Groomer to Groomer

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Cleanup with a Self-Serve Pet Wash!

By Kathy Hosler


“The only way to grow a business is to attract new clients or find new services to offer,” says Michael Agunzo of Biskits Dog Wash Systems. “If there is a need and you don’t fill it, someone else will – and they will get the new business, clients, and money that you could have had.”

There is a new movement entering the pet care industry: the self-serve pet wash. If you are a groomer, operate a kennel, or have a pet store with a grooming department, you may be able to cash in and do it in a big way with this new concept.

You may ask, “Why would anyone who makes their living by grooming pets welcome a self-serve pet wash? Wouldn’t that just take business away from me?” The short answer is no. Offering self-serve pet bathing is a creative way to attract new business and accommodate the needs of your existing clients.

Once people begin to use a self-serve pet wash, they appreciate the convenience of it. Bathing their pets at home is often a messy chore. If done in the family’s bathtub, it can be hard on the owner’s knees and back and can clog plumbing. After the pet has been washed, the owner often has to clean up the entire bathroom. Just giving their dog a simple bath can turn into a time-consuming and very tiring project.

At a self-serve wash, they have none of that to contend with. It’s a low-stress, low-cost solution to a dirty problem. To really understand how your business could benefit, you need to know about the different types of installations and how adding a self-serve unit could complement the services you already offer.

You can install self-serve units right inside your existing salon, and they can be open to the public during your normal business hours. You provide all the equipment and supplies for the self-serve client – and if it is their first visit, you show them how to use everything. You can charge a flat fee, charge by the size of the dog, or charge by the amount of time they use the unit. You or a member of your staff is always there to oversee the operation, answer any questions, and to receive the money.

Not only could your regular clients use the self-serve wash between full grooms, but you will also attract customers who would never have their dogs professionally groomed. Once they come in, they may request add-on services like toenail trimming, or they may want to purchase a new collar, toy, or treats for their pet. To encourage repeat business, many operators offer a frequent user discount card or weekday specials. As they become regular customers, you begin to build a rapport with them, and soon you will have a loyal following in the self-serve as well as your full-serve salon clientele.

David Grass of Poly Pet Tubs has been involved in the self-serve pet wash industry for many years. He has written Start Your Own Self-Serve Dog Wash, a book that answers many of the questions people have about getting started in this kind of business. “A few years ago, the concept of a self-serve dog wash was foreign to most people,” said Mr. Grass. “Now they are embracing the idea, and there is an ever increasing demand for it.”

If you can install the self-serve equipment in its own room with a separate entrance, you could opt for a coin-operated unit and make it accessible to pet owners 24 hours a day. If a dog gets muddy or rolls in something disgusting when your primary business is closed, its owners still have a solution for their pet’s problem.

Another option is to get the “whole package.” A modular unit that only takes up about as much room as two parking spaces can get you into the self-serve business in a matter of a few hours. These fabulous self-contained units can be placed right outside your existing building or in a high-traffic location where pet owners frequent. They are moveable and can be relocated if you wish. The unit can be delivered to your desired location, and once the electric and plumbing are connected, you are ready to welcome DIY customers.

“The units can be customized to your specifications,” says Keith Caldwell, Vice President of All Paws Pet Wash Systems. “You can put your shop name and logo on the building, and you can select the colors and signage you want. And even though our units are very easy to operate, we offer training and continued support for everyone who buys one.”

Not only can these stand-alone units make substantial income for you, they can also direct business to your primary location. Many savvy business owners place bulletin boards on the walls that describe all the different services and products that their primary location offers. Pet owners who have never been to a grooming salon may not even know that their short-haired pet could get a de-shedding treatment or that you are offering a special on dental care products or pet treats.

No matter which type of setup or which brand you choose, they all operate on the same basic principals. They all feature a raised tub that puts the pet at a convenient height for the owner to wash, and many of them have a ramp for easy entry of the pet. Most of the coin-operated units can accept cash, tokens, or credit cards in exchange for the number of minutes you choose. They all have easy-to-understand instructions printed right on the units. Customers can choose from several kinds of shampoos, conditioners, and flea treatments. Most offer a choice of high- and low-speed high-velocity dryers. Some even offer a vacuum to suck the water and hair off the wet pet.

These stand-alone units can operate 24/7 or can be locked and unlocked with a timer. Many come equipped with vending machines where owners can purchase aprons or ponchos to wear while bathing their pets. Others can dispense towels, pet brushes, or pet treats.

John Tobias, Director of Marketing for Kleen-Rite Corporation, says “Impulse purchases, like the treats and colognes, can add significant revenue for groomers with very minimal time or labor investment.”

Many options are available with these units, including instant water heaters, climate control, and security cameras that let you monitor all the activity. From the most basic unit to the ones that have all the “bells and whistles,” self-serve pet washes are springing up all over, and pet owners are embracing the concept.

“The History Channel’s show, Modern Marvels, filmed an episode featuring the K9000 Dog Wash,” reports Gary Sherman, the owner of K9000 Dog Wash Systems. “It was filmed at the Hoboken Dog Wash and Doggie Barber Shop, in Hoboken, New Jersey. It showed a dog going from a grungy start to a fresh, clean finish in a matter of minutes. The phrase the Dog Wash hears most often from pet owners after using their self-serve is ‘I’ll never, ever wash my dog at home again!’”

Today’s pet care professionals are always looking for ways to increase their bottom line without increasing staff or labor. Adding self-serve to your business can be your opportunity to really “clean up”! ✂