“Clean Up” with a Self-Serve Pet Wash - Groomer to Groomer

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“Clean Up” with a Self-Serve Pet Wash

Would you like to boost your income without grooming more pets? Well, that’s a no-brainer—who wouldn’t??

Offering self-serve bathing could be the perfect addition to your business if you’re looking to increase your bottom line without adding a lot of additional work for you and your staff.

I recently spoke with owners and groomers at several establishments that offer DIY pet washing. They provided a lot of insight that can help you determine if adding self-serve is a viable option for you. Their experiences, and the policies they put in place, may help you avoid problems and mistakes if this is a path you decide to take.

Mary Jo Vaskorlis decided to add a self-serve pet wash when she was looking for a way to bring more customers (and income) into her salon:

“My mom was a groomer for over 40 years, so grooming was in my blood,” says Mary Jo. “A friend and I opened a grooming salon in my garage. The time came that we needed to find a different location. Because there were many grooming salons in our area, we knew that we had to offer something that no one else had.

“We drove to Virginia and talked to a groomer who offered self-service and to look at their setup. We found a location for our new salon, then opened with two stainless steel tubs that we purchased at Groom Expo that year.

“We greet each self-serve customer and help them get their dog safely and securely in the tub. We give them a waterproof apron, clean the pet’s ears, and put on the facial as we explain how everything works. Our motto is, ‘Whatever mess you make, we clean it up!’ And believe me, we get some huge messes.

“Self-serve clients use the same high-quality bathing products as our salon does, and they have access to brushes and combs, but not scissors or clippers. We offer nail trims as an add-on service. Often, after trying self-serve a few times, people decide it’s not so easy to do and we gain them as full-service grooming clients.

“We’ve met so many wonderful families through this service,” Mary Jo continues. “Sadly, when the pandemic hit, we couldn’t have customers in the building. COVID changed a lot for us.”

In a bold move, Kim Novak opened her self-serve pet wash during the COVID-19 pandemic. She just celebrated her first year in business by being awarded “2022 Best New Business in Placentia, California.” Kim shares her experience and advice:

“I had zero experience going into this except for my love of dogs. I opened my self-serve pet wash with money from my savings, but it has supported itself from day one,” says Kim.

“We are a storefront, so even the self-wash is full-serve to a point. We greet the customers, walk them through the instructions, explain each product, set the water temperature, and hand them an apron. 

“I only have one pet peeve about self-wash and that is the customer who wants to stay all day and use the tub for over an hour (which is our maximum). Helping them along limits loitering and allows more clients to use one of our five tubs. That brings in more revenue for me as the owner. 

“When I opened, I expected to offer self-wash only, but soon realized that having a groomer would create more income. The customers who use our self-wash quickly gain a new respect for the groomers of the world and for how hard they work.

“We are presently open five days a week,” continues Kim. “I am actually adding a second crew in July and will be open seven days a week. I am doing this to expand revenue options without opening another location. Running one location to capacity seems smarter to me than trying to open another.”

Dawn Kinney has had experience with more than one self-serve pet wash operation. She recently helped a salon owner set up and operate the DIY pet wash division of her business:

“We saw a need for this service in our area,” Dawn shares. “Pet parents with large dogs want to be able to bathe them without the extra chore of having to scrub down their bathroom afterward. There were no other salons in the area offering self-serve, and we saw this void as a potential for extra income.

“The salon is basically divided down the middle from front to back. The client enters the lobby, and at the reception desk, dogs either check in for grooming services on the right side or self-serve on the left. At check-in, self-serve clients are provided with slip leads so their own leash doesn’t get soaked, two large towels, and pre-packaged specialty shampoo and conditioner concentrates in single-use containers with a lid (like the kind used for single-serve condiments and salad dressing). Clients may bring their own shampoos, but there is no discount if they do. Before we went to pre-packaging shampoos in little containers and limiting towels, there was a lot of product waste and unnecessary laundry.

“There are three dedicated extra-large self-serve tubs, each in its own chain link fence enclosure complete with a gate. Each area is about five feet wide by six feet long. Every self-serve bay has a rolling cart that is stocked with ear powder, ear cleaner, cotton rounds for cleaning ears, toenail clippers, brushes, combs, rubber bath curry comb, and mixing bottles for the concentrates provided. Each enclosure is fully tiled with rubber pool deck tiles for maximum protection from slips. Just outside the gates is a rubber-tiled walkway that leads to the drying room just to the rear of the tubs. 

“The drying room is enclosed and has a latchable screen door to help contain the hair, noise, water, and escapees during drying,” continues Dawn. “There are five heavy-duty hookups mounted into the studs at floor level with grooming loops. We do not have tables in there for safety reasons. An owner walking away from a table could lead to possible tragedy. Low stools are provided for the pet parents to sit upon. Disposable ear plugs are available and are included in the drying-room pricing. The entire floor is covered in the same rubber pool tiles. 

“Clients pre-pay for bathing and any add-on services at the reception desk when they check in. Pre-pay came about after a few individuals wanted to ‘put their dog in the car’ only to hop in and drive off without payment. Pre-pay also eliminates any misunderstandings about pricing or clients trying to negotiate pricing after their dog has already been washed,” she explains.

Dawn says their add-on services are prominently displayed on a sign at check-in. Which include:

  • Disposable doggy toothbrush and toothpaste (for clients to use) 
  • Anal gland expression by a groomer
  • Ear plucking and cleaning by a groomer
  • Nail trimming by a groomer:
    “Many people look at the nail clippers provided on the cart and then ask ‘Can’t you do that?’ Yes we can—for $10 extra,” Kim adds.
  • Use of the HV dryers in the drying room:

“We priced [the HV dryers] as an add-on because our Labrador Retriever owners usually wash, then towel off their dog, and go. The Great Pyrenees owners want to dry the dogs pretty well, and this uses extra electricity, and cleanup of the hair in the drying room takes employee time. This prevents the Lab owners from trying to work you for a discount because they aren’t using the dryers,” Dawn advises.

Dawn says that one of the things she likes most about self-serve is meeting more of the pet community that she may not otherwise meet because they have low-maintenance dogs. She also likes the boosted revenues, especially from the add-on services. 

What she likes the least is people interrupting groomers for free advice or free help with holding their dog during the bath once they realize that their dog doesn’t just stand there for the entire process.

“People absolutely appreciate groomers more after they have experienced self-serve,” Dawn says. “They have no clue till they’ve bathed in our shoes.”

Dawn’s final piece of advice is this, in regards to protecting yourself: “It is really important to have prominently-displayed signage in your salon. It can protect your business from potential legal action. Also, we always have cameras trained on the self-serve area.”

In addition, everyone I spoke to agrees on the need to have adequate insurance coverage. No matter what business you are in, today’s society is so litigious that insurance coverage is a must. The key is to talk with an insurance agent who is knowledgeable about and specializes in the pet industry to find out what is available and necessary for your unique situation.

Can self-serve pet washing be a profitable addition to your business? Absolutely! A well-thought-out design and business model could add substantially to your salon’s income. With self-serve, you could really “clean up!” ✂️

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Kathy Hosler

Kathy Hosler opened her shop in 1971 when she was just nineteen years old. She has built a terrific business and is still actively grooming today. Kathy is also a feature writer for Groomer To Groomer and Pet Boarding & Daycare Magazines, and has been nominated twice for the Barkleigh Honors Journalist of the Year Award as well as a Cardinal Crystal Achievement Award for Grooming Journalist.

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