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The pet industry continues to grow every year, with an estimated $55.53 billion in sales in 2013, according to the American Pet Products Association. Carwash owners are always looking for new ways to bring in extra revenue, and pet washes have emerged as one of the most dependable ways to do so. And once you’ve set up your wash, you will need to get the word out about it to make it a successful investment.
Keith Caldwell, vice president of All Paws Pet Wash, a manufacturer of pet washes, said that over the past five years, pet washes have seen tremendous growth. The key to that growth has been customer awareness of the product, he said. It’s not just important to get the message out that your carwash has a pet wash, but also to explain to your customers what a pet wash is, and why it can be of service to them.
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One of the biggest challenges that pet washes face is unfamiliarity on exactly what the product is, according to Caldwell. “Potential customers may have never seen such a convenience. They may be unsure of the process and possess a general unfamiliarity with how to use a pet wash. Educating the community at large on use and practicality [is key to awareness].”
A common mistake that Caldwell sees pet wash owners make is believing that customers will already have experience and knowledge using their products. “Assuring customers have a great first time experience has proven to be worth the effort in repeat business,” said Caldwell. Your pet wash can have the best equipment out, but if a customer doesn’t know how to use it correctly, and you don’t show them how, they will be disappointed in the experience.
While pet washes are succeeding, there are still mistakes that owners are making. Gary Sherman, president of Evolution Dog Wash Company, a manufacturer of self-serve dog washes, said one of the biggest mistakes that owners make is just supplying a service because they feel it might be a revenue generator, but not actually investing themselves in the product. He said washes need to be “focused on the animals and their owners ... The mistake is not to recognize that dogs are family members, and not to recognize and appeal to that sense.” Get to know your customers, find out what they like and don’t like about your wash, and improve their experience. Word of mouth may be one of the oldest forms of promotion, but it still remains one of the best.
Sherman said that the greatest challenge that pet wash owners face is underestimating the potential for synergies between car and pet washes. Pet washes are an opportunity for a carwash to offer differentiation in services from its competitors, which can lead to added revenue, said Sherman. “The pet industry is one of the very few that has grown consistently through economic instability, while the carwash industry has stagnated in many cases.”
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Pets need to be cleaned year-round, which can make pet washes more stable business wise, than carwashes, which are often affected greatly depending on the weather, according to Sherman. He described pet washes as being able to “even out revenue streams at carwashes.” Pet washes can also be a way to bring in future customers, who would have never thought of going to your wash until they started bringing their pets in.
Facebook and Twitter are great ways for pet wash owners to reach their target demographics. If the owner of a wash doesn’t have knowledge of social media, there may be members of the staff who’re more experienced, and can take over that part of the business. Sherman also believes working with companies that specialize in social media and search engine optimization is another way to improve social media use at your pet wash.
Social media gives you the ability to tell your audience things about pet washes, like the fact that many of them are handicap accessible. It’s also an opportunity for potential customers to communicate with you and ask questions about your wash, such as “what types of pets are allowed?” or “how does a pet wash work?” Sherman that “keeping things fresh, interesting, informative and helpful will always engender more loyalty.”
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It’s also important to remember that social media doesn’t have to be complicated either. Learning how to use Facebook or Twitter to communicate to your customers should only take a few hours, and gives your business instant credibility. Even in today’s modern world, many washes have no online presence, which puts them at an immediate disadvantage.
Advertising in local outlets may be an option to kickstart awareness of your pet wash, according to Caldwell. “Local advertising is great when a new owner starts his or her pet wash adventure.” He recommends assessing your local market, and the needs of your wash before advertising. As the wash cultivates a following, you can advertise less, but may continue to do so to keep up awarness.
Sherman said that he likes “creating a buzz around our dog washes [before they open].” Getting people interested in your wash is the first step, and then it’s important to provide them with a quality experience. He recommends getting the word out about your wash, and then making the opening of it a big event. “A PR firm can write a press release announcing the grand opening of the dog wash and put it out to the local media. If you follow it up with a phone call and coordinate it with an adoption day from the shelter or a wash day with the police dog, it makes a huge splash,” he said.
The best promotional method that Caldwell has witnessed is a pet wash that brought in a professional sports player at its grand opening. The people may have come to see the athlete, but they also saw the pet wash as well. “It may sound strange, but it garnered a lot of attention. When potential [customers] came to get an autograph, they simultaneously learned about how the new pet wash worked.”
Making your wash fun for your customers is another part of providing quality service and promotion.
Sherman recounted some of the things pet washes that were installed by Evolution have done to provide a unique customer experience. “We have installed [our machines] with picket fences around them and Astroturf on the ground, to make it feel like you’re washing the family pet in your own yard.” He said that customers love the intimate experience that this setting provides.
Working with veterinarians is one of the most popular ways wash owners get the message out about their services. Caldwell described a unique partnership between a pet wash and a veterinarian: The vet encouraged clients to take their pets to the pet wash prior to examinations and check-ups, in order to provide a more sanitary environment. To strengthen the relationship, the pet wash and veterinarian “agreed to sell pet wash tokens at a discounted rate through the veterinarian clinic.” This is a great example of promoting your pet wash directly to the people who’re most likely to use it.
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Sherman said that while working with veterinarians is a great start, that there are other avenues that should be explored as well. “There are many other pet related professionals. Shelters, K-9 officers, municipal dog parks, dog beaches, etc.” Pet wash owners should explore all available options. So don’t feel like you’re limited to only appealing to veterinarians.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2012, nearly 40 percent of households own dogs. There are all different kinds of pet owners who would be willing to frequent your establishment; innovative thinking and marketing can capture these customers.
Pet washes have a bright future, and owners have many options available to improve revenue, according to the experts. “If the pet wash owners dedicated some time and effort reaching out to those who may use their services, have mutual interest, and take this expanding industry seriously, it could enhance their revenues, create more goodwill with their client base and increase loyal, repeat customers.”