Professional Carwashing & Detailing

The best advice for running a self-serve

PC&D talks to industry expert Jim Gosnell of Etowah Valley Equipment Inc.

August 6, 2013

PC&D: What’s the best advice you have for a self-serve owner in terms of self-serve maintenance?

Jim Gosnell: For both new owners and seasoned operators I suggest the following steps:

1.   Realistically assess your maintenance skills.

ü  Are you comfortable working with electricity?

ü  Can you manage repairing water leaks?

ü  Are you willing to empty trash?

After you have determined the maintenance tasks that will be handled by others establish a relationship early … don’t wait until a busy Saturday to find someone.

2.   Dedicate an area (that is safe and dry) for all equipment manuals, instruction sets, reference material, MSDS (material safety data sheet)and operating/repair notes. It is especially important to become familiar with your equipment make and model.

3.   Then, establish a maintenance schedule by consulting the equipment manuals (or manufacturers), distributors and other operators.

4.   Finally, use your smartphone for taking pictures of parts, viewing online schematics and even to make ‘lists’ on free note apps. Never again forget that bushing or nut during a trip to the hardware store.

PC&D: What is the biggest mistake you see owners making with their self-serve equipment?

Jim Gosnell: Actually, I frequently see owners making several mistakes, such as:

  • Buying equipment that doesn’t fill the facility’s more pressing need(s). New shiny vacuums look great, but if the roof leaks and the boiler hasn’t worked in a year you probably should have fixed them first.
  • Failing to maintain an adequate supply of spare parts. Why add $75 for next day air shipping for a $15 part?
  • The biggest mistake? The majority of owners don’t fully utilize the features built into their equipment by the manufacturers. Most take a “set it and forget it” approach that doesn’t utilize many of the marketing, accounting and information gathering abilities built into modern equipment.

PC&D: What advice do you have in terms of keeping all of the equipment protected from vandalism, theft, or misuse?

Jim Gosnell: I would advise owners pay close attention to lights, equipment, appearance and signage.

Bright lights are important as a well-lit area is more inviting to customers. Make sure they work properly on a regular schedule. Another key point is to have working equipment. The goal should be equipment that works 100 percent of the time.

Next, always provide a clean and maintained facility. Period. Customers appreciate a clean facility and will be less likely to leave a mess. Properly maintained, a 10-year-old wash should look like it was opened last month.

Signage should not just be instructional. Your signs should also specify what is not permissible as well. When contacting a customer who is violating the rules you can simply point to the sign.

Follow these suggestions and operating a carwash will be less stressful and more profitable!

PC&D: What’s new with self-serve carwashes?

Jim Gosnell: As the self-serve segment continues to improve most manufacturers are gearing up to produce new equipment that is both efficient and value priced. The trend is moving toward complete integrated packages that place an emphasis on low operating cost, ease of maintenance and marketing flexibility.

PC&D: Where do you see the self-serve carwash going over the next 10 years?

Jim Gosnell: The self-serve segment of the industry got caught in a firestorm of a weak economy and high gas prices. Factor in that a substantial portion of self-serve washes were either functionally obsolete or were overleveraged (resulting in poorly maintained facilities) along with the arrival of the express wash concept and boom … The self-serve segment was hurting. But things are turning around and savvy operators are re-tooling and new washes are being built in markets that are too small to support other forms of investment. Manufacturers are designing equipment that will allow the self-serve owners to actually promote and market their washes. As the economy continues to improve consumers will seek out “values” for everyday services and the new look self-serve will fill the need. The self-serve segment will still be alive and kicking for many years to come, it will just look a lot different.

In review: A checklist for success

ü  Determine your most important maintenance tasks and come up with a proper maintenance schedule.

ü  Dedicate an area (that is safe and dry) for all equipment manuals, instruction sets, reference material, MSDS (material safety data sheet)and operating/repair notes.

ü  Use your smartphone for taking pictures of parts, viewing online schematics and even to make ‘lists’.

ü  First buy equipment that fills the carwash’s most pressing needs.

ü  Maintain an adequate supply of spare parts.

ü  Utilize the features built into their equipment by the manufacturers.

ü  Use bright lights and make sure they work properly on a regular schedule.

ü  Always provide a clean and maintained facility.

ü  Signs need to also specify what is not permissible at the carwash.