Nothing Could Be Finer in Either Carolina
Homework pays off for a first-time operator
By Lisa Arnseth
The ATM machine located near the entrance attracts about 3,000 cars per month.
The Auto Shine self serve carwash in Mint Hill, NC is a fine example of what thorough preparation can do for a new facility. The wash features six bays with Monorail equipment and an automatic soft cloth wash from AUTEC Carwash Systems.
Owner/manager Roger Martin, a first time carwash operator, says he started researching the carwash industry a full five years before opening the wash. "I was totally green and knew nothing about the carwash industry," Martin admits. He was particularly choosy about purchasing equipment, and took a full year to make his buying decision. "I gathered plans and information from several different carwash sources and distributors," he says.
A general contractor, Martin built Auto Shine on a 14-acre parcel that was not originally zoned for a carwash. After adding a Food Lion grocery store, a 10,000 square foot office warehouse and a veterinarian hospital to the property, Martin applied for conditional use zoning as he drew up the plans for the future carwash.
With advice from David Lang, a local Monorail distributor, he began a seven month construction phase during which he physically performed half of the labor himself and sub-contracted the remaining work. At a total cost of approximately $200,000, the finished product occupies a 1.4-acre site that, as part of the rezoning process, features an additional 4,000 square feet of space that Martin plans to develop as a retail building for lease in the future. Located at a busy intersection, Auto Shine was built with a two-color brick combination that matches the architectural theme that the Food Lion store initiated.
Martin says, "It's a good location, and we spent time and money constructing a wash that I feel is second to none in North and South Carolina."
Lang encouraged Martin to install pans in the pit of each bay to catch mud and debris, enabling Martin to only have to clean the pits on a regular 30-day basis rather than once a year. Keeping up on the cleaning of these pans pays off, as Martin says he has "less than a wheelbarrow full of dirt every 30 days."
Automatically-timed gates roll shut at closing time each night at each of the three entrances and exits.
The bays are set at $1.25 for a four-minute cycle, and have been designed for durability and customer convenience. The ceilings in the bays are covered with a 40-year warrantied metal material that Martin says is used often in churches and commercial buildings. He says, "It's a clean, flat surface and I can take a 12-inch wide brush on an extension pole and wash that ceiling down as it's required."
With a centrally mounted boom flanked by two high-wattage light fixtures, the bright bays promote safety and attract a high number of women customers. Martin estimates that about 50 percent of his customer base is female. Women in particular have been flocking to his Fragramatics shampoo/vacuum combination unit, especially if they are mothers involved in Little League vanpools. The Auto Shine also does good business on four Monorail vacuums, which are set at 75 cents a cycle.
The in-bay automatic features three separate washes which cost between $3 and $5. Despite competition from nearby Texaco and Amoco service stations that both feature in-bay automatics, the Auto Shine has been seeing a healthy stream of customers since its March 1999 opening. According to Martin, the wash averaged close to 200 cars per weekend day the first two months of operation.
Rethinking the pump room
A raised platform in the equipment room makes the most of a small space.
The centrally-located equipment room isn't configured traditionally. "As I investigated the carwash business, nearly every equipment room that I visited was like a bowl of spaghetti," says Martin. He decided to back all the equipment up in a cluster in the center of the room. "We're doubled stacked," notes Martin, who adds that the room is basically the same size as other equipment rooms but has a mezzanine platform to hold his well water and spot free rinse storage tanks as well as an air compressor and reclaim equipment from Kemp Systems. The equipment room also houses a 624,000 BTU boiler with a circulating pump and water softener, dechlorinator and spot free rinse systems from Huron Valley Sales.
In anticipation of a future retail and/or vending area, a 12- by 16-foot room just outside the equipment room was also added.
An ATM machine from the North Carolina State Employees Credit Union is located next to the wash, and Martin says he leased that area to the bank in order to capitalize on the many cars that would use that machine. "That ATM facility generates about 3000 cars per month," says Martin. "It adds that much traffic to the immediate vicinity of the carwash."
Although Martin says Mint Hill has a very low crime rate, he didn't want to take any chances. He installed automatically timed gates on all three entrances in addition to a curb and gutter around the perimeter of the paving and vertical pipe bollards at 5-foot intervals around the property. These barriers help prevent any vehicles from entering the property after operating hours, which are from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m..
An AUTEC soft cloth automatic fits neatly into the two-toned brick construction.
The gates themselves are timed so that at the two entry gates at the front end of the wash close automatically at 9:30 p.m. The rear gate remains open until 9:45 to allow stragglers time to finish washing their cars and pull out of the property. In the event that a customer doesn't get out of the gate by 9:45, a sign instructs them to pull up about three feet from the gate, and a vehicle sensing device under the asphalt triggers the gate to open.
Martin is quick to admit that he "blew the budget on lighting," but with impressive results. The facility is outfitted with LSI light fixtures that put out a total of about 5,000 watts of energy, similar to lights used in the canopies at major service stations. There are also motion-detecting flood lights installed around the facility for heightened security.
U-shaped, one-piece bollards have been installed directly in front of the wash to help prevent cars from driving into the building or the equipment. The glass door on the front of the building leading to the equipment room is divided into three sections rather than being one large pane of glass, since replacing one small glass piece is much less expensive than a full door. The carwash is monitored by a security company, so if the glass does get broken, an alarm is triggered. Overall Martin says he spent close to $25,000 on security.
Martin has one attendant keeping watch and performing upkeep. He also has a written agreement with the local police department that authorizes them to arrest anyone found on the premises after 10:30 at night for trespassing.
If Martin were to re-build the Auto Shine from scratch, he thinks he would only do one thing differently: he'd make it bigger. Currently, the building is 22 feet long front to back, but Martin would rather he had made it 26 feet long. "When you get a F350 Ford truck that has a crew cab and a long bed, they're about 22 feet long. So front to back, they are in that bay," he says. A longer bay would also help ensure that the drainage from vehicles is directed back to the center of the bay into the catch basin, he says.