Pet Washes – an Untapped Market

Lather, Rinse, Repeat Profit Potential

By Meline Beach

You don’t have to look far to see somebody walking their pet or playing fetch at the park. You might even notice a pet store on your commute or catch a pet-related commercial within minutes of watching television. Animals are integrated in our lives as a member of the family.

According to the Canadian Animal Health Institute, the Canadian dog population has grown from 7.6 million in 2016 to 8.2 million in 2018. Almost two thirds of all households in Canada have a pet – of that, 41 per cent have at least one dog. With statistics like this, there’s no denying that the pet industry is a booming multi billion-dollar market. And, while the convenience and gas channel provide to customers and their vehicles, only a few retailers have tapped into this market and provide to their customers’ pets as well.

According to Phillip Cooper, chief executive officer for iClean Dog Wash, North and South America, society is favouring a D.I.Y attitude, as more consumers seek out experiential activities. As a result, he believes the do it yourself pet wash business is exploding. Having installed 10 units in Canada over the last four years, with double digit growth each year, Cooper says that a pet wash unit, typically used for dogs, helps increase customer foot traffic at convenience stores and carwashes.

“We make dog washing fun,” says Cooper. “Some of our models feature a 32-inch flat screen TV and touch pads, as well as offer 30 different languages to choose from and 40 celebrity impersonated voices to talk customers through every step of the process.”

The European-based company has been in the carwash industry for 100 years. Ten years ago, they expanded their product range and launched the dog wash system that quickly became the industry standard. With 17 models to choose from, iClean dog wash units are made from aircraft-grade stainless steel and are suitable for indoor or outdoor environments.

Curtis Wailing of East Hill Esso in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan is happy with his iClean dog wash station. As owner since 2004, Wailing renovated his carwash gas station three years ago and intentionally included a new dog wash unit.

“We’re located in a residential area where many people are seen out walking dogs,” says Wailing. “I thought it would be a good idea to include this feature as an extra revenue stream for our business.”

Despite the initial investment of $35,000, Wailing hasn’t had any regrets as he’s noticed it has brought new customers to his location who otherwise might not have come.

“We’ve seen an increase in traffic year over year since we installed the dog wash unit,” says Wailing. “Once people get familiar and the area is clean and they like what they see, they come back, not only for a dog wash, but a carwash and gas too.”

While he admits he could have gone with a less expensive model, he’s happy with his choice and appreciates the fun features of the TV screen and celebrity voices – Arnold Schwarzenegger being his favourite.

Alex Pittman, owner and general manager of Mikiz Pittstop Car Wash & Dog Wash in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia has a doggy wash station in his brand-new facility built in 2017. The family owned and operated business includes a Laser 360 Autowash, a self-serve hand wash bay, and a K9000 doggy wash station, along with specialty automotive cleaning and detailing services.

“We offer a range of services to fit all customers’ car and doggy wash needs,” says Pittman. “Our mission is to provide a higher level of services to customers with modern equipment and with a classic feel.”

After extensive research, Pittman decided to go with Furever Clean for its dog wash system based on its self-sufficiency and simplicity. The British Columbia-based company is the Canadian distributor for the K9000 Self Serve Dog Wash system, which was first launched and manufactured in Australia in 2005. A dog owner himself, Pittman is pleased with his purchase and hasn’t experienced any issues to date.

“I was looking for something that would be easy to install, simple to use and would require little maintenance,” says Pittman. “Furever Clean offers a great warranty and exceptional customer service.”

With very little marketing effort beyond a simple sign out front of his building and a couple of posts on his company Facebook page, Pittman averages five dogs a day. The opportunity to cross sell his services to new customers is what Pittman finds most appealing.

“Have a doggy wash station is a value-added service offering that brings people closer to my business,” says Pittman, whose dog wash unit is located indoors in a separate heated section of his carwash building. “The self-serve dog wash appeals to customers who don’t want to spend an extravagant amount of time or money on a dog spa and are comfortable with washing their pet themselves, without having to deal with the mess at home.”

Pumps and Pressure Inc. also installs dog wash units. In the last five years, the Edmonton, Alberta-based company installed 12 dog wash stations, primarily at carwashes across western Canada. Darcy Ray, operations manager and carwash sales has been working in the industry for 25 years and says dog washes have been trending in recent years at the International Carwash Association and Convenience U CARWACS show.

“The market for dog washes in Canada is still new,” says Ray. “With a small competitive landscape, the opportunity to provide this value-added offering to C&G customers is huge.”

For an investment of approximately $20,000, Ray believes a retailer can recover their costs within five years depending on the amount of sales the dog wash generates. And, with a lifespan of 15 to 20 years, a dog wash unit could be a complementary revenue stream for any c-store or gas station owner.

Furever Clean advertises a quick rate of return on their website. Based on an estimate of 60 to 70 dog washes a week, Furever Clean believes the average return on investment can be in as little as one to one and a half years. That’s at a calculation of $510 per week, $26,520 a year. This calculation does not take into consideration increases in the revenue of any existing businesses, given that the dog wash station is likely to have a positive effect on overall revenue. Furever Clean also offers a lease option to retailers who prefer not to make the capital investment up front.

Location is also a key consideration as to whether a dog wash would offer additional value. Convenience stores or carwashes located in residential areas, near a dog park or other community amenities are more likely to draw foot traffic than if located in a commercial or industrial area.

Easy installation within a few hours, a pet wash station requires approximately 10 by eight feet with access to a water source and floor drain. On average a full wash costs anywhere from $10 to $15 and can last for 10 minutes to 20 minutes. In all instances, the dog wash station features four cycles: shampoo, conditioner, flea treatment, and blow dry. Each manufacturer includes a disinfection cycle to clean the tub, ideally before and after each use.

Some complementary offerings are deemed a best practice. For example, Pittman offers free towel service, a dog treat machine and a hand wash station for his customers. While his dog wash station is open year-round, Pittman sees greater use on sunny days and during warmer months of the year.

In terms of innovation in this category, Tony Wiebe, operations manager at Rockyview Industries Inc. thinks that an automatic tub cleaning and disinfecting system incorporating in the functionality of the dog wash would be ideal. The western Canada-based company has been in the carwash industry since 1992. Their experience with installing and servicing the K9000 dog wash station has been positive.

“The dog wash station is fully automated, is easy to maintain and doesn’t require dedicated staff to manage it,” says Wiebe. “Fees are collected through coin, credit/debit card or note reader, the water temperature is pre-set as are all the solvents. The only routine maintenance required involves disinfecting the tub, cleaning out the drain filter and topping up soap levels as needed.”

A pet wash station is one way to stand out from the competition. C&G retailers can build greater loyalty with current customers who are pet owners and attract new ones as well. Not just a novelty, a pet wash station is a simple way to generate revenue using a lather, rinse, repeat formula.

Meline Beach is a Toronto-based communications practitioner and frequent contributor to Convenience & Carwash Canada. In addition to freelance writing, Meline provides communications and public relations support to businesses across Canada. She can be reached at www.mlbcomms.ca or email info@mlbcomms.ca