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Multi-profit Centers

Coffee, caffeine and carwashes

October 10, 2011
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For many people, foraging for that first cup of coffee is a daily ritual. Whether they grab a kitchen mug or hit a convenient drive-thru, people depend on coffee to clear their minds and open their eyes. For centuries, coffee lovers have had an endless appetite for this caffeine-packed morning staple, and there's no sign of this trend slowing in the future.

Today, some carwash owners are brewing up additional business by crashing the popular coffee market. Owners and operators are using a variety of coffee profit centers to tap into the legion of coffee lovers. And, in a time when many people's profits are not looking too peppy, coffee profit centers are helping some percolate new carwash sales.

Growing popularity

Vending companies and coffee providers have offered coffee to businesses for decades, according to Jason J. Wessels, vice president of operations with Ancora Coffee Roasters. Until the specialty coffee industry took off in the 1990s, many companies simply thought of the drink as a freebie for customers. But, as coffee's popularity surged, many businesses began looking at it as a source of potential income.

Now, due to the continued growth of the specialty industry and the excellent coffee that is available, more people are drinking coffee than ever before. Wessels explained that this is excellent news for those who sell coffee because profit margins in the industry can be great.

Even with the growth of the specialty market, the most popular coffee sold is still the basic black with added sugar and cream, Wessels said. After black coffee, lattes and other espresso-based drinks are the most popular with customers.

Selecting a service

There are a few supplier options for carwash owners looking to enter the coffee market. Owners can obtain equipment and set up coffee delivery using:

  • Food distributors and coffee companies;
  • A coffee service; or
  • A coffee roaster.

Food distributors and coffee companies are good choices for operators that don't have much money to invest. "Most mainline food distributors and many coffee companies will provide ‘free' equipment as long as you buy their coffee — this is a good option if you do not have any money for an initial investment," Wessels said. Still, this choice may be costly in the long run because it does not give an owner the freedom to choose what kind of coffee the business can serve.

The next option is working with a dedicated coffee service. Wessels said these companies can provide equipment suited to an operation's specific needs, and they will generally give the customer more options when it comes to the coffee itself.

Finally, an owner can purchase their own coffee equipment direct or through a coffee roaster. Wessels said purchasing through a coffee roaster will give the customer a discount over retail pricing. Also, coffee roasters will usually provide some tips and training if an owner chooses to purchase their coffee.

Profit centers created with the help of a coffee company or a coffee service will incur the least amount of start-up costs for an owner. But, even though there's little to no investment required, the owner will likely have to sign an exclusive contract with the company or service, Wessels warned.

Set-up and costs

The coffee profit center set-ups that businesses currently use can be anything from a single brewer to a full-blown kiosk or cart that serves espresso drinks, baked goods and sandwiches. "It is more a question of what kind of space you have and what kind of initial investment you want to make," Wessels explained.

Normally, a carwash will need only a few items for the installation of the center. "Ideally, a plumbed and well-filtered water line and enough counter space to accommodate the brewer, airpots, cups, lids and condiments," Wessels said. "There are plenty of good machines that use a reservoir system, but you have to be sure to keep it filled."

When it comes to purchasing equipment, Wessels calculated a good brewer and airpots will cost between $500 and $1,000. Super automatic brewers are available for between $6,000 and $10,000, and a traditional espresso machine, two group head with steaming wands, will cost between $6,000 and $15,000. Many of these machines can now use whole beans that are specially ground for each coffee ordered.

Quality coffee currently wholesales for between $7 and $10 per pound or can, and the coffee can be purchased in pre-portioned packages that match a business's brewing capacity. Wessels said companies can deliver coffee using UPS, FedEx and local delivery trucks. The delivery method depends on who is selling the coffee, where it is produced and the location from which it is shipped.

Additional employees?

A new profit center does not necessarily mean new employees will be needed at a carwash. There are a number of automated options available, according to Wessels. Vending machine coffee has come a long way in the past few years, and super automatics, the espresso machines that major fast-food chains use, are popular now as well. Self-operating versions of the super automatic machines can be installed that also accept credit cards.

If a carwash owner installs a well set-up coffee kiosk or cart, it can be efficiently operated by one well-trained employee. The training required is minimal if the center is simply a coffee brewer and/or a super automatic machine. "If you want to offer drinks from a traditional espresso machine, the training is important," Wessels said. "The baristas for our coffeehouses go through five to six hours of off-site training before they are allowed to pull shots in the store."

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