Adding a Pet Wash Service: Do You Have Space for Another Revenue Stream?

To say dog is man’s best friend is a serious understatement. According to the ASPCA, there are around 78 million dogs in the United States, with approximately 44 percent of all American households having at least one dog. To most automotive service shop owners, those numbers may not mean much — dogs don’t own or drive cars, after all.

However, dogs do get dirty, and that could be an opportunity for shops that already offer a carwash service. Just as dogs don’t drive, they can’t simply be led through the carwash, but a dog, or more accurately pet, wash station can be added as a bonus service and new revenue stream.

“A dog wash is absolutely worth doing if you have extra space that isn’t generating income,” said Don Uxa of Squeaky Clean Car Wash and Pennzoil 10 Minute Oil Changes of Raytown, Missouri.

When Uxa added a carwash to his quick lube, he had an extra 60 foot long and 25 foot wide space, but really only needed a 10×10 office space. Instead of using this excessive space for a huge office or even storage, he decided since that part of the shop’s location was already wired for electricity and had water lines, perhaps he could add a service that wasn’t being offered in his neck of the woods.

“I had already heard about dog wash services at the carwash trade show,” Uxa said. “I saw systems that were upwards of $40,000, and they looked nice, but in the end, I decided to build our own. We put in $4,000 for a shower, faucets and a tub.”

For Uxa, the small investment has become a steady revenue stream for the shop.

“We built it out, and we’re making upwards of $3,000 a month,” he added. “It isn’t enough to do a dog wash as a stand-alone business, so I wouldn’t recommend to anyone that they go out and rent space just for a dog wash, but if you have extra space and can keep the investment small, it absolutely makes sense.”

Squeaky Clean Car Wash is far from the only carwash operator to see the potential in providing another service for customers.

Bob Bowen, owner of B&B Car Wash in Carlsbad, New Mexico, also added a dog/pet wash and said that he has seen that many customers are multitaskers.

“Often times, we have a husband washing the car while the wife and kids are washing the dog,” Bowen said. “But mostly, people come for one purpose or the other.”

As with other shops, the dog wash was an add-on for B&B Car Wash, but one that has paid off since it was added earlier this year.

“In our experience, it has been worth the effort,” Bowen said. “We looked at installation as an additional draw to our facility, and it has been that. To date, it has exceeded our projections. We will see how cooler weather affects things.”

Over all, Bowen said the response from customers has been quite positive, and with fear of “jinxing” himself, he added he hasn’t heard anything negative about the dog wash.

The Basics of a Pet Wash

As noted by Uxa’s experience, the process can be very DIY for shop owners, but there are plenty of suppliers, and even specialized providers, who can make it much more of a turnkey solution. The first thing to understand about a pet wash is that these are almost exclusively self service — no employees are there actually scrubbing up Fido or Rover. Instead, the pet’s owner brings in the dog and utilizes the facility, which provides the shampoo and soap via a dispenser.

One of the industry leaders in pet wash stations is Carbondale, Colorado-based Evolution Dog Wash, which offers a number of models that contain everything a shop could need to make it a truly self service system.

“All you need are the utilities; the power, the water and a drain,” said Gary Sherman, CEO of Evolution Dog Wash. “For carwashes, the synergy is there, and it is a natural fit. Carwashes have the infrastructure, and we have tons of clients who started with two washes and quickly expanded. One station isn’t really enough with the carwash, but the system is easy for owners to start small and add on.”

Sherman told National Oil & Lube News he’s seen shop owners add multiple dog washes to different locations.

“A bay conversion is typical, but we’ve seen other expansions too, such as when a shop grows in size. All that is required is some space for the stations, maybe some fencing to separate the dog washes,” Sherman said. “There isn’t really a great deal of expense.”

While most customers will, in fact, utilize the pet wash for their dogs — and many of the vendors use the word “dog” rather than “pet” in describing their respective products — customers are often washing more than dogs.

“I’ll admit, I’ve seen, or at least heard of, some bizarre accounts of customers in rural areas using the dog wash to wash pets, goats and even mini horses, but mostly it is the dogs that get a good cleaning,” Sherman noted. “However, after Super Storm Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012, there were stories of some people using the wash to get clean when they lost power and were filthy from the cleanup efforts.”

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Limited Labor

Once a pet wash is installed, it can be — as noted — very turnkey. The systems can include credit and/or debit card readers, while some can take cash.

“These systems are designed to be autonomous,” Sherman said. “You put in the money, and the water starts up. You soap up the dog, rinse and use the automatic blower. It is that simple. More importantly, there is no need to have labor from the rest of the shop involved until you want to have someone check in to make sure things are running smoothly. We actually know some shops that operate 24 hours a day, so you can make money while you sleep.”

The fact that it is so self service is what appealed to Uxa.

“The irony is that the self-serve carwash is dying, as there are too many automatic carwashes, so we had a middle bay in one of our shops that we turned into a dog wash,” Uxa explained. “Whenever the carwash is open, the dog wash is also open for business.”

After adding the first pet wash eight years ago, this add-on service is now offered at three of Uxa’s locations and each is doing well.

“We charge $8 for the dog wash, which is good, as it is totally self-serve,” Uxa added. “Some people might ask why anyone would pay that much to wash their dog — especially as they are doing the work themselves — but once you see how messy it can be with the dog shaking; you’d spend three hours cleaning your bathroom or kitchen after washing the dog at home.”

But because the pet washes are designed specifically with dogs in mind, the mess is actually minimized in the shop, too.

“We admit the dog wash is sort of our red-haired stepchild at our shops,” Uxa said. “If we have time to clean up the dog wash during the day, we do it, but the space is free and the labor is almost free.”

More Than Seasonal

The final benefit for a dog wash is that people need to wash their dogs — or other pets — at times when they might not think about washing their cars. In fact, rainy weather can actually mean business picks up at the pet wash, even if the car wash is seeing much slower volume.

“People still wash pets when it is raining or snowing,” Sherman said. “That is something people do even if the car isn’t washed.”

It is still hard for shops such as Uxa’s to tell if there has been a lot of overlap in the various services. While some customers are multi-taskers and will have the oil changed, the car washed and bring Rover home clean, that isn’t always the case.

“It is hard to tell if my dog wash customers are my quick lube customers, and no one really brings it up,” Uxa said. “There is some overlap, and I thought there would be more, but even if there isn’t, the dog wash allows me to use some space and offer another service.”