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Business Operations

Learning about layouts

April 21, 2011
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When it comes to carwashes, a business’ level of success can be decided before the foundation is laid and the first beam is raised. Traffic flow is the lifeblood of a successful carwash, and the proper flow is purely decided by layout.

Still, many may think that laying out a carwash is more common sense than complicated science. A new investor may think, “There’s the entrance from the street; over there’s the exit. The tunnel goes here, and the vacuums go there. It’s pretty simple, right?”

However, according to Robert Andre, president of CarWash College, the process for laying out a carwash might sound simple, but it’s not. “There is a lot of thought that goes into ensuring that the site will be able to meet maximum demand.”

When laying out a site there are some standard things that need to be achieved, Andre continued. “The proper layout will make sure the site has no problems with conflicting traffic flow, ingress, egress or other common issues that could reduce the business’ volume.”

Over the past few years, carwash footprints have gotten smaller and smaller. Because of this, proper site planning now has to emphasize turnaround time and vehicle stacking. Andre said, “The challenge comes when trying to fit all the required elements into each unique property foot print.”

Before building, owners need to seek out someone with experience in carwash planning. “The site needs to be reviewed by a person specializing in carwash layouts,” Andre said. “The right person for the job will be able to lay out the site using a survey. Then, every aspect of the site will be laid out in Auto-CAD, complete with cars placed onto the drawing. It’s not uncommon for the site to go through several revisions to get the best layout.”

In the long run, taking your time and making these revisions can pay off in a big way. Andre gave a good example. “I know of a carwash that, on paper, looks like its achieving the most anyone could expect out of it,” he said. “However, if you visit the site on busy days you’ll see the problem. When the site was laid out, there was not much thought put into exit end stacking.”

How did this affect the carwash’s business? “On the busy days, the cars can’t get off the lot fast enough. This, in turn, brings the carwash to a dead stop,” Andre said. “The building should have been set back slightly; this would (have) eliminated the problem allowing the carwash to process another 100 plus cars a day. That simple mistake cost the wash upwards of $300,000 a year in sales.”

As for the actual layout of the tunnels or bays, that can depend on how much business you expect. “Length depends on the traffic and the location of the carwash,” said Chuck Persekian, tunnel division manager with NS Wash Systems. “If you are, let’s say, in a rural area, and you expect only to do like 50, 100 cars a day, a 60-foot tunnel will be good enough.” But the more business you expect, the longer the tunnel should be.

With self-serve/in bay automatic carwashes, the bays are usually a standard size. Persekian said plans for a busy SS/IBA carwash will simply include more bays. “It depends, you know, some locations might have eight to 10 (bays), and some of them might only have four.”

But rethinking a carwash’s layout isn’t just for new construction. It is possible to tweak traffic plans and flow while remodelling an existing wash as well. “Any time you remodel, it’s a good time to look at the site plan to see if any improvements can be made,” Andre said.

“I was recently involved in the remodel of a carwash in Florida. The site, when laid out originally, was not set up to run high volume,” Andre continued. “The layout was changed to make it easier to process cars at a fast pace. In addition, we used space on the property that was previously empty to add free vacuums. The free vacuums not only gave the customers something they love, it increased the site’s visibility by 100 times.”

“I think there is a lot of opportunity out there today to take a smaller site and, with some improvements to the layout, be able to wash some high volumes,” Andre said.

So before those plans are finalized and the concrete is poured, check and recheck the layout using industry experts as your guides. Don’t make a financial mistake and let an improper layout be disastrous to your business. Do your best to keep the stream of cars steadily moving, and then you can count on a steady flow of profits as well.

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