If they could, your furry friends would likely treat themselves much as we humans do — with fresh food, long baths, entertainment and perhaps a pedicure. But they can’t, so Wag N’ Wash does it for them.
The company’s motto is “Wash ’em, feed ’em, spoil ’em, all in one cool place,” three aspects that owners Dan Remus and Jef Strauss say are hard to find in a pet shop.
Remus, now 47, and Strauss, 52, began to notice the pressing need for such a facility when they first visited a dark, dirty pet wash in the late ’90s. Another factor in the team’s decision was their Dalmatian, Geni, 11 years old at the time, whom the couple couldn’t bear to leave alone during long workdays. So the 18-year life partners seized the opportunity to solve both problems, opening their first store at 1625 W. Uintah Ave. in 1999.
“The first store pretty much was just a product of the space that we had,” Remus said. “We did the best we could with that small space.”
The business that began in a 1,500-square-foot spot on the Westside has since become a multi-million-dollar enterprise with eight Healthy Pet Centers across two states. But it was no easy chore to turn their doggie dream into a reality.
Unable to secure a bank loan, they eventually decided it risk-worthy enough to take out a second mortgage of nearly $100,000 to kickstart the small Uintah shop.
“Jef had gone to bat with just about every bank he could about financing, and they all laughed at us,” Remus said. “They said, ‘Why would you want to open a business that competes with PetCo and PetSmart?’”
“For animals, we’re more like a Whole Foods mashed up with a Baby Gap.”
– Jef Strauss, co-owner
Undeterred, Remus and Strauss succeeded and have since not only tripled the size of their first location, but added four company stores and three franchise stores in Colorado and Arizona. Remus said that the company stores, each of which can handle 100 animals on a busy day, now each average between $1-2 million a year.
“We just didn’t have the space in the original store to supply what our customers were asking us to supply them with,” Remus said. “We had customers telling us all the time, ‘If you would just carry this product, I would rather buy it from you than go to a big-box store to get it.’ We were anxious to get more space so that we could bring in some of those products that customers really wanted us to carry.”
The company caters to a crowd that thinks of their dogs and cats as part of the family — serving finer, healthier foods accordingly.
“For animals, we’re more like a Whole Foods mashed up with a Baby Gap,” Strauss said.
And it’s not just about dogs and cats: Remus and Strauss have seen raccoons, goats, potbelly pigs and even a miniature horse come through their pet wash. Among their offerings are various brands of all-natural, raw and gluten-free pet foods. The in-house bakery, rare in the Colorado Springs market, offers treats such as Liver Bites, Pumpkin Ravioli, Poochie Sushi and a variety of pies, cakes and muffins.
As the company continues to flourish, Remus said he is eager to create more house-branded products. The line of Wag N’ Wash signature products currently includes shampoos, supplements and toys.
The couple said that folks flock to the business for the convenience created by their all-inclusive model, which doesn’t necessarily equate to higher rates. The couple says that’s where many customers get confused; they think a small business must have less variety and higher prices than a big-box pet store.
Remus and Strauss couldn’t agree less.
“That is one of the biggest misnomers that people have about stores like ours — that we’re a small business, so we must be more expensive than the national chains,” Remus said. “But we’re not.”
He said that many of Wag N’ Wash’s hard goods, such as toys, equipment and accessories, are competitively priced while more common food products are even cheaper than at national chains.
The owners are also particular when it comes to the more than 60 employees they have helping animal lovers up and down the Front Range.
“I think our niche, if nothing else, is the knowledge base of our employees,” Remus said. “Their knowledge of nutrition and their ability to help customers choose the most appropriate nutrition for the companion animal’s needs is so important to us.”
The company is looking to the future with plans to expand its range of products, as well as its national presence.
“Our goal for 2014 is going to be to grow the franchise side of the business,” Remus said. “We knew that we did not want to do national expansion of our stores and not be hands-on. Instead, we want to put the tools of our success in the hands of people in other areas and help them to be successful with it as well.”
Franchise owners, which have locations in Highlands Ranch, Scottsdale and Phoenix, make a total investment of between $400,000 and $600,000 to open a Wag N’ Wash of their own. Remus said that includes everything: a $30,000 franchise fee, lease costs, buildout, inventory and even some operating capital for the first several months.
But franchising is not all that is going on with Wag N’ Wash. The company has just opened up a new $2 million location at 5820 Stetson Hills Blvd. that looks different from the rest — it is large, brightly colored and bathed in natural light — but they have the same inventory.
“Each time we open a store, we try to do something different,” Remus said. “So every time we try to make the experience a better and more convenient one for our customers. Because ultimately that is what we are providing our customers with — an experience.”
Number of employees: 60-65
Years in business: 14
Motto: Wash ’em, feed ’em, spoil ’em, all in one cool place.