Pet Project

Hair of the dogs means good business for All Paws distributor.

Samantha Strong Murphey, Freelance writer

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A family of four pulls their minivan into a station to fill up on the way home from the beach. Boogie boards strapped to the roof, sun-kissed faces smiling through open windows, golden retriever shaking off sand in the back seat. This is your next business opportunity—especially if you’re David Rennie.

About a year and a half ago, Rennie installed his first All Paws pet-washing station on the lot of his car wash, Rennie’s Auto Spa, in Berlin, N.J. It’s been a business venture as rewarding as man’s best friend.

On the Road

Rennie was born and raised in the gasoline industry. At 13, he started pumping gas on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He started working for Philadelphia’s Atlantic Refin­ing Co. fresh out of school, running APlus stores in the Philadelphia market. And in 1989, Rennie went to work for Coastal Mart Inc. as a territory supervisor and area manager, running more stores than he could count on his fingers.

“If you add up everything I’ve done,” Rennie says, “I’ve run hundreds of c-stores in my life.”

In 1994, Rennie went to run his brother’s Richmond, Va.-based oil com­pany as director of operations. “We had stations from western Virginia all the way to Virginia beach, 27 of which had car washes,” he says.

The company tapped multiple car-wash suppliers, from PDQ to Mark VII. Then, in in 1996, Rennie stumbled upon one car-wash manufacturer he couldn’t work without: Autec. He was impressed with the quality of the machinery and the good fit the business was for his needs. Two years later, all 27 car washes had been replaced with Autec equipment, making Rennie Autec’s largest retail customer. Rennie was such a big fan of the com­pany that he jumped at the opportunity to work for Autec as a distributor in 1999.

He moved from Virginia to New Jersey that year and started Northeast Autec Inc., his own exclusive distributor com­pany. He built his retail car wash, Rennie’s Auto Spa, to showcase the equipment.

“You can’t sell what you can’t show,” he says. “As a distributor, I can bring cus­tomers right onto my site and show them how it all works.”

Then came the canines.

Hair-Raising Possibilities

As the owner of three German Shepherds, Rennie was well groomed for pet wash­ing. And he already had a relationship with Russell Caldwell, owner of CCSI International, provider of his glass car-wash casing.

“ ‘You’re already building the glass buildings at CCSI for car washes; it would be easy for you to build pet washes,’ ” Rennie says he told Caldwell. It was, as Rennie says, “a no-brainer.”

Rennie also had the sewer line; when he opened Rennie’s Auto Spa in May 2007, he had the foresight to run the line about 50 feet from the car wash just in case. He installed two All Paws pet-washing stations at his car wash encased in CCSI structures.

“I thought I’d get my feet wet, see how it works and see what my customer response was,” he says. “It’s been a tough three or four years for everybody. It’s great to find a new piece.”

The pet wash looks like an oversized telephone booth and works like a self-serve car wash. Customers insert ones, fives or quarters, or tokens sold at a discount to engender customer loyalty. “When people buy tokens, it’s good news to me,” Rennie says, “because now in essence, I’ve married that guy to my pet wash.” now in the works. There’s pet shampoo and conditioner, vacuum and blow-dry functions, and full air-conditioning inside. You know the drill: It costs about $5 for 7 minutes, and a beeper starts going off when your time is almost up.

Rennie says pet washes such as his capitalize on a significant buying shift happening in the United States today.

“People are doing things themselves these days, finding cheaper options,” he says, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will settle for poorer quality or per­formance.”

Rennie’s experience with his own pets supports this idea. “For [a dog groomer] to come to my house and do one of my dogs is basically $80, depending on the weight of the dog, type of hair, etc.,” he says. “People don’t want to pay that but are sick of trying to wash a dog out back with the hose or get all the hair out of the bathtub.”

The average amount spent on a dog washed at his site is just $9.

“I’ve started to see people come in with multiple dogs, like the girl who comes in with two cockers in the back, and I’ve started to see that it really becomes a fam­ily event, a fun thing to do,” he says.

Cleaning Up

Rennie now is also the owner of Jordiken Pet Washes LLC, an All Paws Pet Wash distributorship named after two of his three German Shepherds—Jordi and Kenya.

“Heidi is my third,” he says, “but I couldn’t find a way to work that in.”

He has 10 machines out now, four of them purchases and six of them revenue-share deals. On those deals, Rennie takes a portion of the monthly income up to $1,000 and then splits everything after that. If the share partner wants to buy it, in one year Rennie will walk away. Three of his six revenue-share customers are in purchase discussions already.

“I haven’t been this excited about something since I signed on to Autec 10 years ago,” he says. “It’s just a neat little profit center.”

He pitches to five to seven dealers each week but says the opportunity sells itself.

“It’s a $35,000 deal,” he says. “You’ve got to pay for freight and a little bit of installation, but it’s easy to do.”

The highest installation costs Rennie has run into have been $1,500, a far cry from the hundreds of thousands it takes to purchase and install a car wash. The stations are completely self-containedand portable: Just run power and a drain line to it, and the pet wash is ready to go. No concrete pad needed. If you have a flat piece of dirt, that’s good enough for Rennie. No sewer access? No problem. There’s a charcoal filtration and UV ster­ilization system in development that will get discharged water cleaned up to meet EPA approval, allowing owners to dump it right on the grass or in the parking lot.

“The stations come off the truck com­pletely furnished,” he says. “If it doesn’t work at Site A, six months down the road, I can move it to Site B.”

And the maintenance? “Dump hair out of the strainer once a day,” Rennie says. It’s that simple.

Sniffing Out Opportunity

With gasoline margins low and card fees high, retailers are looking for additional profit centers. Rennie thinks he has a solution: “They really need to look at pet-wash installations and look hard at the car-wash installations that they already have on their sites.”

Although gas stations are Rennie’s bread-and-butter customers, he’s had some interest from others: resort hotels, Bass Pro Shops, you name it. His ideal customer, c-store or otherwise, is a retailer with lots of people moving through.

“I’m not looking for the guy doing 60,000 gallons a month,” he says. “I’m looking for the guy doing 300,000 gal­lons a month. He’s seeing 1,000 custom­ers a day. That’s a lot of people staring at your pet wash.”

Rennie is bursting with excitement when he talks about ideal pet-wash customers, such as the Millsboro Shell 5 miles from Rehoboth beach in Long Neck, Del. “Do you know how many cars with dogs in them will drive by that site on the way to the beach?” he says.

It’s a thought to make a passionate pet-wash distributor all but drool.

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