Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Cost saving lessons from CCWE

October 11, 2010

From the educational programming to the products displayed, nearly every detail of Car Care World Expo 2009 (CCWE) was about maximizing efficiencies and improving profits in a down economy. A majority of the 312 exhibiting companies took hints from their customer base and were showcasing equipment or supplies which can help operators do more with less in today’s recessionary and hypercompetitive marketplace.

Vendors like Mark VII realize today’s operator needs to have tighter management abilities in order to more efficiently run his/her carwash. The company’s new SoftWatch XT features a new controller and variable frequency drive (VFD) package which offers better energy management. Similarly, Ryko displayed an updated high pressure touch-free IBA which achieved cost savings through an integrated water reclaim system and Jim Coleman Company made improvements to its point-of-sale system to process more cars per hour.

But purchasing new equipment isn’t the only way to realize cost savings. Attendees and seminar presenters at CCWE 2009 had plenty of low-cost ideas for tightening your belt and Professional Carwashing & Detailing was there to learn, summarize and now present these tips and tricks to you. Choose the ideas that work for your wash and ditch the ones that don’t ring bells. Just implementing one or two changes can help you realize major benefits in the long run.

Power management
In a presentation at CCWE 2009, Gary Dennis of Active Partners, LLC, outlined the hurdles facing carwash operators everywhere: Electricity is one of the largest expenses for a carwash of any type (around $38,000/year for conveyor locations and over $10,000 for self-serve sites), and while rate hikes in the double digits may scare operators now, it’s the increases that are expected in the future that may reaally hurt.

According to Dennis, there are several factors affecting your power bill. They include:

  • Kilowatt hours used and time of use;
  • Peak kilowatt demand and maximum demand;
  • Summer versus winter billing rates;
  • Peak, shoulder and off-peak rate schedules;
  • Hours of billed demand;
  • Your rate plan; and
  • Fuel surcharges.

Dennis also identified the components of your carwash which demand the most power: Vacuums and blowers. In some cases, Dennis said these can represent as much as 75 percent of total horsepower.

Not only are these machines using the most electricity, they are often doing so at an incredibly inefficient way. Many times blowers are operating without a car being present, and vacuums are operating with less than full demand.

To control costs associated with the blowers and vacuums especially, Dennis recommended operators install or upgrade VFDs which could help operators reduce the power necessary to operate blowers or vacuums by nearly 90 percent.

“Variable frequency drives control the rotational speed of an alternating current electric motor by controlling the frequency of the electrical power supplied to the motor,” he explained. “By controlling the speed of the motor, electricity costs can be greatly reduced in applications involving centrifugal fans such as blowers and vacuums.”

In a follow-up interview with PC&D, Dennis said the reason the potential savings are so large is due to affinity laws, which means the relationship between motor speed and electrical input is a cubic function. “More plainly, if you use a VFD and slow the motor by 20 percent, the power required drops by half. If the motor speed is cut to 50 percent, the power required is just one-eighth, or a savings of 88 percent,” Dennis explained.

He told PC&D the most inefficient application at your carwash has the potential for the most savings because of the disproportionate power requirement. “Not until we discovered this relationship did the light bulb go on in our head,” he recalled.

Another excellent way to tighten the belt around power costs is to consider changing your rate plan. Dennis cited one case study in which an express exterior carwash (avg. annual volume 100,000) with 415 total motor HP switched from a Demand Pricing plan to a Time of Use-Retail plan. The wash decreased their monthly electricity costs by 28 percent.

Water management
If electricity, gas and fuel costs represent the largest expense for a conveyor wash (not including expenses related to labor), then water represents the third largest cost. In 2008, conveyor operators paid an average amount of more than $18,000 for water and related treatment fees, according to PC&D’s annual survey, published in the April 2009 issue. For self-serves, the figure was around $6,000 and water was the fourth largest expense, not including attendant salaries.

By now, most operators realize the importance of reclaiming and recycling water at their locations. But do you know you could be reclaiming more water? The typical conveyor carwash reclaims about 60 percent of its wash water, but a more efficient site could increase that number to 80 or 90 percent and realize a larger cost savings.

Following an educational segment about the importance of water reclaim systems at CCWE 2009, operators discussed other ideas for improving or supplementing a water reclaim system. Some tips for furthering your savings are courtesy of Mark Miller, vice president of marketing for Ecolab Vehicle Care. Ecolab’s new Operational Cost Management program, which assists Ecolab customers by providing them with a trained Ecolab professional who can help them to analyze and improve their carwash operations, has shown that additional savings are realized when operators:

  • Collect reject water;
  • Replace nozzle tips;
  • Heat or soften your water in order to use less chemical;
  • Use a lower flow rainbar (i.e. from 8 gpm to 4 gpm);
  • Ask your pump manufacturer to explain the acceptable ranges for pump pressure given the application and equipment used. Lower pressure can save lots of water; and
  • Repair small leaks.

Labor management
Labor management remained the largest cost for conveyor and self-service operators alike in 2008, and while some operators may be hesitant to cut staff positions in an economy that has already cost millions of people their jobs, the reality is it’s a necessary move to stay in business today.

On the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center, many manufacturers were showcasing equipment and software programs which can help operators reduce labor expenses through automation and computerized management. These new technologies, such as integrated point-of-sale systems and auto cashiers, as well as equipment like tire shiners and extra brushes, can help carwash operators to eliminate staff positions but still maintain quality and good customer service.

Operator Fred Grauer discussed ideas for transitioning a full-serve carwash into 2010 during one educational segment, and afterwards operators talked about ways in which they had already started to reduce labor at their full-serve washes. One California-area operator said he had stopped prepping cars before they went in the tunnel and instead added more equipment to his conveyor. He also has skipped a towel dry service in favor of handing out branded microfiber towels to his customers.

Take a step back
The definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Now is a good time to re-evaluate your relationships with your suppliers and vendors, as well as reconsider your marketing, branding and overall business plan.

Don’t be afraid to ask for freebies — in marketing or in supplier contracts. Press in the local newspaper is just as good, perhaps better, than putting up a billboard. Asking for a free supply of a new chemical product can not only help you investigate a new service or scent, but also cut you a break on a monthly expense.