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Jim Elinski of Cincinnati is an entrepreneur. Like many in the carwash industry he had always wanted to own his own business — a dream that came to fruition when he bought the Pro Wash Carwash in Bradford, PA, about five years ago.
Owning a business was satisfying, but turning the carwash into a multi–profit success story was Elinski’s greatest joy. Instead of contenting himself with the eight self service bays and carwash tunnel, he transformed the three separate buildings into a business that met his own standard. His vision took a few years to realize, but he can guarantee it was worth it.Out with the old
The carwash tunnel, which Elinski described as “dilapidated,” was the first piece of equipment he tossed. Today, it is the home of a drive–thru beer store. He then installed touchless in–bay automatics in two of the former self–serve bays, leaving him with six self–serve stalls.
But one of these self–service bays didn’t seem to be used as often as the others. Perhaps that was because it was of the pull–in and back–out variety. Or maybe it was the location — the bay was the farthest from the change machine. Regardless of the reason, “no–one used it except on the busiest days” recalled Elinski.
That prompted him to consider other options. After his mentor installed a pet wash in a carwash in Altoona, PA, Elinski started doing some research.
The cost to transform the 16 x 32–foot bay into a 16 x 16–foot dog wash (with room to grow) would be about $20,000. At that price, Elinski determined that he would need $400 per month in income, or three or four dogs per day to make it feasible. That seemed doable and a pet wash was born.When it snows cats and dogs
“When I started out,” Elinski said, “we were averaging over $1,000 per month [in the dog wash bay]. September and October had been the busiest times — when we average $1,600–$1,700 per month.”
January and February, which Elinski thought would be among the busiest since pet owners would not want to be washing their pets outside at home, were the slowest months. Yet even those periods brought in $400 to $500 per month.
Weather has had a major impact on the seasonality of the pet wash business. “In the fall there is a lot of mud and muck for dogs to get into,” said Elinski. “It is amazing how often the de–skunk option gets used.”
Options available to dog owners include a variety of shampoos, conditioners and a blow dryer. There is also a triple column vending machine from which owners can buy dog treats or terry cloth towels.Catering to all dogs
Most of the dogs benefiting from the new dog wash are bigger breeds such as labs, German shepherds, and Rottweilers. Sometimes owners will bring in two or three smaller “lap dogs,” but most often it is the big dogs that frequent the facility.
The dog wash costs $5 to start. For a $5 token owners get 10 minutes of time. “Unless the dog is really filthy, 10 minutes is ample time to wet them down, shampoo, rinse, flea–and–tick it, shampoo again, and then add conditioner before blow drying,” said Elinski. A leash clip is included so that the dogs are stable throughout the process.
The facility is fairly rural, but that does not deter people from driving great distances. “We have a customer who owns a kennel and sometimes needs to ship a dog or get them ready for sale. She’ll come in and wash the dog and her car in the same trip,” Elinski said. “She had been using a facility closer to her kennel, which is almost an hour–and–a–half from here, but it was not heated and she did not like their inconsistency. Here the water is always 85° F, and the bay is heated for the comfort of both dogs and their owners.”Multi-purpose wash tokens
Operationally, Elinski has chosen to operate the dog wash with the same tokens used for the touchless automatic bays. “It is $5 for a basic carwash and $5 to start the dog wash, so I figured that I could use the same token for both.”
He gave away tokens to help promote the touchless automatics as well as the dog wash — in places like the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, pet shops and veterinarian offices. Elinski figured that people with dogs might wash their pets for free and then pay for a carwash, or vice–versa. The strategy seems to be working, as all facets of the business are busy well beyond the break–even point.How to increase volume purchases
To help increase volume purchases, Elinski, gives customers a bonus for volume orders. “At Christmastime or Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, we see people buying $50 worth of tokens. So I’ll give them an extra $10 in tokens or a free carwash.” Customers who purchase five of the $5 tokens receive an extra token, or $30 worth for spending $25.
Naturally handling a single token rather than 20 quarters is much easier on both customers and the Pro Wash staff. Customers can feed a single token in and then spend the remainder of their time pampering their pet rather than having the oatmeal shampoo drying on the dog’s dry skin because the owner is rooting around for more quarters. A hiatus in the de-skunking process would be far worse (at least for the owner).
“We have a bill acceptor which is pretty convenient, however it doesn’t always work well with wet money” said Elinski, who surmised that this can prompt people to buy tokens the next time around.Bringing the family together
While the financial results of adding a successful dog wash have certainly been rewarding for Elinski, the one positive aspect that he had not counted on was seeing families come together to wash the family pet.
“People bring their kids and the whole family comes out to wash the dog, much more so than a carwash. The kids’ favorite activities seems to be spraying and blow-drying rather than scrubbing, but they are clearly more engaged than if they had stayed home. It is great to see the whole family having fun together.”