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Click Image For Larger ViewThe 1990's birthed a new concept for pet care, the self-service pet wash for D.I.Y. pet owners. Where did this idea come from? What are the challenges in establishing one? Where do they work best? How do you discover how to build and operate one? These are but a few of the questions asked of us by visitors here. In this section we will attempt to answer questions and lead you to sources for more information.

No doubt about it; there is a grooming demand for self-service pet washes. A growing number of full-service groomers are adding an an average of 1 to 3 self-service tubs to increase their sales income. Mom & Pop and larger independent pet supply retailers are also adding self-serve tubs for the same reason, even car wash owners are adding them!

Since 1996 we have visited several and spoken with their owners. According to them, many pet owners prefer to the lower expense of bathing their pets versus paying for a full-service groomer except where pets require styling. Adding self-service tubs allows grooming businesses to capture a larger share of the pet owner market serving both self-service oriented families as well as full-service grooming clients.

On the average, the pet washes we visited were busiest on Saturdays and Sundays, averaging around 100 pets per weekend. Monday through Friday the demand may be significantly less but of course good marketing and advertising can make a difference. Mid-week evenings may draw pet owners coming home from work and taking care of their pet grooming chores then rather than weekends.

About one-third of pet washes we visited had a part-time groomer and the business operated the rest of the time without a groomer. However, most of these pet wash owners advised us they expanded their retail selection to increase sales revenue from self-service because they have little or no revenue generated by full-service grooming. Therefore, self-service is especially keen for increasing "ancillary income" in addition to the business' primary operation, grooming and/or retail sales. It's relatively easy to setup, and today there are even tubs that are coin-operated.

Medium and large dogs comprise most of the self-service demand. Anyone with a large dog knows that fitting them into the household tub is nothing less than a challenge, a mess and perhaps risky. It usually more work to clean the bathroom or utility room after bathing a pet than taking it to the pet wash, and we've heard many stories of dogs breaking shower and bath doors, and worse. Then there is the towel clean-up and washing out the tub before the next use by you or a family member. In many climates it is not always appropriate to let the dog air dry, and self-service pet washes often have driers available. Washing your pets in your bathrooms is simply very inconvenient, messy and potentially dangerous and more work than using a self-service pet wash on your regular trips to town.

More About Self-Service Pet Wash Operations

Self-service pet washes are here to stay, but they will not eliminate pet groomers. In fact, every owner save one that we visited had at least one pet groomer employee. Some breeds and mixed breeds still require styling by a skilled groomer, and many pet owners desire a groomer to clean their pets' ears, expel the anal sac and cut nails.

At Find A Groomer, Inc. we continue to sell our pet grooming management books to self-service owners expanding with full-service grooming. Our opinion that in some areas the addition of a self-service pet wash as part of an expansion of an existing pet grooming salon could be an excellent idea to attract more new customers and expand the revenue base. We believe few of the present full-service bathing clients would switch to self-service, but certainly the clientele could grow with new self-service oriented pet owners. According to one self-service owner we spoke with about 20% of their self-service clients eventually become full-service clients for the convenience.

Can you operate a self-service only pet wash and be profitable? Of course. As always it amounts to choosing the right market area, being open for business at the hours needed by target pet owners, maintaining a professional operation and effective marketing and client relations.

We've seen estimates of 500 to 1,200 pet wash businesses in the U.S. today. No one is doing a formal count though. They are popular in beach communities, but you will find them in urban, suburban and rural areas as well. One owner in the South U.S. told us that in their opinion the demand for self-service is weak but growing compared to the West Coast. It is important to note that the "superstores" with grooming departments have yet to add pet washes in large numbers. In fact, some of these stores were actually purchased by the superstores where self-service pet wash departments already existed. You can be sure PETCO, PETsMART and others are monitoring the situation, but they are definitely not sold the concept yet.

One Person or Staffed Salon & Shop Grooming Business Plan Software & Samples

Owning a self-service often attracts the entrepreneur who doesn't want to be full-charge groomer, and instead hires a pet groomer where there is a demand for full-service grooming as well as self-service facilities. Because the business of self-service pet wash may be concentrated on weekends and not mid-week as well, the owner of full-service pet grooming salon may earn a higher gross business income.

Operating a profitable pet wash has its challenges, but with the establishment of so many pet washes things have improved. When we did a tour of self-wash businesses in 1997 we were advised by owners that finding adequate business insurance was difficult. However, today we are advised that is no longer a problem. Keep in mind that in this world of bizarre litigation, the owner of a self-service pet wash could be sued for the actions of a pet owner in not safely bathing and supervising their pet. For example, if a self-service client lets their dog socialize with another and the result is a dogfight and injuries to people or pets, couldn't the owner be held liable, at least in part? It is very possible. What if a pet owner harms their pet using too hot of water, or even misuses a shampoo and burns their pet's eyes? What if the dog bolts and the another pet owner is walking in the door and the loose dog takes off, possibly getting hit by a car? Of course the owner is not fully-responsible but the owner is also not immune to interpretations of liability by opposing counsel, and the cost of defensive litigation may be substantial. One pet wash owner said their biggest concern was someone slipping in a water spill, and they wipe up spills and splashes all day every business day.

In order to reduce exposure to liability, we have long suggested that owners of self-service pet washes publish a safety guide and employ a full-time supervisor to assist pet owners. Just as there are "release and hold harmless" for full-service pet groomers, perhaps self-service pet wash owners should consider one to reduce their exposure to liability. Just as Find A Groomer, Inc. published Madson's Safety Program in From Problems to Profits, self-service pet washes could benefit from advanced safety design, client relations, and supervision programs. Insurance companies would be more likely to write policies for pet washes where there were written standards of operation for safety and supervision, and facilities design.

How do you go about opening a pet wash? We've seen franchise opportunities but no, we don't make recommendations of company names. You may be able to find a franchisor of self-service pet washes or a consultant in that field by using an Internet search engine using the keywords "self service", "pet wash" and perhaps "franchise" and "consultant."

We get many requests for build out information for a pet wash. If you are serious about opening a business, actually of any trade, you should always visit leading businesses and see what they have done. Incorporate their ideas, improve upon them if possible, but don't copy them. Improve upon what you have seen and add your signature to your business. That's part of the fun of a small business and it keeps the industry alive with interest.

Don't overlook the needs of your target pet owners. If they are working people Monday - Friday 9 to 5 types, you must be open evenings during the week to accommodate them. Even with evening hours mid-week a good share of them may wait till the weekend, so opening on Sundays can be very important. The hours and days may be inconvenient for you, but as a business owner you must accommodate the customers. That may seem obvious, but having counseled thousands of groomers we found a surprising share were open hours based on their lifestyle rather than their clients, and that was the leading problem in developing a growing business keeping up with the growing costs of operating a business. Survey pet owners in the area you want to establish your business. Ask them what they want in a self-service business and try to deliver it within reason.

Do your homework for your business! It's also important that you create a business plan for a new business. You can be sure one will be required if you seek a business loan or investor. It's no small task but perhaps the most important task to protect your investment in your business.

Chart generated by Pet Grooming Business Plan Helper & Sampler, a Grooming Business in a Box® product.
Copyright 2007 Find A Groomer Inc. All rights reserved

You need to project your business sales income for 3 to 5 years in advance from the day you open for business (see graph above). Then you need to project the operating expenses and deduct them from your projected sales income thereby giving you an estimate of what personal income you can expect to earn from your business (see graph below). Going into business in the dark without knowing what you can expect to earn in sales and personal income is an unacceptable risks to banks or investors, and for good reason.

Continued below...

Chart generated by Pet Grooming Business Plan Helper & Sampler, a Grooming Business in a Box® product.
Copyright 2007 Find A Groomer Inc. All rights reserved

How much do you need to invest? That's another question that must be answered with financial planning. Some self-serve pet wash operations are simple to build out while others add a small full-service grooming department, and a retail pet products department and perhaps other revenue services.

The graph shows the start-up funding required for an extensive renovation of a commercial building. The pet wash will also have a pet bakery and a retail department. The owner projects requirements as $90,000 in "start-up assets" and $5,000 for start-up expenses. Every business owner learns basic financial terms and you definitely need to know the difference between an "asset" and "expense." In accounting and tax reporting your assets and expenses are handled quite differently. Suffice to say that assets for a self-serve is major equipment like high-end grooming tables, tubs and dryers. In this example there is also inventory and furniture. If you use the services of plumbers, electricians and other contractors they might be considered leasehold asset improvements. You must get asset vs. expense determinations from a reliable certified public accountant to avoid problems with tax agencies. Certainly the start-up expenses are easier to understand. They have a short lifetime and include grooming supplies, small tools and equipment, advertising, stationery, licenses, fees to name just a few.

Refer to the chart below once more. We know that the groomer needed $95,000 to cover the purchases of assets and expenses, and some of that asset amount may be cash reserved because you run a new a business at a loss for several months until the clientele and demand increases. The chart tells that the groomer plans to seek a loan (light yellow) of $60,000 and her investment of her own money (light blue) will be $35,000.

Remember if you need a loan or investor they are going to want to know exactly how much of an investment you need and how much you are personally putting up of your own money. Don't proceed without knowing the numbers, and have them well-documented. You are certain to be asked for that documentation. If you don't have it you will be perceived as being naive about the conduct required to start-up a business. It's okay to be naive now, but start learning more today.

There's another very common question someone is likely to ask you. Again, don't venture into business seeking loans or investors without knowing your projected "breakeven point." Below you will find the breakeven table for the groomer opening a self-serve business above.

Break-even Analysis (Pet Care Services Only)  
Monthly Units of Services to Break-even 459
Monthly Gross Sales of Services to Break-even $8,326
Estimated Monthly Fixed Cost $8,326
Estimated Per Unit Variable Cost $0.00
Year 1 Sales of Services $73,704
Year 1 Units of Services 4,060
Average Per Unit of Services Revenue $18.15

Table (above) generated by Pet Grooming Business Plan Helper & Sampler, a Grooming Business in a Box® product.
Copyright 2007 Find A Groomer Inc. All rights reserved

Do you understand the table information? It's not too hard to figure it out once you know your projected average service fee for grooming services you expect in your business, and what your fixed costs are. Fixed costs can include interest payments on your loans to start-up the business, supplies, rent and utilities, etc. In the example above the new business owner knows her business requires $8,326 a month to meet its fixed costs of operation. Because she knew her average grooming fee would be $18.15 it was easy to divide that number into the fixed costs of $8,326. The result is 459; the groomer must sell 459 self-services a month to meet the required bills, and that doesn't include any personal income for her (unless she included a small base salary in the $8,326 amount). You will impress others if you can share your break-even point, and think about this question. Isn't it easy to count the number of pets you groom or serve as you work through a month? Sure. Knowing that you must achieve 459 units to meet break-even is an easy way to track your progress at any time during the month. You will be better prepared should you not meet your goal, or to celebrate when you exceed your goal and start boosting your profit.

There's no simpler way to write a professional self-serve pet wash business plan suitable to present to banks than with Pet Grooming Business Plan Helper & Sampler. In fact, one of the sample plans is a complete self-service pet wash with retail sales and more by one of our clients. No one else has ever released similar information and tools customized to the needs of pet groomers. Take a look at Grooming Business in a Box®.

Talk with Other Grooming Business Owners

We suggest you come to the GroomerTALK Message Board and search the term "self-serve pet wash" and read previous discussions of home grooming related topics. You are also most welcome to register on the Message Board and start some discussions, ask for help and make friends with home groomers and others. Better yet, how about sharing your experiences with home grooming in order to help others. That's what is about, opening up lines of communication between groomers that is still so sorely missing from our industry.


Dirty Dogs Done Dirt Cheap (Press Release)

Just when I thought I'd heard and seen it all, I learned that Mary Beth Conwell has installed a self-serve dog wash at the carwash she and her husband, Martin, own.

The carwash is on the corner of Davis and West Thurston streets in Elmira.

If you're like me, the mention of a dog wash brings a Jetsons-like scenario to mind. Dirty dog stands on a conveyer belt, which carries dirty dog through an automated machine that cleans, dries and fluffs up its coat like magic. No fuss, no muss.

With that image in my head, imagine my surprise when I went to the carwash to see for myself what a self-serve dog wash actually is. The big yellow paw prints painted on the parking lot led to a door that opened to the dog wash area, formerly the carwash's storage area.

When I opened the door, there it was -- a large, metal, waist-high tub with a walk-up ramp at the rear and snap-on leash near the front drain to ensure Fido stays put during the wash. A rotary switch allows the pet owner to dispense shampoo, rinse and conditioner, oatmeal shampoo, flea/tick treatment and de-skunker through a hand-held wand, a shorter version of the ones used at many coin-operated automobile washes. A vacuum hose sucks the water from the fur when the bath is finished.

I left the dog wash thinking "What simple concept. Why didn't I think of the idea?"

Conwell assured me my reaction was one she gets often. The dog wash she installed about three weeks ago is distributed by the Kleen-Rite Corp. of Columbia, Pa.

She's had fun familiarizing people with the concept and she's been "pleasantly surprised" with the results.

So is Keith Lutz, Kleen-Rite's vice-president. Sales of the systems, he said, have grown exponentially since the carwash system/supplies vendor started selling them three years ago. According to a CBS news feature on the dog washes broadcast earlier this year, about 700 similar set-ups can be found around the country. Lutz said a handful of companies make competing dog wash systems. But wherever they are, their popularity is assured.

Theresa Goodwin recently used the Conwell's dog wash on her 2-year-old St. Bernard, Gabbie, and can see why.

"It was nice. The pressure in the hoses, the shampoo coming out, everything was so easy. I just had to click the dial," she said. The dog wash will come in handy, she said and will save her money on Gabbie's grooming expenses.

How much money? The minimum cost is $5, but just like the coin-operated car washes, the more money you put in, the longer the bath time. It cost Goodwin $7 to wash Gabbie, compared with the $40 fee charged by a professional dog groomer for a bath, toe nail clipping and coat trimming.

When Jim MacIntosh of Horseheads took his golden retriever, Kelsey, to the dog wash about a week ago, he was surprised that he had to wait his turn. It seemed Kelsey had a run-in with a skunk. The recommended method of getting rid of the stink, a hydrogen peroxide-baking soda mixture, didn't work. The de-skunker option at the dog wash did, MacIntosh said.

While the word about the new wash option circulates among dog owners, Conwell said she's having a ball retrieving the messages about the dog wash left on her answering machine.

"(The callers) say 'This is wonderful idea.' They love that they don't have to clean the dog in their homes and don't have to bend over; it's so easy, a great idea; it's one of those things that is convenient and priced right; and they can get their cars washed as well as the dog," she said.

Excerpt from "Pampered Pets Are Big Business" by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette January 8, 2006.

On "self-serve pet wash."

Like many breeds that don't shed, Ben also goes to the groomers to have his tresses washed, trimmed and blown dry, along with his nails clipped and ear-hair tweezed. For pet owners looking for a less expensive alternative, places such as Dirty Hairy's Self-Serve Dog Wash & Grooming in Point Breeze have begun springing up. The facility, which opened 18 months ago, offers five private rooms with large raised tubs and the tools for a complete fluff and buff, including a choice of three shampoos, ear wipes, towels, blow dryers, scissors, hair and nail clippers and aprons. Prices range from $13 to $17, depending on the size of the animal, which is about half to a third of the cost of a full-service groomer. Most customers are dogs but there have been cats and even the odd skunk, owner Andrew Jannot said. Mr. Jannot, a Lawrenceville resident who got the idea for the business while vacationing in California where self-serve washes were prevalent, said sales have been slow but picked up lately when the cold weather forced hose-in-the-driveway types indoors. "I'm new to the area and people are still finding me," Mr. Jannot said.

This Town IS Big Enough For The Both Of Us!
(Self Service Dog Washes)
© 2003 David A. Grass 2003 All rights reserved

Self-Serve Dog Washes are being warmly welcomed by the public in areas where they are available. And they are becoming available in more and more places all the time. It is now apparent, as people are becoming more aware of the concept and gaining greater access to this type of service, that this is only the beginning. The industry is here to stay, and it will continue to experience significant growth for years to come. In other words, it is a good time to get involved.

Published statistics range from 35% to 45% for U.S. households with one or more dog. Moreover, people are taking better care of their pets and spending more on them, than at any time in the past. It has been estimated that $25 billion is being spent on pets each year in the U.S.-and that figure is rising. There is plenty of room for self-serve dog washes and full-service grooming shops to coexist. In fact, an ideal situation for many is a facility which offers both. That way there is something to offer everyone from the "do-it-yourselfers" to the "I-haven't-the-time-or-the-inclination-to-do-it" folks.

My particular facility (now under new ownership) did not include professional grooming, although I began offering nail trimming after seeing that most dogs had overgrown nails, and that many if not most people fall somewhere between "uncomfortable" and "terror stricken" when it comes to the thought of trimming their pets' nails. (Being amazed by what I saw, I ended up writing a book titled, "How To Trim Your Dog's…Nails! And Why You're Probably Dumber Than Your Dog.")

Soon after opening my self-serve dog wash, I found that while many people were intrigued and excited by the concept, I typically received a few inquiries each week about full-service grooming. It became apparent that there are four kinds of dog caretakers:

1) Those who have their pets bathed/groomed by a professional groomer;
2) Those who want to bath/groom their pets themselves;
3) Those who have their pets professionally groomed, but do their own bathing and/or minor grooming between regular visits to the groomer;
4) And unfortunately, those whose pets are rarely, if ever, bathed or groomed.

The first group needs professional groomers, the second group needs self-serve dog wash and groom facilities, the third group needs both, and the fourth group needs education!

Since I did not offer professional grooming, I soon developed good relationships with a couple of groomers I felt comfortable with (i.e., had heard good things about), to whom I referred prospective customers interested in the services they provided. Likewise, they referred people asking about self-service availability to me. Thus, rather than having adversarial relationships while vying for the same resources (customers), our networking benefited each of us…as networking typically does.

by Dave Grass, Author of Start Your Own Self-Serve Dog Wash, Start Your Own Professional Pet-Sitting Service, and other books-All available at

Dave also operates and can be reached at:


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