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Multi-profit Centers

Got land?

October 11, 2010
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With a few extra bucks on-hand and some extra land, carwashes can merge with another type of business to make more money and diversify their business operations. In some cases, it helps that these businesses aren’t entirely related. For instance, pet washes are taking off across the country even though not all pet owners are car owners. And in St. Charles, IL, X-Sport Fitness will soon offer its gym members a self-serve carwash in place of about 56 parking spaces. They don’t go hand-in-hand, but the land is there and so is the foot traffic.

But a fitness facility and a pet wash require a lot of hands-on management and on-site presence. What’s left for the self-serve operator who wants to keep his freedom, but also capitalize on land opportunities and diversify offerings in a stagnant economy?

How about a business that is so low-maintenance that nearly every operator we spoke with said there were zero drawbacks. All that’s needed, they said, is land.

Self storage success stories
The juxtaposition of carwashing and self-storage units isn’t entirely new and its not a trend sweeping the nation, but it is intermittently dotting the landscape. Google “car wash” and “self storage” and you get about 656,000 hits.

According to data procured from the Self Storage Association, which represents more than 52,000 facilities throughout the United States, the self storage industry made about $20 billion in 2008. That same year there were 51,250 facilities representing 2.35 billion square feet. That’s a lot of acreage and a lot of money.

If your self-serve carwash facility includes extra land, then self storage units are definitely a business option to consider. What you’ll need:

  • A flat parcel of land;
  • A security/surveillance system;
  • Some on-hand employees;
  • Good lighting;
  • Insurance knowledge; and
  • The ability to peruse the premises to check on the units;

Christine Ellington is a sales associate for Sparky’s Self Storage & Carwash in Hesperia, CA. It is a five-acre, six-bay self-serve carwash with about 800 storage units. Ellington said the owners built both the carwash and the self-storage portion of the business at the same time as a way to lure in more customers.

The business is practically self-contained, Ellington explained. “The storage business basically takes care of itself. The carwash takes most of the work. The self-storage is a piece of cake,” she said.

Lock it up
Whether it’s a Faberge egg or some old love letters, one important thing to keep in mind with self-storage units is that there is a lot of stuff — some of it junk, some of it valuable — being stored. If something were to happen to this “stuff,” you could have some very unhappy customers on your case. Carwashes also see their share of mischief. Combine the two, and a carwash/self storage combo could be a thief’s pot o’ gold.

Pam Gallagher, manger of the Vienna Township, MI-based A&B Car Wash and Drop 'N Lock Self Storage knows this. That is why she recently oversaw an overhaul and improvement of the security measures and equipment on the 3 1/2-acre site.

A&B, which has five self-service carwash bays, an automatic wash bay, eight vacuum stations, and about 100 storage units, is accessible 24-hours a day and seven days a week.

“We check the units every single day, and have coded gates, lights, security cameras, and pad locks,” to make sure everything is secure, she said. There are also two full-time employees on hand. Every morning, an employee checks all of the locks to make sure nothing happened over night.

Jim Parrish who owns Altus Mini Storage in Altus, OK, a seven-bay self-serve wash with 500 self-storage units, which rests on 75,000 square feet of land, said they charge a $10 administrative fee with each storage rental and that includes a round lock, “that we even have a hard time getting into and we know how to do it,” he said.

Two separate animals
They don’t necessarily depend on each other or even have a lot in common, other than the fact that you usually have to take a vehicle to the storage units. But Ellington said there is some crossover business to be had. At Sparky’s, they have bays fit for RVs and sometimes people will want to wash their RV before putting it into storage or taking it out of storage before a long trip.

Parrish said a carwash and a self-storage business can work together, although they seem like completely different businesses. He cautioned operators to remember the different operational elements involved with each facility. “A carwash will run itself, but you have to have someone at a self-storage facility, so you’re looking at a labor cost there.” It’s easy to do, he said, and you just have to stay on top of it. “We have 15 buildings, so we have to have an employee drive throughout the property.”

Employees need to be cross-trained to know about the storage units and maintain the carwash too. Gallagher said, “That’s the biggest cost in running our business -- the labor.”

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