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News from the industry

October 11, 2010
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Express wash chain expands with sites in Texas

Bill Lawrence, the owner of five Bubbles Hand Wash locations, Houston, has launched a new chain of express carwashes, further exemplifying the interest and growth of the express wash segment of the industry.

The Bubbles Express carwashes will allow customers to drive their cars onto a 130-foot-long conveyor belt, remaining inside their vehicles during the four-minute exterior-only wash service.

In February 2005, Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine reported on the increase in popularity of express carwashes over the past few years as customers begin to choose convenience and speed over full-service washes.

Lawrence teamed up with Bill DeArman, a former partner with Sanders Morris Harris Group Inc., to create the Bubbles facilities, the first of which opened recently.

A second location is now under construction and is scheduled to open by July; another five sites are planned for Dallas. The two men plan to open 20 Houston-area locations, each of which, DeArman said will cost $1.7 million to develop.

In Lawrence's opinion, people like to combine multiple errands in one trip; they want to do their carwashing when they do their shopping, and express carwashes simplify the process.

High court rules against carwash lawsuit

Georgia's high court ruled Monday against several lawyers who were seeking class-action status for a lawsuit against a carwash company that sent unsolicited faxes.

Former Gov. Roy Barnes is currently the lawyer representing Michelle Hammond, a Gwinnett County woman who sued Carnett's, Inc. — a carwash chain in the Atlanta area — for junk faxes under the 1991 federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

In turn, Carnett's countersued against the company it hired to send the faxes.

The Act bans junk faxes and allows individuals to collect damages of $500 from violators. Damages could be tripled if a court found willful violation of the law.

When Professional Carwashing & Detailing last covered this story, millions of dollars hinged on the Supreme Court's decision to allow Hammond's suit to continue as a class-action status or not.

A trial court previously ruled there should be no class-action status; however, the Court of Appeals reversed that ruling. Previous reports claimed that without class-action status, Hammond's lawsuit could fall apart.

Autobell expands its stake in the VA market

Autobell Car Wash Inc., the Charlotte, NC-based family-owned carwash chain, announced the opening of its fifth Tidewater-area carwash.

Autobell acquired and converted the former six-year-old Auto Bath Car Wash, bringing the company's total site count up to 43 full-service carwashes in 22 North Carolina and four Virginia communities.

Chuck Howard, president, CEO and owner of the carwash company, said "This is the fifth Autobell we've opened in this area in less than 18 months, and we are delighted that the community has very warmly welcomed us and apparently loves our product."

According to Howard, last year Autobell introduced their new Autobell's Best Customers (ABC) frequent washer program here, and the participation was very encouraging. The company has signed up over 4,000 members in roughly 15 months, which is one of the reasons they opened an additional carwash in the area.

Michelin unveils detailing product line

Tire manufacturer Michelin, Greenville, SC, recently announced the release of a new tire-care program and product for car-care professionals.

Michelin's 3-Step Wheel & Tire Care Program will target retail customers and detailers for the car-care industry. The products include a wheel and tire cleaner, tire shine and brake dust repellent.

To engineer and manufacture the new product line, Michelin turned to Fernandina Beach, FL-based Petroferm Inc., an environmentally-conscious, specialty chemical manufacturer.

"Until now, we did not recommend using these types of products because we weren't totally comfortable about their effects on tires or the environment," Chris Dawes, managing director for Michelin Lifestyle Limited, said. "We therefore decided to develop our own range, working with Petroferm."

According to Michelin, the new tire cleaners are unlike many other cleaners because they are acid-free, and safer for tire surfaces. The cleaners use a neutral pH polymeric technology to help prevent corrosion.

Senate rejects national minimum wage hike

The US Senate recently decided that the national minimum wage will remain at $5.15 an hour, where it has been since 1997.

Despite what some may consider to be a low minimum wage, research shows that most automatic carwash employees make more than the national minimum.

Although the national minimum wage is still only $5.15, Professional Carwashing & Detailing's 2004 Automatic Benchmarking Survey showed that the average starting hourly wage for carwash employees is $6.33 and the typical hourly wage is $6.85.

Political power struggles between Democrats and Republicans resulted in the failure to pass an increase, reflecting the complex politics of the minimum wage and its impact on economic growth and small businesses, including carwashes.

The Senate voted down a Democratic plan to raise the wage by $2.10 over the next 26 months, and a separate proposal by Senator Rick Santorum, (R-PA), to hike the minimum up by $1.10 over the next 18 months.

Republicans argued that a pay spike of $2.10 would stifle the economic recovery and limit the number of entry-level jobs that are available.

Santorum's alternative included business-friendly provisions that Democrats said would have excluded more employees from the minimum wage requirement and limited overtime available to hourly workers.