John Mullins knows that a dog is a man's best friend, except when Spot refuses to stand still for his bath. That's when tempers soar and soap suds fly, as the shaggy, four-legged pup shakes excess water all over his owner. To put an end to this messy and often frustrating ritual, Mullins offers a combination self-service pet wash and espresso bar called Poochies in San Diego.
Pet owners pay $7 to be outfitted with waist-high tubs full of temperature-controlled water, massaging mitts, grooming shampoo, fresh towels and rubber aprons to keep dry. Attendants are available to offer washing tips and clean up after the bath is completed.
"With their owners, dogs feel more secure and are much calmer when they're bathed. Some dogs even take their baths lying down," says Mullins, a former veterinary technician, who opened Poochies in 1993. Owners feel calmer, too. As their pets dry in the automated dog dryer, they can relax at the espresso bar or go next door to Poochies' pet-supply shop, where they can buy shampoo, creme rinses, colognes and other pet products.
Mullins didn't wait for customers to come barking at his door. He distributed door hangers, ran ads on the back of grocery-store receipts and in local newspapers, and paid for space in the San Diego Tribune to announce free pet washes during the Christmas holidays. His frequent-user program keeps pets--and their owners--coming back. After the fifth wash and ninth cup of coffee, the next of each is free. To stay in touch, Mullins has introduced a customer newsletter, "Poochies Press," which is mailed to some 2,500 four-legged patrons each month.
"You have to be diverse in the methods you choose to reach your customers. They're not all watching the same television show or reading the same publications," Mullins says. "Select an advertising medium like a door hanger or newsletter to fill in where you think there might be gaps in reaching some customers."
Before opening, a major planning hurdle was separating the pet wash and espresso bar to satisfy local health ordinances. "We probably went through three sets of blueprints," recalls Mullins. "It's a difficult concept to logistically put together." In the end, a partition with a door and glass window was built between the two areas.
An important component of Mullins' success was thorough research of his market. "You need to look at location, suppliers, vendors, competition, customer base, and the amount of money you'll need to start your business. We boot-strapped a great deal in the early days. If you can plan more and better at the beginning, it will help relieve future stress and problems," says Mullins, who's seen his initial $25,000 investment grow into a 2,000-square-foot business with 21 employees, grossing over $20,000 a month. His goal is to open five new stores by the year 2000.
Mullins is pleased with Poochies' success, which has already drawn the attention of the Wall Street Journal, "CBS This Morning" and "Inside Edition." "You hope you do the right things," he says, "and get the payoff in the end."
The next time Sacramento, California, small-business writer Carla Goodman visits San Diego, she's planning to take along her Alaskan huskie, Blanca, for a wash-and-dry.
Poochies, 6030 Santo Rd., Ste. F, San Diego, CA 92124, (619) 541-2525.