Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Wand bay to IBA

October 11, 2010
Let’s say business is booming at your self-serve carwash. As an operator, you’re considering converting a wand bay to an in-bay automatic (IBA) to increase volume and sales. Several questions come to mind: Why should I convert? What is involved in the conversion process? How much will it cost? How much time will it take? What considerations should I keep in mind before I convert? Is there a better time of year to do the conversion?

Reasons for conversion may vary from operator to operator, but the main reason to convert is to simply increase volume. “Typically, IBAs can do three to four times the volume of a self-serve bay,” said Tim Martin, sales representative at Jim Coleman-Hanna Company.

Conversion may also depend on market demand; customers may not want to get out of their car for various reasons: physical limitations, inclement weather or clothing may prohibit use of self-serve bay (washing a car in a dress or tux is usually not ideal).

Population density may also bring change to the self-serve operator. Take for instance a carwash built in an up-and-coming neighborhood. At first, consumer demands are satisfied at the carwash. As the population increases, running a business composed strictly of self-serve bays may not be enough to supply the high demand. “Operators in this type of situation may want to convert more than one bay at a time, while others may want to run a trial period to test performance before converting more than one,” explained Martin.

Cost & process
Probably the biggest question when considering conversion is the weight of the almighty dollar: How much will it cost?

Many variables are considered in the carwash conversion equation: location, size, adequate electricity and water supply, proper support equipment, etc.

“Typical bays are 16’ on center, and that’s enough to install an IBA. Sometimes the bay length may not be long enough and they can add onto that. Lengthening can vary from the simple installation of an awning to the complexities of construction. If there is simply not enough room, the bay can be widened or the construction of another bay can be added to the existing structure,” said Martin.

The equipment room must also be evaluated. The water softener and the spot-free system are sized ensure they can handle the installation of an automatic. If the existing systems cannot support the new requirements, they must be upgraded or additional machines must be added.

Once the basics are covered, cost of machinery and installation must be added to the equation. Units can range anywhere from $50,000 and up. Post construction, installation of the machinery can be completed in a few weeks time.

Consulting your equipment supplier and speaking with other operators who have been through the process is the best way to venture into the unknown and sometimes overwhelming arena of conversion. Another helpful idea: check out your market area for ideas. If you competition is offering only touchless IBA machines, perhaps you should choose a friction machine and use that in your marketing process.

Ultimately, the decision for conversion boils down to educating yourself and your customer. Choose a good distributor, one that you work well with and you can rely on, and you’re all set.