By 1999, Dan Remus and Jef Strauss’ beloved Dalmatian, Geni, was getting old.
The two had corporate jobs that kept them away from home for extended periods of time.
“We were feeling guilty that she just wasn’t getting quality time with us,” Remus said. “I wanted to leave my job and start a business so that she could work with me.”
Remus and Strauss knew they weren’t the only ones whose four-legged friends were like members of the family. So they created Wag N’ Wash to make it easier for owners to pamper their pets.
Wag N’ Wash began with a shop in a strip mall on Uintah Street and grew into a brand that now has nearly 100 employees at five corporate locations, plus 13 franchises in seven states.
“I was telling my grandmother that I was leaving my corporate management job and all the perks that come with that to open my own business,” Remus said in a video he and Strauss made for Wag N’ Wash’s 20th anniversary last year.
“I told her we’re opening up a dog wash and her response to me was, ‘Who the hell would pay to wash a dog?’ Now we’re probably getting close to a million people who have washed their dogs, Gram,” he said.
The original store offered self-wash stations for dog owners and gourmet treats made on-site at the Uintah store.
“They did a lot of research and a lot of trial and error in their own home kitchen,” said Wag N’ Wash President Rob Flanagan, who runs the corporate operation for the semi-retired owners. “They came up with a couple of recipes. Geni was the original biscuit taster.”
Washes and gourmet treats are still key to Wag N’ Wash’s operations, but the stores also offer a wide variety of natural pet foods, supplements, toys, gear and other products, as well as full-service grooming.
“As we’ve listened to our customers, we’ve added different types of revenue,” Flanagan said. “The stores that were doing less than $1 million [annually] now average $1.5 million.”
Despite Gram’s concerns, the business flourished, and in 2004, Remus and Strauss opened their second location, on Woodmen Road. New stores were opened in 2007 and 2008 in Littleton and Castle Rock, and a third local store opened on Powers Boulevard. Those four stores, plus the flagship Uintah location, comprise the corporate operation.
Around 2006, Remus and Strauss decided to expand further through franchising. They felt the brand “would be best served by local operators rather than a conglomerate,” Flanagan said.
The first franchise opened in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2006. Since then, franchises have opened in Aurora, Broomfield, Highlands Ranch and Monument in Colorado; Scottsdale, Arizona; California, Maryland; Eagan and Lakeville, Minnesota; Las Vegas, Nevada; Cherry Hill, New Jersey; and Redmond and Seattle, Washington.
The franchisees own their businesses and run day-to-day operations, and the franchisor provides marketing, operational services and training.
All stores have their own bakeries and feature some of Remus and Strauss’ original recipes, which proved popular with customers and their pets.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the corporation provided support on local marketing, signage and finding loan opportunities.
At the corporate stores, “we were just kind of looking at our guests,” Flanagan said. The stores offered curbside pickup for orders, but “it was so hard for many of them to get to our stores. We missed seeing a lot of familiar faces, so we put together care packages.”
After the stores closed, Flanagan and his team went through customer lists, researched their favorite foods and treats, assembled 10 to 15 care packages per week and hand delivered to customers’ homes.
The local stores have reopened the grooming and self-wash stations “in a limited capacity, and we’re ensuring that we only have a limited number of people in the store at the same time,” he said. “We encourage guests to come in one at a time and wearing face masks.”
Remus and Strauss remain involved in the overall strategy of the business and ensuring the survival of what they created at the Uintah location.
“There is not a service or a product at Wag N’ Wash that we would not provide to or give to our own animals,” Remus said.
That sentiment guides the business and comes through to customers who won’t shop for their pets anywhere else.
“I think that being part of the community and getting to know the individuals as people and their companions have created that loyalty,” Strauss said.
The future of Wag N’ Wash is “to see the evolution of retail and in services,” Strauss said — “and that we are definitely improving the lives of animals from coast to coast,” Remus added.