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Multi-profit Centers

Pet wash maintenance made easy

October 11, 2010
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There is no denying the facts: People love their pets. A pet washing station at your carwash can bring in a few extra dollars even in a tight economy, and can introduce your business to a few new customers who love Fido as much as their Ford.

According to Don Guenther, president of Car Wash Products and Service, Inc., a pet wash appeals to a new type of customer. a pet wash building or bay serves the same. “ there are those who wash their pets at home now, but don't really want to,” Gunether continued, “and there are those that pay to have it done, but could stand to save a few bucks.”

Economic cents
Trent W. Walter, general manager of National Pride Equipment, Inc., said the nation’s pet industry is worth about $43 billion and has proved itself to be resilient during the nation’s economic crisis. “People hold their pets in high regards and are willing to pamper them,” Walter explained. “In some respects the family pet gets more attention then their own children.”

Operators who want to add a pet wash to their carwash should plan the conversion or addition as carefully as they would any equipment upgrade or landscaping change. “It's not just add a tub and go,” Guenther said. “You should spend money to make the offering as nice as you would a carwash, because people are more finicky about their pets than cars!”

Guenther said modular buildings for pet washes are not as expensive as you might think, considering they are “plug and play.” He said you can expect to be up and running within a day, and your return-on-investment is quick, too. Guenther’s company averages about $11.80 per visit at his pet washes, with a cost variable of about 40 cents, and breaks even for the day with every 3.5 pet washes.

According to Walter, the cost to open a self-serve pet wash will range from $7,000 - $10,000 per unit for equipment. This price includes:
• One tub;
• A meter box (with or without credit card processing);
• A control center;
• Start-up chemicals;
• A sign package;
• Room heating/cooling unit (HVAC);
• Security cameras;
• Advertising; and,
• A water heater.

The average customer will spend $8-$10 and utilities and chemical costs will range from $1.50-$2, said Walter. “The high profit margin drives a quick payback on the equipment sometimes in as little as 12 to 14 months. For example, if one washes 2.5 dogs per day with an average of $10 per dog it will take less than a year to payback a standard unit,” said Walter.

Make room for Fido
The footprint of a modular unit is only 160 square feet, according to Guenther. And, he added, you place it and hook it up, but with a built site it can require.

According to Walter, units can be relatively compact and are being installed in existing unused space such as:
• The lobbies of full service tunnels;
• Converted self-service bays;
• Storage areas; and
• Converted detailing bays.

To begin considering your pet wash location, Walter suggested creating a layout to determine:
• Tub placement;
• Customer traffic patterns; and
• Parking and safe ingress/egress from the site.

If one determines there is plenty of space, consider the utility requirements. Each tub will require a separate 20-amp and 110-volt electrical supply, a 3/4" hot and cold water supply line and 1 1/2" sewer drain line.

Bark about it loud and proud
Pet washes are not a part of the everyday lexicon, so it’s important to get the word out.

The self-service pet wash business is a relatively new concept in most areas and a significant amount of time and energy must be spent marketing the idea to the community, said Walter who suggests using the local paper or news station as a way to promote it.

“Once customers are familiar with the concept the education process begins. One must be prepared to spend time communicating the concept, pricing and how the chemicals works,” Walter said. Customers will be able to relate the process to a self-service carwash.

“Similarly,” said Walter, “both accept dollars, quarters and in some cases credit cards. The bigger challenge will be explaining the chemical.” Customers, according to Walter, will be very cautious and have questions about which chemicals they should apply to their pet and why. “Educating them on how the shampoo, conditioner, flea and tick and de-odorizer work is very important. This can be accomplished with menu boards or by having an attendant present during the initial start up.”

Nothing to wag a tail at
There is follow-up and maintenance work involved with a pet washing station, and, unfortunately, a lot of shaken wet fur can mean a lot of clean up.

“Anyone who has spoken with a current self-service pet wash owner knows that housekeeping is not a part-time job,” said Walter. “When considering building, plan on visiting the site two or three times daily to make sure the tubs are clean.”

Guenther said the biggest issue they have seen is with maintenance. “We thought dog owners would be more conscientious, but they have not been,” he said.

Setting up an aggressive routine is necessary, said Walter. A maintenance list includes:
• Mopping the floor;
• Disinfecting the tubs; and
• Basic sanitation.

Keep in mind, a customer will not wash their pet in a dirty tub, said Walter. “All items considered the work is worth the revenue one will generate. If one stays focused from the planning phase through start up the risk is definitely worth the reward.”

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