Catering to the great unwashed

BUSINESS PROFILE

At pet `laundromat,' owners put their best friends through the suds and rinse cycle

The Dog Wash

October 18, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Think of The Dog Wash as a laundromat, but for dogs instead of clothes.

Customers bring in something that's dirty and pay to use the equipment on site to do the cleaning. But they do the work themselves.

At first blush, a self-service dog wash might seem an unlikely business. Why would somebody pay to clean their own dog, when they can do it in their bathtub or sink for free?

Owner Susan Young agreed that "some people were a little skeptical" when she opened her shop in Ellicott City. But that quickly changed. "Once you try it, it's hard to go back to the bathtub," she said.

Cleaning your dog at The Dog Wash means you don't have to bend down, you don't have to chase your pet with a hose or hair dryer, and you don't have to fill your house with the smell of wet dog, she said.

She must be onto something, because The Dog Wash has been in business for eight years. And about three years ago, she doubled her space and expanded the grooming portion of the business, she said.

The store also sells all-natural dog food, grooming supplies, shampoo and other pet-related items.

The Dog Wash has five self-service tubs, plus one that is used by the groomers. Customers pay $12 to step into one of the five cubicles - much like a changing room at a pool - and use the tub for as long as they like.

For their money, customers do not have to bend, as the tubs stand about two feet off the ground. Nor do customers have to lift their pet, as they can lead the animal up a ramp into the tub.

A short leash is attached by hook to a nearby wall in the cubicle, and a blow dryer sits next to water faucets.

These days, about 25 percent of customers use the self-service tubs, and about 75 percent choose to have a groomer clean the dog, Young said. Grooming, which includes ear-cleaning, hair-cutting, nail trimming and a decorative scarf or bandana, if desired, starts at $30.

Ok Chon, who lives in Ellicott City, dropped off her Yorkshire terrier, CeeCee, for a grooming. She said she takes CeeCee to The Dog Wash every three months or so. "They do it really fast and the best," Chon said. She can't say for sure, but she thinks CeeCee enjoys the canine makeover.

In winter, the self-service business expands, Young said, because people who normally clean their dogs with garden hoses want to do the work inside.

Appointments are needed for full-service grooming, but the self-service tubs are available on a first-come, first-served basis. On Saturdays, there can be a wait for the tubs, but it goes quickly, Young said. Business is also especially brisk during the holiday season, she said, as customers get their pets spiffed up for company.

Young can recall a few cats who have been brought in for cleaning, but never any other animals, she said.

Young has a Rottweiler mix named Chance and recently acquired a cat named Chess. One nice thing about working at The Dog Wash is that employees can bring in their pets. As groomer Samantha Dodaro clipped a terrier mix named Corky, her own husky mix, Skyla, lay snoozing in the office.

Dodaro, who has been with The Dog Wash about four years, said small dogs might take an hour to 90 minutes to groom, while larger ones can take two hours or longer. Though Corky seemed content, not all dogs like to be groomed, Dodaro said.

On a nearby table, orange Halloween-themed bandannas are laid out, ready to tie onto the neck of any dog that wants one. A wall chart shows different styles of poodle cuts that customers can choose for their curly-haired pooches.

"Whatever our customer wants, we'll do our best to do," Young said, holding a Bichon named Rusty, who comes every week for a bath.

Young, who grew up in Howard County, said she always has loved animals. She worked in a pet shop when she was a teen, and wanted to start a business that was animal-related.

A friend told her about the concept of self-service dog washes, which were becoming popular in California at the time, she said. She decided to open one in Ellicott City.

"At the time, there really weren't many of these around here," said Young, who was wearing an apron with pictures of puppies on it. "I just thought we'd give it a try."

The Dog Wash is at 10132 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City. The phone is 410-480-0450.

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