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Writing against pet washes

September 12, 2006
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Writing against pet washes
Ben Tresser

It sounded great: extra profit, happy pets, happy customers and all I would need was a pet wash unit and the power and water already available at my carwash.

These were the thoughts that echoed through my mind as I left the San Antonio ICA Show in May, 2005. I had just purchased an express exterior carwash and was looking for a complimentary profit center that I could operate on my site in a 1,500-square-foot annex building that had previously housed a two-bay detail shop.

Overcome with excitement, I changed the name of my facility and purchased two complete pet wash units and enough products to wash every dog in the county. There seemed no doubt that the Yellow Submarine Car and Pet Wash would be a tremendous hit.

However, as I now remove the equipment and prepare to sell it on E-Bay, I wonder how I could have been so wrong.

Four wrongs don't make a right

First and foremost, there is no such thing as a self-serve pet wash, for the following reasons:

  1. Out of all of the manufacturers of pet wash equipment, only one had a self-serve automatic pay mechanism (as of my purchase in August 2005). Not only was this unit over $5,000, but it accepted only coins. This meant that you had to also purchase and service a bill changer to get the coins to put in the pet wash and then sort and count those coins when they came out of the pet wash. As a result, it was impractical to run the pet wash without a point of purchase attendant.

  2. Very few dogs will walk up the cute, but way too steep and narrow ramp they provide with your pet wash. This, for all practical purposes, means that the customer must lift their dirty pet up into the wash tub in the beginning of the wash and lift their wet (but now clean) pet out of the tub after the wash. At least half of our customers were unable to perform this task and required an attendant for assistance in doing so.

  3. Most of our customers were new to the self-serve pet wash concept and needed instruction and/or assistance from an attendant even if they were physically able to wash their pet. Many of the customers even expected us to wash their pet for them.

  4. Parvo and other canine diseases are an ongoing concern and I was strongly advised to "sanitize" between each use of the pet wash. Likewise, the hair and mess left after each pet required at least a brief clean-up before the next customer used the facility.

Express pet washing

As an express exterior carwash facility, I pay particular attention to my labor usage and do not have extra staff on site. Therefore, in response to the above-referenced problems, I was forced to hire an additional staff member to tend to the pet wash.

Needless to say, this cut significantly into revenue at the pet wash. However, it would have been ok had it solved my problems and allowed the pet wash to run smoothly. Unfortunately, it did not.

Another "ruff" reason

As we all know, dogs and cars don't mix. This is especially true at a high volume express exterior carwash. Therefore, I had "leash your pet" signs all over the pet wash facility and in the parking area. However, my staff constantly had to remind the pet wash patrons to leash and control their pets, usually to a hostile response.

Further, multiple dogs at the facility or the occasional "alpha" dog would start a bark-off that would make the facility sound more like a kennel, or dog fight, than a carwash.

I was stuck. Undoubtedly, I needed an attendant to run the pet wash. In order to pay for the attendant, I had to do a significant dog wash volume. However, the more dog wash volume I did, the more problems I had controlling the animals and the more it imposed on my carwash.

Despite this depressing Catch-22, I still held out hope I would benefit at the carwash due to my cross-marketing efforts with the pet wash. Wrong again! Despite my cross-marketing efforts, not one client came in for a carwash and a dog wash at the same time. It was always one or the other.

In sum, I went from adding an additional profit center designed to compliment my carwash to starting and running a non-profit pet grooming facility adjacent to my carwash.

It was a costly distraction, was doomed to fail from the start.

Benjamin I. Tresser is President of the Yellow Submarine Car Wash, Inc. Mr. Tresser has both a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of California, Haas School of Business.

Mr. Tresser has over 10 years of experience in business start-up and real estate development and is now focused on development and management of express exterior carwashes. He can be reached at