iPET Network History
“Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.”
In 2015, Fern Gresty and Sarah Mackay met and started to make history (well, add to the dog grooming qualification history books anyway!) Working together for several years in Four Paws Groom School, they launched iPET Network in 2018.
“My canine career started nearly 20 years when I walked the neighbours dogs as a small job around my school and college commitments. Having always had dogs and cats as family pets, I was very blessed to have grown up on a farm and enjoyed horses, sheep and chickens too! I am a huge animal lover but my initial career after leaving college didn’t include them. I bucked my parents idea of University and started job applications. The roles were varied but when Mum said that I wouldn’t enjoy a sales role my rebellious teenage brain insisted that was the job for me! The sales role was working for a national newspaper group and contrary to my parents opinion, I really enjoyed the role and thrived in the commercial environment. I extended my knowledge of marketing vastly and had some amazing mentors in different publishing businesses who encouraged my drive, enabling me to achieve Sales Person of the Year several times. During this time I also developed my leadership skills and became a people manager who got the best from my teams using fun and positive reward. I passed on my skills by becoming a sales coach and mentor, teaching others and learning how to get the best from them. Being approachable and empathetic to my colleagues personal and professional lives, I felt a popular member of the team. However, at home my heart had been stolen by a wet nose and big brown eyes!
Fable was a Rottweiler puppy and my first dog living alone as an adult. She was my world and I wanted the best for her, attending many training classes, gaining qualifications and pushing her as a friendly face in the fight against breed stigma. Knowing my job had long hours, I arranged care for her whilst I worked and investigated doggie daycare which was a very new and ‘American’ idea in 2008. That is when the penny dropped, I was meant to work with dogs! My family farm had the space to create a new and unique doggy haven, I had been training other people’s dogs on the side for years and I had the skills to market a new business. With a smile (and a vision) I set off and Four Paws was born. I added additional services such as home boarding, a pet taxi and dog walking to my doggy daycare business and dog grooming next on my list. Sadly I didn’t get the dog grooming training experience I had hoped for and I soon realised I needed more tuition to achieve my goals. I hadn’t chosen a school wisely and although I was a qualified dog groomer, my ability was lacking. I countered this by attending another training school to gain further experience. Here, I met a tutor who inspired me and I realised that a dog grooming teacher needs so much more than the ability to just do the job. I saw this as an opportunity and asked her to work for me so that we could develop a dog grooming training course of real value for people like me who wanted to run their own business. Time moved on Sarah Mackay joined Four Paws Groom School as a tutor in 2015.”
“Years working in an office for big businesses taught me to be highly organised and efficient. My analytical and problem solving skills were tested daily working as a PA and HR Manager to the Company Director. I was able to see all aspects of the business and gained experience in project management and quality assurance. My experience of obtaining Quality Standards such as ISO 9001, 18001 and 14001 allowed me to strive and look for improvements in Customer Care, Health and Safety and the Environment. The role required me to always find better ways and improvements to make so the business worked smarter and more efficient. There is no denying I loved my job, but my focus shifted when my fur baby Alfie came home! He was a bouncy black Labrador and I soon realised how much the world had changed since first owning a dog as a child. He turned our home upside down and inside out but made me realise that my passion was for pets! Alongside my day job, I enrolled on lots of Canine courses including dog grooming and became the go to groomer for my family and friends. I knew this was the hobby for me and later Benji the Labradoodle joined our family as a model for me to try out new grooming trends. However, that hobby took a twist when I saw the role of Grooming Tutor advertised at Four Paws Groom School. It encompassed all the skills and qualifications I had gained and enabled me to spend the day with my dogs – bliss!
Working alongside Fern, we further built the courses we delivered expanding into other areas such as Canine First Aid, Dog Walking and Pet Sitting and investigated options around regulated qualifications. At the time, the only Awarding Organisation offering Dog Grooming courses was City and Guilds (commonly referred to in our industry as C&G), but their level 3 diploma in dog grooming didn’t fit our mould. We wanted our whole team to gain the qualification but simply put, we didn’t have the right dogs for the job. Our salons were full of beautiful pets but not enough met the breed and styling criteria. Time to think outside the box! We approached Open College Network West Midlands (commonly known as OCN or OCNWM) to develop our popular courses into regulated qualifications. The Open College Network West Midlands Level 3 Diploma in Dog Grooming changed the dog grooming market massively, opening it up to people who previously found qualification out of reach not through ability but other factors. It enabled mixed or cross breed dogs to be used for assessments, showing that groomers need to be adaptable and commercially aware of changes in their audience or market. We are incredibly proud of this and we are credited on the OCNWM website as developed with Four Paws Groom School. However, we were not finished yet and iPET Network launched in 2017 as we brought together a network of training providers, schools and colleges, working together to deliver the best training courses by sharing experience and resources. We pushed for high quality standards and created our own unique quality assurance processes but were increasingly frustrated when we noted not everyone in our industry held their standards to our level. How to overcome it? Write the standards for our own qualifications and become wholly responsible for their delivery and those who want to deliver them. This was no easy task but iPET Networks mission had begun!”
In 2018 following a 2 year application and process, iPET Network was recognised by Ofqual as an Awarding Organisation. The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England and is a non-ministerial department. Shortly after, iPET Network also gained recognition from CCEA Regulation and Qualifications Wales.
Today, Fern and Sarah constitute the Governing Body of iPET Network and focus on maintaining the quality of all the qualifications offered. Their roles have changed over the years but their love of education and animals remains.
iPET Network, For people, For pets, For the future.