Let's get flexible
Technically, a flex-serve carwash is any business that combines both express exterior and full-service carwash services. But as Anthony Analetto, president of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory’s equipment division, pointed out, that definition has become increasingly flexible over the years.
According to Analetto, the foundation of the business should be an express exterior tunnel. “After that,” he said, “it becomes a question of how many cars an operator wants to touch by hand, for how long, and for what price.”
David Daniels, owner of Car Wash Express, LLC, a flex-serve based in St. Cloud, FL, said it really has to do with the end results and his decision to convert to a flex-serve had to do with supply and demand.
“We opened in August 2009 as an exterior carwash and due to the demand for express detailing we started the flex in January 2010,” Daniels explained. “When the wash was built it was designed to add a flex service so the conversion was easy. Approximately 10 percent of our volume is express detailing and continues to grow.”
Back when they were first introduced, flexes started out as express-exterior washes that also offered express detailing services, according to Analetto.
Steve Okun, a carwash consultant, is known as the originator of the flex-serve paradigm. He said the term was originally intended to simply be used amongst professional operators and suppliers. In fact, they were almost called “total-service” washes.
“The consumer-oriented phrase ‘total-service’ really suggested an upgrade replacement of the vintage ‘full-service’ lexicon by inferring ‘total’ as providing ‘a more complete and diversified array of choices’; essentially, an upgrade,” Okun said. However, flex-serve is what stuck.
The original flex-serves, Analetto said, were priced as 15-minute express-detailing services; including an interior super cleaning, to capture 20 to 30 percent of their volume.
“This balance allowed them to consolidate smaller crews in one spot. It also let them close the aftercare area when volumes were slow but remain open for business with an exterior wash service,” Analetto stated. “Over time, operators with a higher tolerance for management have lowered aftercare pricing and added abbreviated full-service style interior options for their customers.”
Today’s flex-serve carwashes are evolving to accommodate more variations to deliver more options and value to customers, according to Analetto. “Many flex-serves are now converting 50 percent or more of their volume to buy some form of aftercare service, but at a higher labor cost and at lower margins,” he explained.
He added that lately, the trend of offering multiple wash formats alongside a flex-serve tunnel seems to be gaining a lot of traction and attention.
According to Daniels, today’s flexes offer up the same advantages as the express tunnels : POS auto cashiers, tire shire applicators, wheel scrubbers and ways to save energy with such things as water reclamation systems and variable frequency drives. Daniels, who has five employees and sees about 6,000 vehicles a month, said such aforementioned elements offer “less labor and a cleaner car in a shorter time,” he said.
Flexes of the future
Like any type of technology, the flex-serve will change over time. According to Analetto, the flex-serve model will continue to evolve to attract a wider audience. “All businesses are under constant pressure to innovate, add more value, and create competitive distinction and advantages in the marketplace,” he said, adding that depending on the geographic location and market demographics, he expects to see more and more flex-serves coupled with in-bay automatics and self-serve wash bays.
“These sites allow for 24-hour operation and attract a wider customer base without adding labor to the business. It’s not hard for me to see owners wanting to maximize the revenue from their property over the next 10 years,” Analetto stated.
As far as Daniels is concerned, he hopes flexes of future will offer up “more green chemicals and energy savings,” while Okun foresees technological advancements as well as market and process adjustments. Both are designed into and part of the essential fabric of the flex-serve paradigm, he said, making the operational platform exceptionally resilient, yet easily adaptable to changing venue demands.”
The flex-serve model will sustain the test of time, according to Okun, who said the operating platform has three fundamental differences that ensure its almost timeless utility:
1. Independent self-sustaining profit components;
2. Prudent use of centralized cross-trained labor; and
3. Uncomplicated adaptability that is responsive to consumer/market demand.