Self Service: Is It For You?

By Patti Jessup

There I was again, on my knees, bent over my bathtub, trying to give my two uncooperative Cockapoos, Molly and Oscar a bath. I have two towels under my knees to cushion them from the hard tile floor. The sudsy Molly and Oscar are jumping in and out of the bathtub, shaking dirt and suds all over the bathroom walls, and this was just the beginning of their bi-weekly bathing process.

I still had to take them to the basement and try to dry them with my blow dryer. Certainly another chase would ensue during this process as well. There had to be a better way…there had to be another bathing option in between my bathtub and their regular grooming appointments. After a lot of research, thought and planning, we opened Dirty Dogs Self Service Dog Wash on September 1, 2012.

We have six fully equipped self–service stations and a grooming area for myself and my other groomer, Miranda. Our fee for self–service is $20, no matter the size of the dog. And we will do the nails for $8. In our current configuration, we can get six self–service customers in and out in about an hour. Our profit margin is 90%, so for every $20 customer our profit is $18.

Now before you stop here and go hang out a self–service banner, please keep reading. There are positives and negatives with self–service. When we initially started our business we were self–service only. A good day yielded $800. An average day yielded $300. Still pretty good. But, because we are located in the south, that average drops sharply in the summer when some customers go back to washing their dogs in their driveways.

So in 2015, we decided to begin offering grooming services as a way to offset the summer months. We sent Miranda to grooming school, taught by Hayley Keyes. I was literally thrown to the dogs, and taught myself, with the help of a local groomer Margo Friebott, the videos by Judy Hudson, Kathy Rose and Amy Triezenberg on Learn2groomdogs.com and practicing, practicing, practicing on my two Cockapoos.

Once established, to our surprise, many of our grooming customers began using our self–service facility in between grooms, and many of our self-service customers became grooming customers. It was a big win for our business, despite the fact that within a 5–mile radius of our store are 2 “Big Box” pet stores who offer grooming, and an established locally owned pet store offering grooming right across the street.

The difference? We offered both. Therefore, we became the place to go for everything. People love convenience and the one–stop shop. Over the last two years our business revenue has grown by 90%. Now an average day is $600 and a good day is $1500.

I’d like to tell you that self–service is an EASY way to significantly grow your business; however, there are some hurdles that are not so apparent. First, the term “self–service” is a misnomer in itself. You would be shocked at the number of people who have no idea how to wash their dog. I cannot stress the importance of excellent customer service and a clean environment enough. These two things will determine how successful or unsuccessful you will be. You become a teacher of sorts and you must do it with a smile, no matter how irritating the customer.

We always have at least one employee dedicated to self–service at all times. We clean constantly…tubs, floors, getting up the hair from the forced air dryers with a shop vac, while simultaneously answering a multitude of questions from our self-service customers. And in between all of this, we are washing and folding towels to replenish the tubs.

You never allow any customer to bring in any kind of grooming equipment. No clippers, no scissors, no nail trimmers. Remember, your goal is turn over tubs as quickly as possible. You can’t do that if you have a novice trying to groom their own dog, customers trying to cut mats out, or trim nails. Most customers understand, and are happy to have us do the nails or shave out a mat for a fee. A nice upcharge for us.

We have a firm rule that no more than four people are allowed at a self–service station. Some people, especially during the holidays, want to bring the whole family. In the past, we have had as many as eight people washing one dog. We also have a firm rule regarding children. We require that parents keep their children within their self–service station. If you don’t, you will have children running around screaming and jumping everywhere. I have escorted more than one child back to their oblivious parents. This is not only annoying; it is a big liability if a child were hurt.

Our hours are 10:00 AM—7:00 PM Tuesday through Saturday, and 10:00 AM—5:00 PM on Sunday. We take the last self–service dog in 45 minutes before we close and the customer must be finished by closing time. We hold very firm to this policy. If we didn’t, customers would come in at 6:55 with two Great Pyrenees. Then, we wouldn’t actually close until 9:00 pm by the time we cleaned up, and would be paying our staff two hours of additional wages.

Lastly, you cannot allow aggressive dogs of any kind. We have been very fortunate in this regard, and have turned away only a few customers.

We have tried to make self–service as easy and intuitive as possible. At each station we have a bathing system with shampoo, whitening shampoo and conditioner, a forced air dryer, fragrance, ear wipes, a pre–pasted toothbrush, brushes and towels. We tether the dogs to the tubs so the customers have their hands free, and we provide waterproof aprons.

Most of your self–service clientele will be large dogs; therefore, your grooming growth will likely be composed of large dogs. We do Newfies, Pyrenees, Goldens, Collies and oodles of Doodles. Again, bigger dogs = higher grooming revenue.

In closing, I’d like to discuss marketing and advertising. On the walls in our facility, we have black and white canvas pictures which are photos of Miranda and I posing with some of our favorite groom dogs. This does three things; it shows the customer that we are talented groomers, we love what we do, and reinforces that we offer grooming services. We took these photos with our phones, blew up the size and had them canvassed by a company online. The cost was less than $300, and because we made them black and white, everyone notices them.

You will also be dealing with two very different customer profiles. Your self–service customer is typically thrifty and your grooming customer is more willing to pamper their pets. Therefore, you have to provide retail offerings for everyone. For example, we offer cute, lower end collars, leashes and leash sets for our self–service clientele and handmade, silk lined collars and leashes for our higher end grooming customer. We also offer treats, bully sticks and antlers. Everything retail is on or beside our counter. These are impulse buys and need to be where the customers are checking in or out.

For advertising we use social media, online advertising and our website. These venues are much cheaper and have a broader reach than print media. The key to success here is keep your pages up to date, promptly respond to questions and post pictures on at least a weekly basis. We are also rated as A+ with the BBB and list the logo on our front door and our website.

My hope is that this article has given you more insight into the ins and outs of self–service and if you should or shouldn’t offer these services in your salon. ✂


Patti Jessup and Steve McMillian have been successfully operating Dirty Dogs Self–Service Dog Wash and Grooming in Greensboro, NC for almost 5 years. Dirty Dogs has gone through much trial and error to accomplish the perfect self–service set up for optimal profitability. They are available for more detailed, private consultation and can be reached at [email protected].