October 24, 2017

When it comes to self-service dog washing bays, you’re probably picturing the usual: a couple metal tubs with washing supplies tucked into the back corner of the store. And that model works—it draws customers into and through the store, and merchandised well, it can also create numerous upsell opportunities.

However, one retailer shows that it pays to think beyond the tub. Mark Vitt of Mutts & Co., a family-owned small chain in the Columbus, Ohio, area, broke the mold for in-store dog washing bays.

“The dog wash was one of the core competencies, one of the differentiators when we opened our retail stores,” he said. “It was never intended to be the big revenue driver. It’s a complement to what we do. But we weren’t just going to put it in there and have it not mesh with the brand that we’ve created for our store.”

Humanize It
Mutts & Co. had spa-like bays installed in its locations. Each is built on an elevated platform and tiled to look more like a human spa space than a grooming space.

“I think by building in the actual platforms, and in some cases even the steps up, we’ve created something that is much more professional looking and actually customer-appealing as opposed to the big metal tubs, which we do use in our grooming space,” Vitt said. “We use the metal pet baths for grooming purposes, but the customer-facing ones we wanted to have more of a clean and inviting aesthetic value.”

Earlier this year, online money magazine The Balance reported that self-service dog washes are among the easiest and most lucrative startups because of the growth already seen in the space. Coin-operated self-service dog washes are popping up in the most unlikely of places, too—even car washes are adding self-service bays.

The pet retailer has the opportunity to provide an experience above and beyond.

“We think they’re really pretty spectacular as opposed to the metal tubs,” Vitt said of the store’s spa spaces. “We started that way, and then we decided to change it all around and do built-in platforms and tiled stations, the key being that each one is its own private washroom. We call each one their own private pet spa.”

When creating a self-service area, Vitt admits that it does take up a good amount of space. However, a dedicated area is worthwhile.

“Our biggest concern is having multiple customers bring their different dogs into a communal space,” he said. “Our focus is that everything is private, secure, safe, sanitized and that you don’t share space with another dog or another customer. You can focus on your own pet and not have to worry about other customers.”

Plus, from a cleanliness perspective, that arrangement keeps the mess, noise, hair and water contained in one room.

“It’s mutually exclusive to the retail space,” he said. “From a standpoint of maintenance and cleaning, it’s pretty easy to clean, too.”

Product Sales 
Beyond the logistics of creating a self-service dog washing space within the retail space, the benefits are many—if capitalized upon.

“We try to intentionally drive people so that after they got the wash, which may or may not be the dog’s favorite thing in the world, we try to correlate that visit to the dog wash with a cookie or a bag of treats, or some clothing now that their dog’s clean or the grooming products,” Vitt said. “If they like the scent of the shampoo they use, we say, ‘Maybe you’d also like to use the spritzer.’ We absolutely see the correlation [between the bays and increased sales] and try to create upsell opportunities for people who
use the bathing facility.”

Repeat Customers
Vitt also uses the bays as a welcoming experience for new customers. He said when new customers come into the store, they’re offered a tour that includes the self-service dog washing area. They also give away coupons at local events to draw customers into the store by enticing them to use the dog washes.

“We feel like the facility is so nice and convenient that if they use it once they’ll come back,” he said.
“It’s a great way to create a long-term customer and also a reason to entice them to come into the store.”

While the initial investment might seem steep, and Vitt admits the downside to the self-service dog wash is that they take up a fair amount of space in his stores, it provides longterm benefit to the retailer. And, he added, “Truthfully, once it’s built, the overhead is soap and water.”

Whether you choose the metal tub route or follow the custom installation path, train staff to create upsell opportunities with each selfservice customer. Consider a loyalty program; Mutts & Co. offers the 10th wash free, for instance.

A self-service bay can drive foot traffic and increase daily totals, if done right.

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