Is Your Self Serve Up to Date?
Meet the standards of today's customer
|Equipment should be the primary focus in self-serve renovations.|
At this year's ICA Expo, President Bob Paisner, in his State of the Industry Address, spoke on the subject of change. He discussed the numerous changes the industry has seen in recent years, from an increased awareness of the professional carwash's role in water conservation to the introduction of an industry-wide Web portal. He challenged attendees to think outside the box, and introduced the convention's theme: Your future starts here; your future starts now.
One change that is impossible to overlook is the increased level of competition facing today's operators, driving down prices and driving up standards. The self-serve facet is no exception to these trends. More and more convenience stores are including a carwash as a secondary profit center, forcing self-serve operators to find new ways to remain competitive.
Randy Coleman has owned and operated self-serve carwashes in Houston and Galveston, Texas, for nearly 19 years, and has witnessed carwash developers continually raising the standard of new facilities, and in turn raising customer expectations.
For a self-serve carwash to survive in today's market, embracing change is vital. Coleman recommends reinvesting five to seven percent of the business's gross income into the carwash at least every five years to keep it up to date. He recently redid one location that had been closed for about six years. He spent about $100,000 to $125,000 sandblasting the walls and painting them white, painting the ceilings, installing new light fixtures and new equipment, and adding new vacuum islands.
At another location, Coleman made the decision to completely tear down the existing building and rebuild it on the same foundation, with all new equipment. He spent about $180,000 to $200,000 remodeling and within the first month, revenue went from $1,000 a month to $15,000 a month. He expects the facility to bring in about $160,000 a year.
Coleman says there are a number of locations across the United States that were built 25 to 30 years ago in what, at the time, were poor locations. Due to changes like the expansion of major street arteries, however, some of these carwashes are now sitting in prime sites. With some capital investment, they could easily become successful and profitable. The question at hand is, what renovations are necessary?
Outdated equipment, ineffective color schemes and lighting, and a lack of options all lend to a wash that is not reaching potential car counts. There are a number of steps operators can take to bring their washes into the 21st century.
|With some capital investment, operators can turn an old, run-down carwash into a shining success.|
Bob Ivory, owner of five self-serve carwashes in Arizona and Utah, has made some major renovations to his locations over the past two years. One of his locations was 30 years old when he decided to remodel, and income had been dropping about 10 percent every year.
"I was ashamed to say I owned it, it got so bad, and the income just kept going down. It was deteriorating," he says.
He added to the equipment room, raised the roof four feet, replaced the asphalt with concrete and altered the power and water lines. The result: income tripled.
Ivory says his primary focus in rennovating is keeping the equipment up-to-date.
"A lot of people will go in there and throw a coat of paint on the building and put up a new sign and customers may look at that and drive in," he says. "But if they get the same bad carwash, they are not coming back."
The trend in self-serve equipment today seems to be increased in-bay options. "A lot of your older locations are only offering four to six in-bay sellable services," says Coleman. "A modern carwash is selling nine in-bay services."
Two of the hottest add-on services, according to Coleman, are the conventional wax position and clear coat protectants. Another strong income producer is triple shine foaming conditioner, he says.
Some operators have made the decision to go digital with their wash selectors, but Coleman says this is not necessarily going to bring in a lot of extra business.
He does, however, see a strong movement toward electronic vending, as opposed to the traditional mechanical machines. He says electronic machines are more reliable and customer friendly. Clarence Hilbert, owner/operator of Allstate Car Wash in Bloomington, Minn., has also replaced his mechanical vending cabinets with electronic ones, which he says has increased vending revenue at his locations.
Hilbert owns four self-serve locations and recently updated to electronic coin acceptors equipped to accept the Susan B. Anthony coin. He has also been replacing his steel insulated doors with clear polycarbonate doors at the rate of one carwash per year.
Illuminating a location
|Bright colors and signage are crucial to drawing customers.|
About 10 years ago, Coleman remodeled a 12-year-old carwash. One of the central changes was coloring. The original carwash walls were painted in all earth tones. At the time the carwash was built, this type of coloring had been popular, with the idea that dirt would blend into the walls. The problem with this, Coleman says, is these colors reflect light poorly. Among other renovations, Coleman repainted all the walls white. He was amazed at the number of customers coming into the carwash saying, "Somebody has built a new carwash here." Many had simply never noticed it before.
Along with color, Coleman also feels lighting is extremely important. His rule of thumb is 1,000 watts of light per bay. While some operators get away with a little less light, Coleman feels it is better to be over-lit to avoid problems when fixtures go out.
Ivory agrees that one of the defining characteristics of an old, run-down carwash is a dark interior.
Hilbert has increased lighting at his locations from 300 to 500 watts of high-pressure sodium or metal halite lighting per bay.
Ivory says the lighting that is available today should last between 10 and 15 years.
Another way to add to a location's visual appeal is increased signage. Coleman feels carwashes can learn from businesses like restaurants, gas stations and movie theaters that promote their products and services in multiple areas around the location.
"I personally don't think you can over-promote any of your services and functions, whether they be in the bay or out of the bay," he says.
One area that is easy to overlook when renovating is the flooring. Ivory has converted both of his Arizona carwashes from asphalt to concrete. Asphalt requires seal coating every two to three years, which can be a major expense. Concrete, on the other hand, requires little to no maintenance.
Where from here?
Ivory has been updating his facilities every year for the past twenty years, from minor equipment additions to major aesthetic adjustments. He recommends investing at least 10 percent of the wash's gross profits into renovations.
At what point is it best to tear down the existing building and rebuild? Coleman says if the location is 20 years or older and has not had any major capital influx, it's definitely a candidate to be torn down and rebuilt. This can be especially beneficial for business owners looking for an exit strategy, but unable to sell their locations as they currently stand.
Before making any major changes, an operator should be sure to consider permitting and zoning issues. As soon as the decision is made to renovate, the carwash becomes subject to any new sign ordinances or landscaping standards.
As Paisner said, the future of any business starts now. What it comes down to is being willing to take a risk to better business. "The bottom line is bite the bullet, spend the money, and it will come back to you," Ivory says. "In today's market, to try to build a new carwash with zoning laws and building and property prices, you can afford to spend an awful lot of money on a remodel before [it is more beneficial to] build a new carwash."