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The Great Debate™ review

October 11, 2010
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Last year, Professional Carwashing & Detailing® magazine debuted a feature section that allowed carwash owners and operators to hash out the hot topics in the industry.

“The Great Debate” also introduced a new blend of traditional and internet media: PC&D includes the first half of the arguments in its monthly print edition, then continues the debate on its online forum.

Many PC&D readers have contributed their own thoughts and opinions to www.pcgreatdebate.com, and we look forward to further conversation and discussion. For now, we look back at the Great Debates of the past, and remind you that the online reader polls are still open and counting votes.

Touching on friction
Weighing in with over 900 votes, our first Great Debate has proven to be one of our closest matches. The pioneer debate premiered in November, challenging touch-free and friction washes to make their case.

At press time, our unscientific straw poll showed that friction washing had inched ahead of its touch-free competition, winning the debate with 52 percent of the vote.

Mike Mountz, writing for friction, had this to say in his argument for the pro-cloth wash, “Simply put, there needs to be friction to get a car clean.”

Tom Petit represented the touch-free segment of the industry. He pointed out several advantages of the method, including the benefit of marketing such a wash.

“I’ve seen numerous scenarios where exterior conveyor washes have been converted from friction to touch-free, and overwhelmingly the results have been that the operator has experienced an immediate growth within the first year,” Petit wrote.

The bottom dollar
In December, Professional Carwashing & Detailing® turned its head to the $3 carwash controversy. The debate starred Larry Huggins, pro-$3 wash, and Michael George, anti-$3 wash.

While George argued that $3 washes only succeed in boosting their car counts and not their profits, Huggins countered $3 washes benefit the industry by roping in home washers.

Our straw poll revealed that over 68 percent of you are in opposition of the $3 wash concept. 354 votes were tallied to eek out the victory in favor of charging more for a wash and seeing less volume.

On the Professional Car Care Online™ reader response board, PC&D readers had this to say about the debate:

“Those of us who offer a $3 option will quickly tell you that it is not a $3 wash...it is a $5.50 wash. It’s the average ticket that needs to be addressed, not the bottom...”
— Andrew Jaffa

“I think the $2 and $3 washes are going to allow big companies like Wal-mart, Q-Trip and McDonalds, which is already testing exterior washes, to come in the market next to us and offer free exterior washes to bring customers to their wash. They can afford to do that for a year....we can’t.”
— Jesse, Cool Water Auto Spa

Putting drug testing to the test
Drug testing auto service employees has been a hot topic for years. In our January issue, we took this matter to the ring to let R. L. “Bud” Abraham and Paul Armentano duke it out.

Abraham, writing in favor of drug-testing, encouraged wash owners to become drug-free work places. “It will go far to help you recruit good people into your industry and to enhance the industry’s public image,” Abraham wrote in the January issue.

Armentano disagreed. “For the majority of employers (especially small business owners), drug testing is not cost effective,” he wrote.

Armentano said one study of federal workplace drug testing programs reported that 38 federal government agencies spent over $11 million drug testing their 29,000 employees.

“Of these, only 153 workers tested positive for having used an illicit drug, an expenditure of roughly $77,000 per positive test,” he added.

What’s your position on drug testing auto service employees? So far, 247 votes indicate 58 percent of PC&D readers are against drug-testing.

A charitable contribution
With a whopping 68 percent of the vote in PCC Online’s™ unscientific straw poll, our readers support hosting a charity carwash.

Our Great Debaters for this February contest were Bob Roman, writing for the charity wash, and Douglas Clemson, writing against hosting a charity wash.

While Clemson encouraged washers to use other means to show their charity and goodwill towards the community, Roman argued the advantages of cross-marketing the two.

“This type of publicity and stewardship are actually good marketing practices,” Roman wrote.

Clemson disputed that claim. “To give support to a charity because of community standing is piety. To give support to a charity for advertising is profiteering,” he wrote. “And to give support to a charity for tax deduction is not giving, but receiving.”

Expressing their opinions
Moving into March, PC&D put express exterior-only washing up against full-service carwashing. The votes, 240 of them, revealed a conflicted industry — 45 percent were in favor of full-service washing, while 55 percent preferred the new express exterior-only model.

Bill Consolo, writing for express-exterior only, used his experiences as an operator of both full-service and express washes to prove his point.

Mark Curtis countered with proof that there is a market for every niche in the industry — from full-service to $3 washes to self-serve.

In the end, posters to the PCC Online™ reader response board said it’s up to the customers.

“There will always be room for both. Some people want steak, while others like hamburgers. Freedom of choice – it’s always been America’s way.”

A flip of the coin
Our golden dollar coin debate, which argued the merits of accepting the new presidential-series dollar coins at carwashes, provoked some interesting comments from our readers.

Perhaps the most interesting post on our reader response board wasn’t from a real reader at all. It was from a carwash customer, Augustine, who had this to say:

“I’m just a customer, but I have a tale to tell. There is a vending machine I used to frequent because I could put a five, or a ten or even a twenty in it and get dollar coins back and not a kilogram of quarters. Well, the owner of the machine decided to stop stocking it with dollar coins and as a result they lost a lot of my business. If I had anything larger than a dollar bill (it wouldn’t take $2 bills even though I frequently have those) then I wouldn’t use it. I didn’t mind four dollar coins back for my five, but I didn’t want 16 quarters back!

“Use dollar coins and I’ll spend my larger bank notes with you; use quarters only and I’ll only use you if I have one dollar bills or my own dollar coins on me.”

Seems like most of our readers agreed with Augstine and Joe Wolfinger, the author of the pro-dollar coin argument. After the votes were tallied, a whopping 73 percent were in favor of accepting gold dollar coins.

Build it or buy it
In a vote that really tested the scales, buying an existing carwash came out on top of building a new location. Over 200 votes showed our readers were right on the fence: 49 percent prefer to build, while 51 percent would rather buy a carwash.

Gary Pendleton, who wrote in favor of purchasing an existing wash, said there were a few obvious advantages. One, the new owner is able to cut down their “path-to-profit” time by spending less in the beginning phases. Secondly, an operator who purchases an existing site can observe and analyze the business operations in real time.

Bruce Arnett Jr., who wrote the pro-build argument, said Pendleton was forgetting one major drawback: being able to cash in on the most recent technological advancements.

Arnett, co-founder of the Carnett’s Car Wash chain, also argued that operators who purchase existing sites buy everything that comes with the carwash: good and bad, known or unknown.

“Building a new carwash allows the investor the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge about their facility,” Arnett wrote. “Knowledge that would otherwise be lost if it wasn’t experienced first hand.”

To prep or not to prep?
It’s a question that certainly won’t be going away, especially considering the rise of express exterior carwashing: Should I prep vehicles before I send them through my automatic carwash, or should I let the equipment and chemicals handle all the work?

Todd Oliveri and Chad Palmer were the stars of the debate, and 890 readers added their two cents by using our reader response board and poll. Over 90 percent of those readers think some sort of prep is necessary to thoroughly clean a vehicle.

Palmer, arguing for prep-less washing, advised operators to quit cold turkey. “As express washing grows in popularity, the competition becomes stiffer. The only way to grab your piece of the market is to cater to the desires of your customers,” Palmer wrote.

“They want what they want, and they want it NOW. And to put the “express” into express washing, you have to put down the gun,” he said.

Jim Rooney, a reader on our message board, was still inclined to side with Oliveri, who wrote the pro-prep argument.

“I wanted to stay true to the no-prep concept with my new express exterior, but I just couldn’t stand seeing the half- cleaned license plate wells and dirty rear wiper areas,” he wrote.

Rooney decided to have his loader do some minor prepping for vehicles. “Our prepping impressed the customers and improved our quality…We easily prep 600+ a day and manage our 30 free vacuums with never more than 3 people on the clock.”

On the go
Mobile detailers showed support en masse for Joe Fernandez, who argued the benefits of “on-the-go” car care service in our July debate. Out of the nearly 600 votes cast, 93 percent were in favor of mobile detailing.

Dave Echenoz, manager of three fixed-site detailing and carwash business, cited better personnel management and tax incentives as reasons for staying in one place.

“Real estate appreciates on average about 3-5 percent per year, if not more,” Echenoz wrote. “This can provide a comfortable nest egg leading into retirement.”

Reader comments suggested that business owners should seek to offer the best of both worlds.

Perhaps Gary, a reader who commented on our website, summed it up best. “The best way to go depends on what kind of person you are.”

Independent’s Day
In August, PC&D turned its head to the lube industry. We wanted to find out if operators preferred to manage franchised locations, or run independent sites. It was a pretty close race, but the final results came in favor of independent sites; which 56 percent of our readers support.

Jim Brown, VP of franchise and community relations for Mr. Lube of Canada, made the case for franchised locations. Brown argued that becoming part of a franchise means becoming part of a proven system, complete with networking and support channels.

“There is always risk in any venture. You can minimize that by joining a proven quick lube system loaded for success,” Brown wrote.

Larry Read, chairman CEO and founder of Oil Changers, Inc., a 37-store chain located in San Francisco, CA, said franchising isn’t always the surest path to success. He especially cautioned operators to be on the lookout for franchisor fees.

In addition to a percentage of your gross sales, franchisors also charge more for oil, Read said. “Specialty chemicals and paper supplies are also marked up, along with countless other business expenses.”

In the end, the lube industry (which is noticeably more branded and franchised than the carwash industry) seems divided. Nearly 48 percent of our poll takers were in favor of franchising, and 52 percent were against the idea.

Man vs. Machine
“I have yet to meet a computer that could provide the “human touch” that seems to be disappearing from today’s society,” wrote Jeremy Place, author of the pro-employee cashier argument.

Place, along with Carolyn Coates, the owner/operator of a carwash that uses automated cashiers, was debating the popularity and practicality of using automated tellers to replace employee cashiers.

Place argued that employees were able to assess a customer’s needs and offer more personalized service.

Coates countered that more consistent quality and service were offered by machines — which never call in sick and hardly ever complain.

There hasn’t been much activity on our reader response board and poll just yet — the debate was published in September, and as of press time, the issue had barely been in circulation for a week.

So far, most readers seem to lean towards hiring an employee to do their cash collection. But only time will tell who wins this battle of man versus machine.

Wag your tail yes or no
This month, Ken Shorsher and Ben Tresser stepped onto the mat to wrestle with the issue of pet washing. In anticipation, Professional Car Care Online™ started an early poll to gauge reader response. So far, 158 readers have cast a vote; 38 percent are in favor of pet washing, while 62 percent contend it’s a bad idea.

Tresser, who sides with the majority of readers, used his personal experience to determine that cars and dogs don’t mix.

Shorsher said the combination has worked wonders for his wash. We’ll let these two take their cases to the Great Debate website and see how readers respond to their arguments.


PC&D is always listening and tallying up votes! To vote, add a comment to a reader response board or to review any of these debates, please visit www.pcgreatdebate.com. To suggest a topic for the Great Debate, e-mail Kate Carr at kcarr@carwash.com. A reminder that these are unscientific polls, and all numbers were arrived at before publication of the magazine.