Inside the first self-service dog wash spa

February 13, 2022, 12:00 PM UTC

From a distance, it looks like a tanning bed. Or even a bed in one of those pod-style hotels. But when you get closer, it becomes clearer that you’re looking at the…dog grooming station of the future.

Now You’re Clean opened in New York City’s East Village in 2021 as what it touts to be the first self-service dog wash spa and boutique.

Similar to blow-dry bars for humans (i.e. Drybar or Blo Bar), there is no cut (or color) here. Through an automated touchscreen to control time for each step, the one-stop station allows owners to rinse, wash, repeat, and dry their dogs within 15 to 20 minutes for $25. The only extra step is an optional flea treatment. Frequent customers can also opt to buy packages for five to 10 (or even unlimited) visits, allowing them to make reservations and get free washes, with no expiration date.

Cofounders Nicola Leggo and Arlette Sarkissians recently shared more with Fortune about the first year in business so far and the future of pet care.

Now You're Clean dog wash and spa
Cofounders Nicola Leggo and Arlette Sarkissians in front of Now You’re Clean in New York, N.Y.
Courtesy of Now You’re Clean

The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Fortune: Can you share a bit about your professional backgrounds prior to launching Now You’re Clean?

Leggo: Before starting Now You’re Clean, I worked for 15 years as a chartered accountant and management consultant. For most of my career, I worked for one of the “big four” firms as part of their consulting practice, where I advised Fortune 500 companies on their strategy and global transformation programs. My focus was the consumer Industry and prior to leaving the firm was responsible for developing and executing the firms go-to-market strategy for serving large companies in the consumer Industry. I consider myself very lucky to be able to draw so much from these experiences. 

Sarkissians: In addition to Now You’re Clean, I founded Arlette Jewelry back in 2002. I still work on this business, and continue to design, manufacture, and launch lines of jewelry for women all over the world. I work with a team of talented Italian jewelers, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to create custom pieces for some very well-known figures. I really do love the startup space—it gives you so much freedom to be creative and to craft your own path.  

Now You're Clean wash and dry pod
In what looks like a cross between a tanning bed and and a fancy laundromat is the dog washing and drying pod.
Courtesy of Now You’re Clean

What inspired you to launch Now You’re Clean?

Leggo: Arlette and I were roommates living in a small New York City apartment with my rescue dog, Mia. We personally knew how few options there were to wash your dog. There were expensive grooming services or doing it yourself in the home bathroom, which more than often results in a huge time-consuming mess. We began to speak to other dog owners, and it became very apparent that this was a common sentiment and perception shared by many. 

During lockdown in 2020, we used our time at home to research other options, but all we found were a few “tub and a bottle of shampoo” style set-ups. In a dog-friendly metropolis like New York City, where pet owners value their dogs as members of their families, we knew that there had to be a better solution. Our focus was on creating a great customer experience (for both humans and dogs) so owners could enjoy washing their own dogs in an easy and fun way. We decided to take matters into our own hands and open Now You’re Clean in the East Village, which features New York’s first automatic self-service dog washing spa and boutique.  

Now You're Clean dog wash
Giving your dog a bath has never been this easy.
Courtesy of Now You’re Clean

After going through the process, it feels like a dog owner’s dream given there’s no mess and it feels a lot less laborious than washing a pet in the bathtub or kitchen sink at home. How did the development of the one-stop station come about?

Leggo: We set out to give people an opportunity to wash their own dogs in an environment that’s designed to make the experience much more enjoyable for both the dog and owner. 

We wanted the Now You’re Clean dog wash pod to feel like a private bathroom for your dog, big or small. It provides a professional spa-like service with a spacious ergonomic tub, aromatic scents, with calming music played in the pod to reduce any bath-time anxiety for the dogs. We considered many details to make the process more comfortable, including fresh towels and bathmats and peanut butter filled lick-pads. We use 100% natural pet products that automatically flow from the machine with a touch of the screen and ear coverings (“happy hoodies”) for the dogs to limit noise from the blow-dryers. The whole experience takes less than 20 minutes for a rinse, wash, condition, and dry. 

Our customers are having fun with the process and strengthening bonds with their dogs while doing it and we believe that every owner should have this opportunity. We’ve got lots of ideas for the Now You’re Clean dog wash pod and how we can use technology to scale it in the future. Our store in the East Village is giving us an insight into what’s important to our customers (both humans and dogs), so we can be creative and innovate to continue bringing a better bath time experience to more dogs.

Now You're Clean dog wash and dry
Just be prepared for your dog have the ‘zoomies’ after grooming, even if you’re not at home.
Courtesy of Now You’re Clean

Along with a boutique of very fashionable dog accessories and toys in the front of the store, there is what must be the nicest looking dog “play area” in the private backyard, referred to as The Buddha Club. It’s a membership club, but sounds more like a social club, which sure sounds nice amid the latest isolating period due to Omicron. Can you explain the inspiration about that and what dogs and their owners should expect from signing up?

Sarkissians: As restrictions started to ease in New York, it became apparent that people, and their dogs were looking for new ways to adapt to the new normal. We saw this first-hand in our store—our customers were coming in wanting to socialize in smaller groups with their dogs. We also heard many stories with dogs experiencing urban anxiety and required a calm environment for playtime.

Now You're Clean Buddha Club backyard
Now You’re Clean repurposed the backyard space of its property into a social club for dogs and their humans.
Courtesy of Now You’re Clean

Knowing how valuable private outdoor spaces are in New York City, and at the request of some of our founding Buddha Club members, we decided to turn our backyard into a dedicated place for small groups of people to come together with their dogs. The name of the space—The Buddha Club—was inspired by one of our founding members and her dog, Buddha. 

The Buddha Club, is a private space, illuminated with string lights, whilst music plays to create a peaceful ambience for owners and dogs to socialize in. It’s covered from the weather and so we can heat it during the winter, and keep it cool during summer. Dog owners enjoy socializing in comfort with a drink or two, while groups of up to six dogs can play in a private, calm, and cozy environment. The space is available through membership, however it’s also perfect for private events—including dog birthdays!

Owners do all the grooming treatments here, which can help keep pets calmer and more relaxed during grooming treatments.
Courtesy of Now You’re Clean

Now You’re Clean has one location in lower Manhattan right now. Do you have plans to expand to other locations? Or to expand the business with more grooming options? Perhaps bring in a groomer for haircuts at some point?

Sarkissians: Our East Village store is just the beginning; we will open additional stores in New York City this year and want to expand Now You’re Clean self-service dog wash facilities outside of New York City so that we can better support more dogs and their owners across the country.

We currently offer dog grooming packages, which covers nail clipping as well as ears and teeth cleaning services. However, we understand that our customers visit us frequently for a fundamental hygiene need, so we are always looking for new ways to collaborate across the sector to better support our customers and community.

This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.