With a little knowledge about what makes a good tub, any business can find one to suit its needs and budget.
Tubs are made of all sorts of materials—fiberglass, various types of plastic, powder-coated zinc-plated steel, or, in the case of human-style tubs, cast iron or steel covered with ceramic. By far the most popular material for pet bathing tubs is metal, but there are very wide disparities in price. With some insight from tub manufacturers, potential buyers can understand the differences and decide on the right tub for their business.
Tubs have four sides, a bottom and legs, framework or lift to raise them to a convenient height for bathing. Some have all four sides riveted together and the top half of the backsplash riveted to the side, with caulking at all seams. Others have the bottom of the back splash and the front made of a single piece of metal. Some are permanently installed onto the legs or framework, while others have the basin set into the frame. So what’s the difference? Price, quality and longevity.
Holly Gibson, manager of marketing and innovation for Shor-Line, says that 304 stainless steel is pretty much standard for the industry, as it ensures a lack of rust and machines very well. “The difference lies in how the tub is made and how and where it is welded,” says Gibson. “All tubs have to be made in such a way that they don’t leak, but Shor-Line takes pride in making tubs that will last for decades.”
Shor-Line tubs are handcrafted in Kansas City, Kan., and seam welded by expert welders so the edges are smooth. They are also designed to be easy to wipe out, without spots for debris to get stuck on. Shor-Line is careful to avoid bolts, rivets and spot welding, even on areas like the legs. Gibson recommends going to shows where you can see the differences between tubs and ask manufacturers how theirs are put together.
One feature of Shor-Line tubs is a movable tub rack, which can go from the bottom of the drain to halfway up the tub for smaller dogs. Both pieces can be put at the higher elevation, allowing larger dogs to be bathed higher, which provides the correct ergonomics for any bather. “You want a product that is adjustable for different people—that’s efficient. The best salons are the most efficient ones,” Gibson says.
Petlift has been making tubs for groomers for 50 years, so there’s plenty of experience there, too. Nancy Apatow, president of Petlift, agrees that 304 stainless steel is the way to go for the pet industry because it commonly has from 10 to 18 percent chromium in the mix, and the better grades won’t rust. Petlift pioneered the walk-in tub for dogs and invented the high-back, walk-in door and ramp as safety features for both animal and groomer. “It’s a misconception that we make tubs for dogs,” says Apatow. “We make tubs for humans that bathe dogs in tubs.”
With product safety and longevity in mind, Petlift’s tubs are made with no rivets. All the pieces are welded, including all the corners and edges, including the lip, so there are no sharp edges anywhere. A continuous backsplash prevents leaks—the back, floor and front are all one piece, so the only welding is on the side panels. No assembly is needed except to place it on a frame with legs and plumb it. Booster racks or a smaller, higher tub are available for good ergonomics when bathing smaller dogs.
When selecting a tub, Apatow recommends asking if the tub is considered “rust-proof” or “rust-resistant” and to consider the gauge of the metal, the quality, the purpose of the tub and how long it is expected to last.
Gauge, which indicates the thickness of the metal, is an important consideration. Jeanne Caples, director of operations for Forever Stainless Steel explains that tubs can be made of 14-, 16-, 18- or even 20-gauge stainless steel. The lower the number, the thicker the metal.
“The importance of gauge lies in the welding process,” Caples says. “Welding two thick surfaces together creates a permanent structure. Thicker steel also reduces vibration and the resultant noise. With 14-gauge, fully welded material, there is really no weight limit to the tub structure.”
Forever Stainless Steel creates tubs in Omaha, Neb. made of 14-gauge, type-304 stainless steel that will not rust, using a design that minimizes welding areas. According to Caples, “Tubs are like pretty much everything else—less is more. Rivets, bolts and other fasteners will, over time, deteriorate and can create corrosive reactions with the metal they are holding together. Wrapping a tub with Formica or other materials creates the probability of water entering the space between the tub and the wrap.”
She suggests that groomers consider durability, amount of maintenance needed, safety and sanitation when selecting a tub. “Materials that are not going to deteriorate or break and that will not develop crevices or cracks where mold and bacteria can form are a logical choice,” she says.
Caples also reminds tub buyers to make sure to have a good way to keep hair out of the drain system. Forever Stainless Steel offers a built-in system designed to catch large amounts of hair coming off of dogs. It can also include a spot for a recirculating bathing system.
ComfortGroom, another tub manufacturer, uses type-303 or -304 stainless steel in its tubs. They offer tubs in different price ranges, so two out of three require some assembly, while the high end Ultra Luxe is primarily pre-assembled and is of a thicker gauge. “We carry a structural lifetime warranty on our tubs,” says Billy Chen, president of ComfortGroom. “The only maintenance that is required is to make sure to clean off any fur/hair buildup, especially around the lower mechanisms. Other than that, we are proud to say our tubs are hassle free.”
Comfort & Safety
Groomer’s Best also thinks about comfort and safety for groomers with its tub designs, with many options for size, shape, height, stairs or ramps, and a new Tri Lock Harness safety system that helps give groomers more control with dogs of all sizes. The company’s tubs are made using the “wrap” method, in which a single piece of metal is bent to form the front, bottom and backsplash and only the sides are welded on.
If most of the major tub suppliers agree that a formed, solid tub made of high end stainless is the best way to go, why does anyone make a riveted, caulked tub that requires some assembly? It’s simple—cost. A tub that has to be shipped in one piece can cost hundreds of dollars more to ship than one that can be shipped in pieces and then assembled. Riveted, zinc-plated, powder-coated steel tubs are waterproof and can be a good buy. They may not last for decades, but they will last a long while and cost a great deal less to purchase. While it makes sense to buy top quality for an item that will be plumbed into the wall, not everyone can afford it initially. If a less expensive tub is what you need right now, there are plenty of good options available.
In large part, finding the perfect tub for you comes down to finding a manufacturer or distributor that you trust to listen to your needs and help you select the right tub. Ask questions of them. Ask what their best-selling tub is and why. Ask which tub they’ve had the least issues with or calls about over years of selling. Find out where the tub is made and how. Develop a dialogue with them—it’s in their best interest to see you succeed and continue buying pet products, so they may be more accommodating and helpful than you think.
Carol Visser has been involved in the pet industry since 1982 in various capacities, including grooming in and owning a busy suburban shop, working as a product expert for PetEdge, teaching seminars and training dogs. She certified as a Master Groomer with NDGAA in 1990 and as a Certified Pet Dog Trainer in 2007, and she continues to enjoy learning about dogs and grooming at her small salon in rural Maine.