Splish Splash Dog Wash is an Act of Love
Splish Splash Dog Wash in Leland reflects its owners’ love of dogs.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Megan Deitz
Laura and Jack Brautigam were driving back home from Myrtle Beach one winter night after a long day of Christmas shopping when they found a gorgeous red and white Siberian Husky with aquamarine eyes abandoned at a gas station in Little River. They had no idea how that dog would change their lives.
It was 2005 and life was sailing along for the Brautigams, who had relocated to Leland from Florida in 2003. By 2008, because life is life and situations change and the economy can be unpredictable, both Laura and Jack found themselves unemployed within a month of each other just around Christmas.
What to do? The recession was in full swing and jobs were few and far between. One day, when lifting their 65-pound Husky, Hailey, into the tub for a bath became nearly impossible, they thought about the self-service dog wash service in Wilmington they had enjoyed using. There was nothing like it close by, so why not open one? After a few months of research and planning, Splish Splash Dog Wash was born.
The Brautigams opened the 1,400-square-foot shop in the Harris Teeter Shopping Center in the Waterford community in November 2009. They offered two grooming tables, four ramped tubs, three high-velocity dryer stations with hydraulic lift tables, and several cases of towels and shampoo. Business trickled in at first.
“I sat in that shop some days and wondered, ‘What have we done?’” Laura says, holding her forehead. “But by Christmas we knew we had made the right decision.”
Business was so good they added staff within the first year.
Laura, a Greensboro, N.C., native, has always been an animal lover, but unfortunately her father was allergic. “We only had one dog when I was growing up, but I always wanted more,” she says.
Years later, while living and working in High Point, N.C., she met her future husband, Jack, who lived in her apartment complex. “It was love at first sight,” she says about the Traverse City, Michigan, native. That was 25 years ago. After moving around the country, the two have made North Carolina their home. Since they met the Brautigams have raised eight dogs of their own and rescued and found homes for many, many more.
With the explosive growth of Leland, the shop’s customer base has expanded. “We draw from Waterford and Magnolia Greens and Compass Pointe, but now Brunswick Forest is really growing and a lot of our new business comes from that area,” Laura says. As word of mouth spreads, customers are now coming from as far away as Shallotte.
The variety of breeds has increased as well. Whereas the Labrador and Golden Retrievers were once the most common, that is changing.
“We have seen the most amazing variety of large dogs — in fact the other day we had a Burnese Mountain Dog in for grooming,” Laura says. One of the biggest pets they saw recently was a 170-pound Newfoundland, and the most unusual was a Briard, a European breed with long, fine hair.
Splish Splash now employs two full-time groomers and four part-time assistants. With 10 to 15 canine groom customers per day in addition to the bathing clients, the business is flourishing.
“For the self-service customers, we provide all-natural shampoo, towels and dryers,” Laura explains. “But you can also drop your pet off for us to bathe and we will call you when we’re done.”
The clientele has expanded to include animals of the feline persuasion. Assistant Manager Ashleigh Eckert washes the cats. The N.C. State University graduate brings extensive experience from her work at kennels and vet offices while putting herself through school. “Splish Splash is really unique,” Ashleigh says. “Here everything is colorful, wide open and in full view. The customers are treated really well, and we all work together like a family.”
With five dogs of their own, the Brautigams are regulars here as well. In addition to Hailey the Husky, the are parents to a black Labrador named Savannah. Their yellow Labrador, Delaney, came from a rescue shelter on Oak Island. Their baby, a Border Collie mix named Cruiser, was found at the old Rampage Yachts Facility in Navassa. They found Lab mix Kodie running along Highway 133 on their way to the shop. “Our family is complete right now,” says Laura, closing the door to any more rescues, at least for now.
The Brautigams’ love of dogs extends to their clients as well. “We look after them like they are our own,” Laura says.
The Splish Splash staff alerts pet owners to any signs of trouble with the dogs. “We also have a great relationship with two local vet practices, who we can call if we have any questions,” Laura says.
“All of the animals are in really good hands when they are with us,” Ashleigh adds.
What began as a fun way to bathe their own large dogs has developed into a way to make a living. Jack has taken another job outside the family business, but Laura runs the shop full time.
“I am so grateful for all of our clients — we could not do this without them, and I could not imagine not doing this,” Laura says. “We are really dog people. We love all of our dogs, every last one of them.”
Splish Splash Dog Wash is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm. Other services include doggie facials, grooming by appointment, nail trimming and gland expression.
Splish Splash Dog Wash
2013 Olde Regent Way, Suite 180, Leland; (910) 399-3426