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Pet grooming mobile taking to Tampa Bay streets

A pet grooming mobile bred to stand out in a crowd is about start trolling Tampa Bay streets for business.

Hydrodog looks like a big blue dog on wheels .

"The Dog is like a moving billboard," said Anthony Amos, who built a fleet of more than 200 in Australia that he hopes to replicate in the U.S.

The first five pet grooming mobiles will hit local streets in September, the combined effort of Amos, a 39-year-old former pro rugby player; investor and Hydrodog USA chief executive Mark Sembler, scion of a prominent St. Petersburg retail development family; and Bob Vincent, a yacht builder eager to land fiberglass fabrication jobs to keep his Clearwater plant active.

The vehicle combines elements of those Truly Nolen pest control trucks dressed like mice and the shag carpet-covered, dog clipping van from the film Dumb and Dumber. But Amos said his "aha moment" came watching his 2-year-old daughter play with a plastic toy pooch in 1994.

He initially painted his white fiberglass trailer with Dalmation spots. Then he found blue stood out more. Now the vehicles are a common site in Australia at festivals and charity events. Amos once lined 10 of them up in a parade.

His plan is to use the first few in Tampa Bay to iron out a business model that can be sold as franchises. They're priced as a budget-minded franchise at $75,000, plus a monthly royalty.

Sembler, a 28-year-old with an MBA from Northwestern, is guarded about the long term.

"But Florida has about the same population as Australia," said Sembler, the son of St. Petersburg developer Steve Sembler. "So I can see 200 in Florida and ultimately 3,000 in the U.S."

Despite the recession, many pet owners continue to pamper their pooches. Pet sitters, psychologists and even doggie chiropractors continue to spring up. The latest grooming extra is a blueberry facial.

Most pet grooming vehicles today are modified vans driven by mom and pop grooming businesses. Their owners learned that customers willing to fork out a $55 to $100 for a pup's monthly shampoo, comb-out and nail clip prefer someone who makes housecalls.

"It fits into what's a word-of-mouth business," said Lara Latshaw, chief grooming officer. "One happy customer spreads to many in one neighborhood."

So the Hydrodog is a fully-equipped salon in a 1,900-pound trailer that can be parked off-duty. Inside each dogmobile, groomers find a tub, hydraulic lift table, suction-enabled hair clippers and drying hoses.

For U.S. franchisees, Hydrodog added air conditioning, a self-contained water supply and electrical power.

"We outfit them like our yachts," said Vincent, who owns Endeavor Catamarans. "Generator, pumps, holding tanks and central vacuum system."

The team coalesced after Amos approached a St. Petersburg company that makes metal hot dog stand trailers, but had no experience with fiberglass.

Did Amos know that Sembler's grandfather Mel was once U.S. ambassador to Australia.

"Not until I met Steve," said Amos, who moved to Tampa. "It's been a series of coincidences."

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Pet grooming mobile taking to Tampa Bay streets 07/27/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 28, 2011 11:16am]
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