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Self-serve

Site attendants: The better way to wash?

October 11, 2010
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Is it worth it to pay the wages for an attendant? This controversial question has been around for a lot longer than the 18 years that I’ve owned our carwash.

In Professional Carwashing & Detailing® magazine’s 2006 Self-Service Benchmarking Survey, they reported that 3.1 percent of the carwashes that responded did not have any attendant at all.

In addition, there are 28.1 percent that are attended less than 10 hours per week.

At 10 hours per week, that’s about one hour a day. One would only have time to clean the bays, without any time to talk to the customers, empty the trash, check oils, perform maintenance, etc.

The next category of 11 to 20 hours per week at 20.3 percent is better and the 21 to 40 hours per week at 21.9 percent is better yet.

If you add all that up, 73.4 percent of the carwashes are attended less than 40 hours per week (that’s less than 5.7 hours a day). That leaves only 26.6 percent attended for more than 40 hours per week.

The percentages listed are for self-serve wand bays without an in-bay automatic.

Interestingly, 26.8 percent that have an in-bay automatic are attended over 40 hours per week, almost exactly the same percent as the self-serve only.

A history of self-service
I dug out the earliest survey I had in my files; the Professional Carwashing & Detailing® Self-serve Statistical Survey from 1993.

Although it’s a little difficult to compare because they list hours per day with no category for zero hours, I found that the percentages hadn’t changed too much over the years.

The low end was 56 percent, attended less than four hours a day. Those washes over 40 hours a week were at 24 percent.

In 13 years, it hasn’t changed much. The controversy continues.

Trial and error
Our carwash is attended 7.5 hours a day, with an extra hour on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays. We total about 55.5 hours per week.

We bought this carwash eighteen years ago. It wasn’t long before I realized that it only takes one car to sufficiently dirty up a bay to make another customer not want to use it.

If you’re running six bays, it only takes one unusable bay to cut your earnings by 17 percent. That’s okay if it’s raining, but not good on a warm sunny day.

So after a little trial and error over a year or two, we hired three retired individuals and have been attended between 7 to 12 hours a day every day ever since.

Each attendant works from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with one hour for lunch. Each will work three days on and have six days off, thereby spreading out the weekends evenly among all three.

Our manager trainee works on Friday and Saturday (our two busiest days) and then again on Monday; starting and staying one hour later, which covers the lunch hour on these days.

In 2003, we tried covering 12 hours a day for a time, but found it was not worth the added expense, particularly in the winter.

Full-service at a self-serve
So, is it worth it to have a full-time attendant at a self-serve carwash?

In my opinion, with 18 years of experience in the industry: yes, full-time attendants are worth the money if you’re running a busy site.

Obviously, if the wash is very slow or even moderately slow, it is difficult to justify the expense. But if someone is not there to clean your bays will the customers drive to the next carwash that has clean bays? I think they will.

If you are the only game in town, then they’ll have no choice but to use your bays, dirty or clean. Then again, maybe they would wash more often if they always entered a clean bay.

Cleaning the bays, including the walls, coin boxes, signs, vacuums, aprons, trash cans, bill changers, etc., is the main purpose of having an attendant, but not the only one.

An attendant should also greet each customer, give change, help new customers and perform routine and preventive maintenance checks and many other items.

Problematic automatics
If the carwash has an in-bay automatic, the attendant can help get the cars lined up, get them on the start switch, give change, advice on credit cards and that very important greeting.

In the last 10 years, there have been tremendous improvements on the start switches for the automatics, but when we had ours from 1988 to 1996, I remember having to run into the bay to back up a car, sometimes more than once.

Our automatic at the time did not have an automatic reset, if it went into default with no attendant on duty it sat there until someone came in to reset it. That was better than scraping a paint job, but hard on the bottom line if it was down all night.


Dennis Ryan has been in the carwash business since 1988 and the construction business for 40 years. At one time he owned and operated five self-service carwashes. Currently he owns and operates American Pride Carwash in Casper/Evansville, WY. He can be contacted at nayrsinned@msn.com.

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