Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Washing pets and making profits

October 11, 2010

After having the opportunity to walk the Car Care World Expo floor for three days, it is apparent the self-serve pet wash is here to stay. More manufacturers and operators than ever are jumping aboard this bandwagon.

There are also several people building smaller, stand-alone self-serve pet washes.

It’s obvious: people love their pets and will use these types of facilities if they know where they are located and how to use them.

For the most part, anyone interested in this market is already aware of where to purchase these units.

The various manufacturers each have a slightly different approach, but all of these units operate similarly; lead your pet up into the tub, deposit money, and use the various cycles to wash your pet.

The question then is how to turn this venture into an overwhelming success. As always, the answer is in how you market the service.

What’s in a name
We all know the name you choose for your business will affect what type of clientele you bring in. No one would ever think of not including the word “wash” or “carwash” for their new self-service, automatic, or full-service carwash business.

Some of the most successful self-service pet wash businesses around incorporate some sort of reference to the pet wash into their names.

Examples of this would be:

  • Dirty Dog Car and Truck Wash;
  • Paws ‘n’ Wheels Wash;
  • Rovers and Rims; and
  • The Car and Pet Spa.

Customers familiar with self-serve pet washes know instantly by looking at the name there is a pet wash on-site.

Customers who have never heard of this now question the owner/operator as to why they chose such a name.

This gives you, the owner/operator, not only a chance to show off the dog wash, but to also interact with your customers.

Sign me up
All carwashes have signs. Whether it is a menu sign, an instructional sign or a product sign, there are lots of signs to keep the customer aware of what is around them and how to use it.

The dog wash also needs to be well signed. At the very least, there should be a sign above the door announcing here is a coin-op dog wash.

Also, be sure to have some signs that instruct customers on the proper use of the equipment.

Don’t let your customers guess at what order they should use the products you are supplying. Make sure that the selector switch is clearly labeled.

Even while installing or constructing your dog wash, it is very important to have signs up. This creates curiosity around the neighborhood and gets your regular and future customers talking about this new service.

Cross-marketing dogma
Even if your site is not across the street from the local veterinarian, animal hospital or pet store, most people who visit those facilities could be your customers. Take the time to approach these local businesses about the possibility of cross-marketing.

Most of the customers at these other businesses will also have a car, so while they are using the coupon or free trial cycle they got at the vet, they may also take the time to wash their car.

If they are happy with the services, why wouldn’t they return? A few minutes talking to local businesses specializing in pet needs may reap you the reward of many new customers who will use your facilities exclusively.

Keeping it clean
It seems straightforward that you would want to give your customers a nicely lit, clean area to wash and dry their pet, but often the dog wash areas get busy and aren’t cleaned up as much as they should be. By letting this area become untidy, you are discouraging return business.

Unfortunately, the smell of wet dog is unmistakable. Keep that down and you are one step ahead. There are several ways to reduce this smell, including:

  • Using exhaust fans (the bigger, the better);
  • Using scented shampoos and conditioners;
  • Cleaning the area with a disinfectant once a day; and
  • Having an open window or door for a little fresh air.
Also, don’t let the tubs get full of hair and dirt. Lots of tubs have a disinfectant cycle built in or as an available upgrade.

Encourage your customers, either through signage or conversation, to leave the dog wash in the same condition they would like to find it.

Most of your customers will clean up after themselves, but there are always a few who need a little reminding in this regard.

Should I be there?
Lots of carwash owners ask, “Should I have an attendant on my site?”

I have found sites that do well in the dog washing business are those with an attendant available.

A new piece of equipment can never be added to a site without training customers on how to use it. If you are adding a self-serve pet wash to an existing, unattended site, my suggestion would be to spend a few weeks at the wash (or hire someone to do it for you) to answer any questions or concerns your pet wash customers may have.

If you are there, you will see what needs to be addressed and be able to deal with it promptly. Being there will also give you the chance to ask your customers for their comments or suggestions regarding the pet wash.

If you run your site unattended, consider putting a camera system in. This type of surveillance will keep most of your customers honest and protect your best interests should something ever happen.

Go dog wild
Of course, marketing your self-serve pet wash is not limited to what we have discussed here. Let your imagination run wild!

  • Add some vending to your dog wash area;
  • Have a special dog-wash fundraiser for your local school; or
  • Be the meeting place for your local dog-walking group.
All of these promotions will add long-term value to your business, just by allowing the opportunity to interact with the community.

In the end, community involvement will be the biggest return on your investment.


Troy Berry works for Washtech in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has worked in the carwash industry for 10 years. For more information or further questions, please e-mail Troy at troy@washtech.ca.