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In-bay Automatic

In-bay conversion

October 11, 2010
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With today’s construction costs through the roof, the self-serve owner wanting to convert a bay to an automatic carwash has a definite cost advantage over the prospective carwash operator who is building from scratch.

Site preparation can represent as much as 50 percent of the investment necessary to get an automatic carwash installation up and running. With the bay already in place, and assuming it’s large enough to accommodate the automatic equipment, the operator could potentially save tens of thousands of dollars.

Of course, there can be significant plumbing and electrical upgrades, yet even taking these into account, saving tens of thousands is still likely.

Assuming the operator can accommodate a conversion, will the local trade area support an automatic carwash? Our best advice is to solicit the services of a reputable company that specializes in carwash demographic studies.

The operator should be prepared to provide the company with detailed information about the location, such as:

  • Is the site situated on a major highway/street or on a side road?
  • Are there nearby retail or commercial destinations such as grocery stores, big-box retailers, malls, gas stations, doctors’ offices, schools, churches, or restaurants?
  • Are there existing carwashes nearby? If so, what type — full service, automatic with self service bays or per haps one that is attached to a retail gasoline facility?
  • What is the traffic count at the site?

The demographic specialists will analyze the data provided, using benchmark data they have on file. This creates a profile which is then applied to evaluate the specific market and form a professional opinion on the viability of the location.

It is important to have a concentration of households within a ten-minute drive.

Also, consider the income and lifestyle of your demographic.

Automatic carwashes do well when the per-capita income in the area is at, or above, state average. Additionally, one should keep in mind that senior citizens are on a fixed income and are less likely to purchase non-essential items.

It is paramount to be diligent in recognizing and analyzing all aspects of the demographic study because the criteria can go on and on.

Curb appeal
There’s a new phrase in the home remodeling business called “house flipping,” where an existing owner or a new buyer renovates a home that desperately needs rehabilitation, making it sellable in a retail market.

House flipping generally entails cosmetic changes and rarely structural ones.

The point is that lots of money can be made with minor cosmetic improvements. The same is true for any business, particularly retail carwashes. A good operator knows the value of a nicely landscaped, attractive, well-lit facility.

Accordingly, if one is considering adding an automatic carwash, why not examine the “look” of the entire property? There is no better time to do it.

Simply adding the automatic equipment and hoping for the best typically will not yield the desired results if the entire site has poor curb appeal.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Pressure-wash the exterior walls as well as inside the bays;
  • Add a fresh coat of paint to any worn surfaces or just for the sake of changing colors;
  • Re-surface or re-seal your pavement and paint new lines for parking, if needed;
  • Add shrubs and seasonal flowering plants;
  • Increase lights, both safety/security and neon; and
  • Re-design or replace worn and tattered signs.

Go ahead! Spruce it up!

Traffic flow
If an automatic carwash is added, the operator should consider whether vehicle access might change from when the bay was used for self service. Upon receiving predictions from the demographic study, think about how vehicles will enter, stack and exit the site.

As a new automatic carwash operator, the key is to promote and become a partner in the community. This encourages a feeling of good will, helps increase sales and, ultimately, profitability.

Try these promotions to encourage new customers:

  • Loyalty programs, where customers buy “x” washes and get one free;
  • Community/charity programs, where money is donated to specific charities each time their constituents use the carwash;
  • Prepaid gift cards; and
  • Fleet programs.

Good luck and good selling!

David C. Rennie is president of NE AUTEC, Inc., the exclusive distributor for AUTEC car systems in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. David is also the owner of Rennie’s Auto Spa in Pine Hill, N.J. For more information, e-mail David at