Economic Development and Retail

‘The works’ can include the dog, too

Thunder Mountain car wash chain has a self-serve dog wash sideline.

August 15, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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Leo Schlesinger, with daughter Hanna and dog Coco, says the dog wash service adds value for clients of Thunder Mountain. Photo by Matt Radick

When Leo Schlesinger stresses that his Thunder Mountain Full Service Car & Dog Wash locations in West Michigan are “full service,” he really means it.

In addition to full-service exterior and interior auto cleaning, three of his 12 car wash locations also feature a self-serve dog wash bay.

“The beauty of it is, for basically $6, you can do your own grooming of your dog,” he said — which includes a bath and blow dry.

Schlesinger says a lot of people don’t want to wash their dog in the bathtub, and many don’t like doing it out in the backyard, either. So Thunder Mountain provides a place designed specifically for washing the family dog, along with the equipment and supplies needed.

“The dogs seem to like it,” said Schlesinger, because it’s the owner washing his or her pet, not a groomer who is a stranger, so the animal is less stressed. Car wash employees are not involved in the dog washing, but they do come in and clean up the doggy wash bay after each use in preparation for the next customer.

“Once people use it, they never go back to the groomers,” he said.

“I don’t personally own a dog, believe it or not, but it seems to be a pretty good business model, so we decided to go with it.”

He readily concedes he did not originate the dog wash idea. When he acquired car wash businesses in Ferrysburg and near Rockford on Northland Drive and 12 Mile Road, both came with an existing self-serve dog-washing facility.

Storefront dog wash businesses have been around for a while in California, said Schlesinger, and some pet supply stores have self-serve dog-wash facilities, as well. Several of the Chow Hound Pet Supply stores in the Greater Grand Rapids region feature self-serve dog wash facilities.

Compared to some other states, though, Schlesinger is of the opinion that “there’s really not a lot of it around here at all.”

His newest car wash opened about six months ago on Michigan Street in northeast Grand Rapids. Schlesinger describes the area as “that Michigan (Street) corridor that everyone’s trying to develop” due to the growth of health care facilities and employment there.

His holding company, Arno River Group, acquired two adjoining properties on the northwest corner of Michigan and Eastern and built a large car wash facility. While planning it, he decided to add a dog wash to it, “as something that really fit the neighborhood” because it is within walking distance of many potential customers.

“A lot of people drive there, but a lot just walk their dogs there,” he said.

In his research for where to build a successful car wash, Schlesinger has learned that a high volume of passing traffic is essential, but it has to be moving slowly enough to give the driver time to see the car wash and think about it. An estimated 20,000 or more cars pass the location on Michigan Street every day, and there is a stoplight at the intersection.

“So the car count is there, and the speed of the cars is appropriate for what we want it to do,” he said.

“It’s been growing daily,” he said. “That location happens to be fantastic.”

He’s mainly referring to the car washing. While he won’t release specifics on how many cars Thunder Mountain employees clean each week, he does say the dog wash bays get about 125 canine customers each week.

“It’s a small percentage of our sales, but we are happy to have a very diverse holding company,” he said.

The Arno River Group, which employs about 125 people, also owns Shapiro Bag Co. and Clean Planet Recycling, both on Godfrey Avenue SW in Grand Rapids, plus laundromats, oil change shops and gas stations.

A native of Toronto, Schlesinger has lived in East Grand Rapids for nearly 25 years.

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