Self-serve dog washes are now hugely popular, enabling those in the pet industry to really clean up, literally and figuratively. I got great dog wash start-up tips from Dave Grass. This New York-based author of "Start Your Own Self-Serve Dog Wash" also owns SelfServeDogWash.com, maker of the Poly Pet Tub and distributor of dog wash equipment and supplies, and has been in this business for 15 years. I also spoke with John Tobias, marketing manager for Kleen-Rite Corporation, a Pennsylvania-based company that has sold and distributed car wash supplies for more than 50 years and got into the Kleen-Pet dog wash business eight years ago.
Time Required: It depends on how elaborate you want to get.
- Figure out where and what kind of dog wash you will set up. There are basically two kinds of dog washes: total self-serve coin-operated (the system Kleen-Rite offers) and self-serve with on-site oversight (the system SelfServeDogWash.com deals in), that may also offer supplemental pet services such as grooming. The coin operated dog washes automatically dispense water and shampoo, and operate on timers, similar to automatic car washes. The non-coin op system involves someone taking the customers' money, with no set time limit. (Although customers shouldn't be encouraged to tie up the tubs indefinitely, especially if other customers are waiting their turn.) There are also stand-alone dog washes, dog washes added to diversify existing pet businesses such as doggie daycare or kennels and those attached to car washes. Regardless, both Grass and Tobias strongly recommend having someone present in case customers have questions, to keep the facility clean and to ensure a smooth operation.
- Make sure you have the right space. In addition to having the right amount of space, you will also have to have access to proper plumbing and other utilities. If you own a car wash, you might consider designating an existing bay for this. Those who run doggie daycare facilities or kennels might set this up in an existing free space or lease space for this purpose. If you don't have dog wash housing space, you can actually purchase a fully equipped modular dog wash building from Kleen-Rite. Most importantly, the space should be extremely safe, clean and well-maintained at all times.
- Determine start-up costs. Costs can vary widely, depending on the route one takes. According to Tobias, coin-op system start-up can range from $7,500 for a basic package of equipment for those who have space for a dog wash, up to $35,000 for the modular building. Grass, who does not deal in coin-op dog washes, says, "The largest portion of start-up costs is not typically equipment, it is getting the facility set up." Meanwhile, the Poly Pet Tub, which includes ramp, door, and all the tub hardware (spray unit, faucet installation kit, sprayer holder, double drains and connecting drain pipe) is $2,290; $1,890 without the hardware. So you can get three fully-equipped tubs plus three dryers for less. Like I said, it all depends on the kind of operation you want to set up. One also needs to factor in ongoing supplies and utilities costs, including water and electricity.
- Figure out pricing. This also varies depending on what a particular market may bear, and the dog wash system one operates. In a small, rural area, the cost for a coin-operated system may be $5 for 10 minutes. In a more well-heeled locale, the rate may be $12 for 10 minutes. At Bark ‘N Bubbles, a Virginia dog wash operation that is not coin-operated and offers both self-serve and full-service options (customers can wash their dogs themselves or have a staffer do this), a do-it-yourself dog wash package ranges from $18 for dogs 10 pounds or less to $27 for big pooches. Pricing is, indeed, all over the map. So it's a good idea to do some research and to determine your market's profile.
- Get the right insurance. Both Grass and Tobias agreed that this is not a high-liability undertaking. "The people are responsible for their pets," Grass said. "As long as the facility is set up safely, there's not much of a chance for liability." "Most people who take their pets to a dog wash are responsible," Tobias added. "So there rarely is a problem." Both experts said that decent general liability insurance is sufficient.
- Determine how to capitalize on the retail potential. In addition to offering the basic supplies such as shampoos, the supplemental retail potential with a dog wash is virtually limitless. There are any number of cool items you can offer for practical and impulse purchases such as doggie treats, colognes, dog dental products, brushes, apparel, disposable plastic ponchos the dog owners can wear to keep from getting wet...you name it. Kleen-Rite has taken this concept one step further by offering coin-operated vending machines that dispense items ranging from dog mints to ear and eye wipes. This is where you can get really creative, while enhancing your bottom line.
- For optimal success, make sure you have a genuine fondness for pets, and people. "This is the one important requirement," Grass said. Tobias agrees. In fact, he said that Kleen-Pet got its start precisely because the owner of its parent company, Mike McKonly, adores dogs. So as long as you possess these key traits and a decent head for business, you should be cleaning up in no time!
What You Need
- Proper space
- Hot and cold water supply
- Sewage access
- Non-skid pet ramps
- Supplies such as shampoos and towels
- General business insurance
- A fondness for pets, and people