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The February 2005 cover story in Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine titled "The Discount Dilemma," while interesting, did not take into account various important factors.
In the 1970s, faced with declining volume, we abandoned the full-service model, which had been in place for 20 years, for what is now called the discount or express exterior carwash.
The current price for most basic exterior washes is $2.75 during the week and $3.00 on weekends. Numerous area full-service competitors have gone out of business during the last 20 years and their properties had been developed for other purposes.
Still, our volume dwindled.
One factor seemingly ignored is that, at least in our market, the discount model was not part of the construction of a new location but a conversion of an existing location.
As such, those customers who still wanted full-service now patronized locations offering this program.
In 1997, we acquired another location that had failed twice under the full-service model but changing to the discount model lead to that location tripling the volume in the first year of operation.
In 2003 we acquired a non-discount exterior operation and instituted the model. It took about 18 months to triple the volume.
In 2004 we acquired another non-discount operation and it seems we may achieve similar results.
Being a member of the Chicago Car Wash Association, it is my considered opinion that the assumption "many" of the discount operations wash 250,000 cars a year is not substantiated. Instead I would say a "few" achieve this volume.
Another factor not considered in your model is the effect a non-discount 9th operation would have on the existing carwashes. All else being equal it would siphon 1/9 of the market.
The point is, competition is competition, and will result in a smaller piece of the pie.
Still yet another ignored factor is that the discount operation will not only siphon business for existing full-serve locations, but from self-serve bays.
An area operator whose location has both a tunnel and self-serve bays has noted the bay volume dropped 10 percent when he went to the discount model
Similarly, how much volume will be siphoned from in-bay automatics both at bay carwashes and stand-alone units at gas stations?
So in the case of an existing location, you would start with a base of 75,000 washes, plus increased frequency of 25,000 washes, plus 25,000 shift from the self-serve and in-bay automatic market, and 25,000 from the home wash market for a total of 150,000, with virtually no effect on the existing self-service washes.
For a new location, the loss of the base portion is no different than if an additional full-service location was added to the market.
So, what are the important lessons learned?
With regard to the second lesson, someone asked me why I thought we could make the location that had failed under the management of two prior operators successful. My plan was simple.
The prior operators tried to put a "Nordstrom" type operation in a "Wal-Mart" market. My plan was to institute a "Wal-Mart" type operation.
All I can say is so far, so good.
Uptown Car Wash
I have been in the business of washing the exterior of automobiles for 35 years starting in 1970 with a system of all nylon brushes. In the early 1980’s I switched to the Soft Cloth Brushless System, which is an oxymoron.
Then in the 90’s, I installed the international touch-less system, which at the time was state-of-the-art equipment in touch-less washing. The equipment performed with precision; however, our chemistry used in cleaning was unacceptable.
So, back to a mix of cloth and nylon that brought us to the end of the 90’s. Mark Ellis, a dear friend and successful carwasher, operating Southland Auto Washes in Grand Rapids, MI, recommended I try Kirikian’s Neo-Glide.
I acted on the recommendation, which became the start of my paradigm shift and evolved into a system I could not be happier with or more proud of. After five years of evolution and over 750,000 cars washed, I completed a system of high-pressure and all foam brushes.
Thank goodness there are people in our industry who, like me, are searching for better ways.
I want to thank those who have helped bring about significant changes in our industry:
In 35 years, I have used many different brands of carwash equipment, however, Vince MacNeil and his company listened to concerns presented by carwash operators and contributed substantially to solving the problems faced.
They were also the first to reintroduce the top wheel. Thirty-five years ago it was a great piece of equipment for cleaning when it was nylon and now it is foam. I mentioned to McNeil another area of real concern, the rocker panels and wheels.
In May 2004, he sent me their proto-type to test. The equipment has been a blessing to an area of need. My hope is other manufacturers follow McNeil’s lead.
I thank Econocraft for their reversing top wheel; it does a tremendous job cleaning the backs of large vans, mini vans, SUV’s, etc.
These advancements mentioned above have allowed the industry to never prep hard-to-wash areas with a brush, known as mopping.
Another supplier who played a major role, Gallup Brush and its owner Ted Yamin, worked with and helped me to retrofit existing carwash equipment with foam.
I also want to thank Robert Roman, who has written many interesting articles for Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine, especially the articles in the November/December 2004.
The purposes of this article it not to promote or sell a manufacturer or product but to promote carwashing for the non-carwashing population. Why is there a huge non-washing market?
The concern of scratches and vehicle damage is daunting. As an industry, we have failed miserably in meeting our customers’ expectations.
Think about all of the cars we do not wash. Carwashers, there is a better way but, like any change, it will take investment, commitment and effort.
In closing, please don’t ask me if our industry works; ask our customers, after all, it has taken me 35 years to accomplish this.
Lansing’s Wash World/Mr. P’s Wash World