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Bringing grooming education and competition to the Seattle area for over nine years, the Northwest Grooming Show is an event that has grown almost exponentially. Featuring a big tradeshow, seminars by industry pros, and grooming competitions.
Instead, it unleashed creative and entrepreneurial talents that resulted in a substantial business and made Liddick a national figure in the pet grooming industry.
The company she founded, Barkleigh Productions in Silver Spring Twp., distributes products, publishes magazines and produces seminars and shows across the United States.
Liddick died January 29, 2012 at the age of 65 of kidney failure.
“Sally was an icon within the grooming industry. She did so much to support groomers from coast to coast,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the National Dog Groomers Association of America.
A California woman said in an online tribute: “Her grooming shows educated thousands of women in how to earn a living wage from businesses that had been treated as hobbies … To say she was instrumental in changing the pet care industry is an understatement.”
Liddick graduated from Camp Hill High School in 1964 and attended Harrisburg Area Community College. She dabbled at ventures such as making wedding dresses and studied cartooning before settling into grooming in the late 1970s.
A brilliant idea struck early: Her customers tended to ask similar questions about their pets, so Liddick decided to produce newsletters she called “GroomOGrams.” She then decided to offer them to groomers around the country, hoping they might buy them to use as a marketing tool.
She bought a mailing list of groomers and scraped together $700 to print 2,000 GroomOGrams. The positive response prompted her to reach out to all U.S. groomers.
Eventually, she was distributing 225,000 newsletters, which covered topics such as “fall needs of pets” and included cartoons drawn by Liddick.
The operation swallowed up her living room, garage and basement before she moved into commercial space.
She soon took on Gwen Shelly, a friend since first grade who had been driving a school bus. The pair built an enterprise that has 20 full- or part-time employees and $2.5 million in annual revenues.
“She was a very good promoter,” Shelly said. “She was an idea person. She just came up with ideas and went forward with them. She never shied away from a challenge.”
Tom Liddick, her husband of 45 years, said: “She wasn’t afraid to try anything.”
Shelly said Liddick’s great contribution to the industry was adding a training and education component to industry shows that previously centered on grooming competitions.
Barkleigh’s flagship publication is “Groomer to Groomer” magazine.
The company produces an annual slate of shows and seminars around the country.
Its annual show at Hershey Lodge and Convention Center is the industry’s largest, drawing upwards of 150 vendors and 4,000 visitors. They host a similarly large event on the West Coast.
Liddick, whose writing skills were central to her success, wrote an autobiography, “Taking a Different Path,” which tells the story of the business.
She inspired groomers and people such as pet photographers around the country, meeting and advising them at shows and seminars, and urging them to follow their entrepreneurial dreams.
She encouraged groomers to invest in the tools needed for high-quality work. If a small grooming shop operator was having trouble with a landlord, Liddick might suggest establishing a mobile operation and explain how, according to Shelly.
Groomers’ spouses, upon visiting a Barkleigh event, sometimes admitted a newfound respect for the work, Shelly said.
Liddick had overcome her own set of obstacles.
When she started out, she encountered a lack of respect toward women in business.
She also was heavy and confided to Shelly she could tell much about the characters of people she met professionally based on whether they treated her differently in person than they had on the phone.
Shelly also was propelled by Liddick’s ambition and determination to plunge forward. “I found out I had abilities I never would have known I had,” she said.
While the business was financially successful, Liddick was driven by the thrill of creativity and tackling new projects.
She was more focused on ideas and bettering past accomplishments, then on worrying about the bottom line, Shelly said.
“With Sally, it was the love of it, it wasn’t the money. We made a nice living with it, but we never became extremely wealthy,” she said. “We had a great life with it. I think we traveled to every state. And overseas.”