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Perfecting your pet wash

Payment options, location and additional products all improve customer spending at this profit center.

September 28, 2012
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Today, it seems that no family is complete without the addition of a dog or cat. In some households, Fido actually comes first. While the oldest child is off at college living on Ramen noodles and student loans, the family pet eats the finest foods and sleeps in a comfy bed next to the fireplace.

Further, the culture-wide pet fascination shows no signs of fading. All-animal cable channels unleash a nightly flood of cuddly kittens and playful puppies. Even the pets of celebrities are flying into the fame game with Twitter accounts and name-brand fashion lines.

What is especially telling in the business world is how the pet-care market boomed as the economy fizzled. As well-known retail chains and movie rental locations withered and faded, pet care spending grew and became a surprisingly powerful market. Pet products that used to take up small sections in other stores grew into thriving, independent super-store locations.

In the carwash market, pet washes sprang up as a way for interested operators to enter the lucrative pet care field, and modern versions of these washes are offering owners more choices than ever before. Today carwashes can either install a washing station inside a carwash or add on a separate, complete and enclosed pet wash. Also, wash owners can really let their business “go to the dogs” with pet-friendly vending options and pet wash/carwash packages.

Procuring a pet wash

Pet wash equipment will cost a carwash owner approximately $7,000 to $8,000, according to Mike Hansen, sales manager, wash division with Dultmeier Sales. Installation will be another expense because the washing stations require hot and cold water lines, drains, lighting and heat and air conditioning.

Currently, there are standalone pet wash models as well as complete, enclosed stations. Depending on the area of the country and the common weather conditions, the standalone unit may be beneficial, Russell Caldwell, president of CCSI International Inc., stated. If a wash is in a geographic location that requires heat, for instance, the larger, enclosed model pet wash would be the better choice.

Luckily, there are some municipalities where installing a pet wash does not require any additional permits. Caldwell noted that pet washes can sometimes be added as another coin-driven operation at carwashes, similar to vacuum stations. So, if a municipality does not require a separate permit to add additional vending stations that use water, electric, etc., a permit may not be required. To make sure, owners should check with their city or local governments.

Placement

Caldwell said that when it comes to the success of a pet wash, location is very important. First, location matters because of installation costs. By placing a pet wash close to existing utilities, an operator can significantly reduce the initial cost of hook-up. Especially since the wash requires freshwater, an electrical connection and a location to pump the grey water — the pet wash units sold by Caldwell’s company do not require a gravity drain.

Visibility is another factor to consider. While the pet wash needs to be easily accessible and safe for animals, it is also important that the pet wash is easy to see. In fact, Caldwell suggested placing the pet wash in a prominent spot where it would be readily visible to customers and to passing drivers.

Wash traffic is definitely an important consideration when choosing the perfect spot. Hansen said the best location is one that would offer quick access and convenient parking for pet owners yet remain completely outside of a carwash’s traffic flow. Thus, the pet wash parking and foot traffic will not interfere with a carwash’s business and vice versa.

While some self serve owners may be tempted to install the pet wash in an existing self-serve bay, Caldwell does not recommend it. “I don’t typically suggest that operators transform an existing self-service bay into a pet wash,” he said. “Although a good thought, after the expense to make it user friendly — heat, air, equipment, etc. — it is far more economical to simply add a modular pet wash station to the carwash location. The pet wash then becomes added revenue, as opposed to replacement revenue.”

Making money

Once the pet wash is bought and installed, an owner must decide what type of payment options to accept. Hansen explained that coins, tokens and bills can be used with most existing systems today. Even so, credit card payment has become another popular option. “The great thing about pet washes is that, even if it rains, the wash operator can still bring in revenue,” he said.

In addition to pet wash sales, these units can boost vending machine bottom lines as well. Hansen noted that there a number of popular “doggie” vending items available in the market. These products include:

  • Bones or chewies;
  • Ear cleaning towels;
  • Dog biscuits; and
  • Disposable gloves.

As with any business addition, the public will first need to be aware that a pet wash was added. Next, an owner might need to explain what a pet wash is, according to Caldwell. Since some potential customers may not know about pet washing stations, marketing materials can include terms like “self-serve pet wash.” Advertising can also tout the benefits of using the wash with promotional copy: “Keep the hair out of the tub! Wash your pet here!”

Caldwell recommended local advertisements, perhaps in newspapers. Also, hosting fundraisers at the new pet wash can be great, non-threatening events to introduce the wash addition to the community.

Other marketing options include online advertisements, Facebook posts, coupon mailings and grand opening events. Passing out coupons and marketing materials at pet stores and during summer-time pet festivals are other options when it comes to marketing a newly installed pet wash. Offering a free pet wash with a carwash can also drive business for both profit centers while attracting customers that may not have used a carwash otherwise.

Upkeep

It is very important for owners to keep the pet wash clean, but the labor required can be minimal, Caldwell noted. The pet washes have been designed for ease of maintenance, and proper upkeep can take as little as five to 15 minutes a day.

“It simply needs to be attended to daily to ensure that it is acceptable for customer use,” Caldwell continued. “This may mean washing down the wash bay, cleaning out the vacuum and trough for excess hair, etc.”  

Hansen recommended cleaning the pet wash more frequently. “Clean at least twice a day, but it needs to be checked during the day in case a customer left the bay in a mess,” he said.

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