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Self-serve & in-bay: A winning combo

October 11, 2010
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With the carwash industry becoming more competitive than ever before, carwash operators are constantly looking for ways to attract new customers, grow the loyalty of existing customers and, of course, increase profitability.

Self-serve operators have the unique chance to take advantage of a value-added opportunity by adding in-bay automatic wash bays to their site.

This addition offers flexibility, differentiation and most importantly draws new and profitable customers to a self-serve location.

The potential
The decision to expand a self-serve business naturally raises many questions. What impact will the addition have on monthly revenue?

Will the owner have to hire more labor to supervise the addition? How will current customers respond? Will it attract new customers? Is the location right for the addition of an in-bay automatic? What type of equipment should the owner choose?

The answers to these questions will obviously be different for each location.

In general, adding in-bay automatic bays to a self-serve location could increase monthly revenue approximately $3,500.00-$5,000.00 per bay. That means a potential profit increase per month of $1,500.00 - $2,500.00.

In-bay automatics offer a location 24/7 operation with no labor needed.

Plus, throughput for an in-bay automatic is much higher than for existing self-serve bays, increasing the cars per hour potential, which will ultimately increase the bottom line.

Add, don’t subtract
Does this mean an owner should eliminate the self-serve area and convert the location to all in-bays?

No, adding an in-bay automatic to the current offerings will open doors to new customers. Flexibility and choice are big drivers in attracting different types of customers.

In-bay automatics draw consumers looking for convenience, time-savings and a high quality wash — not the do-it-yourselfers who enjoy washing their vehicle or feel self-serve bays are the next best thing to washing in their own driveway and professional detailing.

Offering multiple wash options at a site will work to maintain an owner’s existing customer base while drawing new customers not currently served by the existing washes.

Evaluate the area
Evaluating the location’s potential is key to making the decision to add in-bay automatic bays.

Not only does an owner need to look at the current operation’s growth potential, but also consider the growth potential in the local area.

Car counts: Important data such as how many cars drive past the location every day and community vehicle population can help an owner decide how many wash bays (both the owner’s and competitors) can be supported in the community.

Work with the local chamber of commerce, traffic authority and village planners. They will provide most of this information.

Nationwide, vehicle population growth rate is outpacing carwash growth rate by approximately 1 percent.

Using raw numbers, 5.18 million additional cars were added to the road in 2005 meaning over 1,000 new bays will be needed just to keep up.

Local population: If the local community is experiencing population growth, this could be a great time to look at adding additional washes.

As few as 5,000 people in a three mile radius can support a wash bay. Pay close attention to the number of new homes and apartment buildings; these can be good signals that it might be time to add an in-bay automatic.

Retail/commerce: Again, looking at the local community area, are there new reasons or destinations for consumers to visit?

Are new fast food locations, shopping centers, financial institutions or specialty shops moving in? These establishments draw consumers and provide additional traffic moving past the site.

Competition: New and existing competition can greatly influence the decision to add an in-bay automatic. Has the competition installed new equipment or additional value added services to attract customers?

Have new bays been built that could reduce the customer car counts? Carefully review the competition’s activities to identify a possible point of differentiation.

Local regulations and environmental impact: Many communities today are realizing the effects that daily activities are having on the environment and instituting laws to protect natural resources.

Before moving forward, make sure both the site and the planned equipment adhere to any relevant ordinances.

Water-saver and reclaim packages on the equipment are some of the features that can assist in meeting local requirements.

Doing homework ahead of time will provide insights and assurances that will assist in making a final decision.

Fortunately, an owner doesn’t need to do this alone — a good carwash distributor in any area will be able to help evaluate the location and guide an owner through this process.

Evaluate equipment
Once an owner has decided to expand the self-serve business to include in-bay automatic services, how does he/she choose which equipment is right for the site?

Again, each location will have specific needs that, when addressed, will result in the right equipment choice. A local distributor will be able to help analyze individual needs.

The value of a good local distributor can have a great impact on the success of a new in-bay automatic.

Some of the key features to look for when purchasing an in-bay automatic include self-diagnostics, remote monitoring, ease-of-use, programmability, service flexibility and low maintenance.

Look for equipment that is durable, operates effectively in a wide variety of climates and is engineered for simplicity.

Equipment that offers these features allows an owner to minimize labor and keep the wash operating efficiently. Also keep in mind that a strong local equipment distributor can make the decision process a lot easier.

Beyond performance, look for equipment that provides consumers with a comfortable experience.

Bays that look intimidating, claustrophobic, unsafe or downright scary will negatively affect profitability and literally drive customers to other locations. More for customers, means more for you.

Adding an in-bay automatic to the right self-serve location can provide increased traffic, increased customer satisfaction, competitive differentiation and increased profits.

With in-bay automatics added to a self-serve site, the owner wins — but most importantly — customers win.

Mike Savignac is the executive vice president of PDQ Manufacturing, Inc., a manufacturer of carwash equipment including in-bay automatics. Mike can be contacted at