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Conveyors

Managing an express chain Part 1

October 11, 2010
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This article is the first in a two-part series that will focus on managing multiple express carwashes. Part II will be about the production flow and management required and will appear in next month’s issue.

In May, four new carwash chains were added to Professional Carwashing & Detailing’s Top 50 list of the largest conveyor carwash companies in America. Three of these four companies are primarily express exterior operations.

They join one other express chain already on the list, and there may be as many as four more next year, based on the current growth rate of this industry segment. As operators explore the opportunities for growing revenues, many look to expand to include multiple locations. Just like the chains of full-serves, exterior-onlys, and in-bay automatics before them, express exterior operators want to dominate markets and become regional names — perhaps even national ones.

So, what’s different about managing multiple express exterior sites from managing any multiple-site carwash operation? A lot, actually.

Unique challenges with express
Express exteriors require processing extremely high volumes of vehicles in order to even survive, much less prosper. Running a high volume, highly automated conveyor carwash brings with it some special requirements for management to focus on. These requirements fall into four general areas:
  • Equipment;
  • Cleanliness;
  • Production flow; and,
  • Management.
Before we examine these areas, let’s first define an express exterior carwash.

An express exterior conveyor carwash has the following elements:
  • Automatic pay terminals (two to four);
  • Free vacuums (16 to 30);
  • A low base price ($3 to $5);
  • No vehicle prepping;
  • A conveyor length of 100 feet or more with 120 feet being the most common configuration;
  • A tunnel loaded with equipment to produce a clean, dry, shiny car without any people being utilized in the cleaning process;
  • A minimum staff of one employee and a manager or an assistant manager for a total of two people on the property most of the time; and,
  • An advertised time of three to five minutes to process a vehicle.
There are smaller versions of this carwash model that are beginning to be built with smaller conveyor lengths, less free vacuums, etc. This is a change in size but not in the type of wash. Although this size will become more popular, everything reviewed in this article will still apply, especially in the area of equipment.

Equipment focus: Maintenance
One of the basic principles of the express exterior business is that the equipment must do all the work because there is no prepping or exit-end hand drying to help the process. To produce a clean, dry, shiny car without utilizing any production people, several actions need to be taken.

• Organize: First and foremost, the equipment maintenance procedures for daily, weekly, monthly, semi-annual, and annual maintenance must be on a printed, daily schedule and adhered to closely. One of the biggest challenges in managing multiple sites is to see to it that this maintenance is performed.

• Enforce: This high level of maintenance will never become a habit unless someone above the site level (area manager, operations manager, or owner) checks on it every day they are on the site. This person should be reviewing the site to see that maintenance checks are not only done, but done properly. Consistent preventive maintenance may be the single most difficult task to accomplish in managing multiple-location express exterior washes.

• Go beyond: Your plan should also include provisions for:
  • Monitoring chemical levels and titrations;
  • Training the site manager to perform minor repairs,
  • Inspecting and maintaining automatic pay terminals; and
  • Reviewing cars coming out of the tunnel to determine if any quality issues exist and if the cars are, in fact, coming clean.
Cleanliness focus: Organization
When hundreds of unsupervised customers vacuum inside their vehicles every day, a site can get very dirty very quickly. Cleaning out vacuums at regular intervals, emptying trash cans, sweeping the vacuum area, maintaining the landscaping, washing all the windows, etc. — all require a regularly adhered to system for cleaning.

The tunnel also needs a thorough cleaning daily after the site is closed, as well as periodically throughout the day if any special problems occur, such as a vehicle that deposited a lot of mud in the tunnel.

From a multi-site management perspective, this area is the easiest to check on. Although maintaining a clean carwash site is nothing new, the large volume of customers using the site to vacuum their own vehicles makes this a whole new world of how much work needs to be done to keep the site looking beautiful and inviting.

Another element to this cleanliness equation is almost all of the express exterior carwashes have been built in the last five years, and for the most part, are attractively designed with “retail street appeal.” So, people are coming in with a little higher level of expectation than they might have had before.

Carwashes are starting to resemble other retail businesses. This is a good trend because the more appealing a site is to visit, the more people do. And, this is why keeping the site clean has a higher standard than a carwash might have been held to in the past.


Steve Gaudreau is a 20-year industry veteran and has published a new book entitled So, You Want to Own a Carwash: Finding and Evaluating Retail Sites for Carwashes. This book is available through Professional Carwashing & Detailing’s bookstore. To order your copy, please visit www.cminstitute.net. Gaudreau can be reached at steve.gaudreau@hotmail.com.

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