is truly is community like none other and I echo Bryanna’s words to each person reading this today! If you call yourself a groomer, know that you belong, we believe in you, you are seen and loved! And I can’t wait to keep an eye out to see what everyone creates!

So thank you for being my family. We are kinda weird and dysfunctional bunch, but I freaking love each of you so much. If you’re interested in following our journey to South America, I invite you to follow along on our YouTube Channel as we film our progress renovating our campervan and eventually our big road trip south! And don’t worry, there will always be dogs. 30 countries and quitting 5 times later, I have learned that although you can take the groomer out of the salon, but you can never take the groomer out of the heart... or something cheesy like that.

Love you all.

We are so thankful and grateful to have Britt Johnson in our industry. Whatever she does wherever she goes in this world, she has a light within in her that radiates to everyone surrounding her. At Ryan’s Pet Supplies, she has helped us with various video projects, and we are so happy to have her in our community.

Please follow her on Instagram and YouTube to follow what she does next!

Remember, that everything you need to be creative already resides inside you. There is no one else in the world like you!