The slowdown in the construction industry has caused one entrepreneurial Colorado Springs father-and-son team to let business go to the dogs.
Pinon Construction custom home builder and general contractor Steve Hammond spent 21 years building his reputation with upscale residences for clients primarily on the city’s west side — in the Broadmoor Resort Community, Top of Skyway and Manitou Springs.
But the custom-home market’s near-standstill caused Hammond and his son Nick, a recent graduate of the Colorado State University College of Business, to look outside the construction industry for other income-generating opportunities.
Nick’s research led them to the self-serve dog wash business.
He discovered modular dog washing units manufactured by Kleen Pet Productions in Canada and decided to add them to an existing self-serve car wash site at 1388 S. 21st St. that Steve had owned since 2002.
However, the duo learned early on that Pikes Peak Regional Building Department would not approve out-of-state free-standing modular structures for installation at the car wash.
“It was too expensive for them (Kleen Pet) to get the necessary entitlements in Colorado, so we started looking at retrofitting the units into our existing car wash,” Steve said.
He expected that he would be able to build his own dog-wash units at an under-market cost and asked local LGA Studios Principal Architect Larry Gilland to transform one of the car wash bays into two dog-wash units.
“It was very doable,” Gilland said. “The water and drainage systems were already in place. All we had to do was to enclose both ends of the bay, add heat, air conditioning and table areas along with mechanical room to support the operation and give room for storage. The only issue we really had to address was a single parking space required by city code,” he said.
Plans have already been submitted for final review. If approved, construction could begin as early as Feb. 1, and the two dog wash facilities will open at the beginning of March — just in time for spring dog-walking season at the nearby Bear Creek dog park.
“Nick plans to post information on the bulletin board there,” Hammond said, adding that “this is really his project.”
The pair’s conservative estimates are that they can increase revenue as much as 15 percent at the five-bay enterprise. The car wash currently serves about 45,000 to 50,000 car wash customers a year and accepts credit as well as debit cards. Nick’s business plan projects about 20 dog owners per week will take advantage of the new service.
Both consider the car wash business “pretty recession-proof,” and said the relatively small investment made in new equipment — and the family’s varied commercial and multifamily housing portfolio — will allow them to get through a lagging recovery in good shape.
“As a family-owned business, we’ve diversified into a lot of areas. I’ve built 50-some custom homes over the years, but don’t plan to build anything this year. We looked at possibly building a spec (house), but decided against it,” Steve said.
Other ventures have included commercial projects and ground-up development in Colorado Springs and in Durango where he teamed with another family member to build a golf course surrounded by patio- and single-family homes.
“We’re looking at some land down near Fountain and elsewhere to do our own developments in the future — anywhere from hotels to strip centers and commercial buildings. But for now, the car wash and the two new dog-wash units make more sense,” he said.
A 2008 white paper published by TMC Pet Vending Solutions, gave companies like Kleen Pet the green light as a growth area within the nation’s $41 billion-a-year pet industry.
The report said that cash- and coin-operated self-serve dog washes have been operating in the United States and abroad for nearly eight years and that demand for the service is expected to increase.
Still, the Hammonds’ nascent canine-friendly facility with its large stainless tubs, special hair filters, low pressure hoses, shampoo and other vending options might still face a few obstacles. A study by Moen International notes that 84 percent of pet owners opt to wash their pets at home.
But that doesn’t faze Nick or Steve. They’re banking on the hassle-free appeal of his dog wash, which omits the clean-up factor from dog washing, something the report said pet owners dread.
And, if that weren’t reason enough to use the dog wash, the study said transporting Fluffy or Rover to the dog wash created a “fun family activity.”
There’s a chance, also, that this dog-wash venture might be only the beginning.
If, for example, another car wash owner wanted to install a dog-wash bay, Steve said his construction company could do the job.
“I’d be glad to help another owner across town add a unit or two,” he said. “We could certainly do that.”