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In-bay & lube: A profitable combination

October 11, 2010
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It has become increasingly clear that building the best customer base is done through continuous communication.

Successful lube operators over the past few years have become increasingly adept at understanding the necessity of delivering more convenient services to offset the drop in lube volume.

The motoring public has clearly acknowledged their approval of carwashing as one of these services. There are many criteria to consider when contemplating the addition of an in-bay to your lube expansion.

Location evaluation
The first step in the process is to execute a simple survey to understand the potential carwash demand of your customer base.

Ask your customers where they are currently getting their vehicles washed and why. What type of wash are they using:

  • Self-serve?
  • In-bay automatic?
  • Exterior conveyor? or
  • Full-service?

On average, a carwash will have twice as many transactions as your typical lube center and your current customers can help point you in the right direction.

The more time you spend trying to understand what competition you have in the area and their capabilities, the better it will help define your offering and its viability.

Competition in close proximity is not always a determining factor if that business is not delivering your customers needs, although saturation in any traffic pattern can open the door to pricing concerns.

A good rule of thumb is no closer than 1.5 miles, based on the traffic pattern.

An increasing number of carwash operators have added lube bays over the past 10 years to capitalize on the cross marketing opportunities.

Pay close attention to how these facilities approach their customer base to learn a few tricks from the professional carwasher.

Bay length and stacking area
Do not add a carwash bay to an existing business if your property can’t adequately handle the additional traffic flow.

In-bay automatic carwashes require a minimum stacking area of 4 - 6 vehicles and will make a lot look congested when you have quality washing weather.

When positioning the bay, allow the stacking area to wrap around the outside of the lot, giving your lube customer direct access to the lube bay.

The optimum bay length for an in-bay automatic is between 42’ - 50’ depending on the expected throughput required to accommodate potential business.

A longer bay will allow greater capacity by separating the washing process from the drying process.

The average lube bay is 32’ in length and can easily accommodate most in-bay automatic equipment on the market today.

However, before you consider converting an existing bay, consider adding additional length that will also allow you to change the elevation to the street.

A new carwash is a new business and deserves its own identity, changing the roofline and extending the bay can be enough to allow the wash to stand out as opposed to blending into the existing storefront.

A freestanding carwash with visibility from the road will always be your most successful option when your property, infrastructure, and finances allow this layout.

After confirming that a carwash will be allowed from a zoning perspective, it is time to verify electrical, water and sewer requirements.

The existing services at a typical lube will need to be upgraded. The additional electrical requirement will range between 200 - 400 amps. At 208 amps, depending on the wash equipment selected a 1” water main is typically also required.

When existing sewer ties are used, be sure to verify any additional charges that can be assessed for the new demand. Water reclamation can be a cost effective option when those costs become exorbitant or sewer availability is nonexistent.

In most cases, the utility requirements can be managed and should not become an obstacle to moving forward.

A project like this will cost between $250,000 – $450,000 depending on:

  • Size;
  • Materials;
  • Soft costs; and
  • Equipment selection.

Northern climate location will require more preparation on HVAC to properly insulate the site.

Your equipment supplier can be helpful in preparing a business model that you can present to a financial institution depending on your banking relationships.

The time constraints placed on individuals go a long way toward their buying decisions.

By adding an in-bay automatic carwash to your existing business and providing your customer with added convenience, you will be able to grow your customer base and your bottom-line.

Keith Burt is Belanger Inc’s director of account sales and has been with the company since 1988. For more information on this article or Belanger’s products email