How to Start a Self-Serve Dog Washing Business

Golden retriever getting a bath at self service dog wash

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Self-serve dog washes are a popular canine trend that can enable those in the pet industry to clean up—literally and figuratively. According to Dave Grass, author of "Start Your Own Self-Serve Dog Wash," this can be a lucrative business—especially with the pet industry continuing to experience a boom with an increasing number of dog owners each year.

The following information can help you get started with your own self-serve dog wash business.

What You'll Need for Your Self-Service Dog Wash

To start a self-serve dog wash business, you will need to have the following:

  • Proper space
  • Hot and cold water supply
  • Sewage access
  • Electricity
  • Tubs
  • Non-skid pet ramps
  • Supplies including shampoos and towels
  • General business insurance
  • A genuine fondness for pets and people

Location and Type of Self-Service Dog Wash 

There are two kinds of dog washes: total self-serve coin-operated and a self-serve with on-site oversight that may also offer supplemental pet services such as grooming, in which case you'll need hairdryers and styling tools, such as brushes.

The coin-operated dog washes automatically dispense water and shampoo and operate on timers, similar to automatic car washes. The non-coin operated system involves someone taking customers' money, with no set time limit. However, you will need to manage customers' use of the tubs to prevent long wait times.

For non-coin operated dog washes, consider scheduling appointments and charging customers for a specified time to prevent long customer-wait periods.

There are also stand-alone dog washes such as dog washes incorporated into existing pet businesses such as doggie daycare or kennels. Regardless, it's advisable to have someone present in case a customer has a question. Also, you need to make sure the facility stays clean and you may need to handle any problems that might arise such as an overly aggressive dog.

Size and Space for Self-Service Dog Wash

In addition to having the right amount of space, you will also need access to proper plumbing and other utilities. Manufacturers such as Evolution Dog Wash sell various models of self-service dog wash systems. Those who run doggie daycare facilities or kennels may have a dog wash in their existing space or lease⁠—ideally adjacent⁠—space.

If you don't have an existing space, you can purchase a fully equipped modular dog wash building from a manufacturer such as Kleen-Rite. Most importantly, the space should be safe structurally, free of toxic chemicals, and well-maintained.

Self-Service Dog Wash Pricing

The price for pet washing varies depending on the type of dog wash system and services offered. For example, for $15, the store chain Petco Animal Supplies, Inc. provides self-serve pet wash stations that include shampoo, conditioner, combs, brushes, towels, blow-dryers and aprons, as well as the clean-up. Boutique dog wash businesses, such as New Jersey-based Dog Wash Depot, provide the same services as Petco, however, their price is $18.95, including $5 extra for dogs over 75 pounds. Both companies offer coupons and specials.

For coin-operated systems, prices may vary according to the location. For example, in a small rural area, the cost for a coin-operated system is about $5 for 10 minutes; while in high rent areas, such as New York City, the rate is closer to $12 for 10 minutes.

To determine pricing, you should research the market to learn about your competitors' services and how they are priced. If you're entering a market where no self-serve operations exist, look at a geographic-economic area that is similar to your planned business location.

Bark ‘N Bubbles, a Virginia dog wash operation, offers both self-serve and full-service staff-provided washing options⁠. A do-it-yourself dog wash package ranges from $18 for dogs that weigh 10 pounds or less to $27 for large canines.

Insurance for Your Self-Service Dog Wash

Insurance coverage is necessary for any type of business, including a self-service dog wash. For example, a frightened, excited, or angry pet could injure or bite other pets and people. Or, a customer could fall on a wet soapy floor or receive a bad electric shock from a blow dryer. Thus, having good insurance coverage is important protection in the case of a possible lawsuit.

Retail Potential for Your Self-Service Dog Wash

The supplemental retail potential with a dog wash is vast. You can offer practical as well as impulse purchases such as doggie treats, dog dental products, eye wipes, bowls, apparel, designer dog tags, and carrying cases—you name it. This is where you can get creative while enhancing your bottom line.