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- Ask the Experts
Parting is such sweet sorrow — especially when it’s with your hard-earned cash. In fact, most business owners only want to spend money to make money. That’s why we put our heads together and called in the experts to find the smartest and best ways to put your profits back into your carwash and earn a healthy return on your investment.
For starters, we considered the numerous new government tax rebates and incentives for small businesses.
According to Marcus McLaughlin, a member of Belanger’s marketing team, the best of these is the Section 179 deduction being offered for 2010 by the Internal Revenue Service.
“Basically, a carwash that buys or leases new equipment in 2010 can take a current-year tax deduction for the full value of that equipment — even though only a portion of the purchase or lease expense is accrued in 2010,” McLaughlin explained.
And operators might even turn a profit on such a purchase in 2010 if the value of the tax deduction exceeds the amount of the payments made this year, McLaughlin said. “As always, there are limitations on the types of equipment that qualify — and limits on the amount of purchases that may be deducted,” he qualified, adding that interested operators should consult a CPA or tax professional to learn more.
What equipment has the best ROI?
If news of the Section 179 has a hole burning in your pocket, you might want to take a step back and carefully consider your options. The smart operator will want to find a product match that not only improves his carwash operations, but also has the potential to improve his bottom line. According to the experts we spoke with, there are plenty of choices on the market.
For instance, McLaughlin suggested that operators look at new friction-based systems which require less chemical and less water than their touchless counterparts. If you’re not ready for a new system, simply analyze areas where you could use more cleaning power.
“Even with a friction-based wash system, the operator can always increase the wash’s cleaning efficiency by strategically adding more friction where it makes the most sense,” McLaughlin said.
After scrutinizing the scrubbing apparatus, it’s time to evaluate your rinsing mechanics. “In general, anything the operator does to conserve water will also conserve chemical,” he explained. “That’s because chemical strength is a function of chemical concentration in the water. Less water requires less chemical to achieve the same cleaning action on the vehicle.”
Some more efficient methods for rinsing include ‘rain bars,’ which produce a low pressure, saturating rinse action using a manifold with hundreds of small downward-facing holes, McLaughlin said. These typically work best in longer wash bays that have room for adequate drip space; shorter tunnels and bays will still require high pressure rinsing.
In addition to making your cleaning and rinsing sections more efficient, also consider vacuums, dryers and your reclaim system. All of these components can be upgraded to newer, less energy intensive pieces and save money in power costs, as well as improve the customer’s experience. Not only that, but your reclaim system has at least one other hidden advantage. According to McLaughlin, reclaim water often retains a residual detergent content that can help it clean cars more effectively.
“Just as the operator who runs reclaim minimizes the need for fresh water, that operator also minimizes the amount of ‘fresh chemical’ needed for each wash cycle,” he explained.
If a complete purchase seems like too much, investigate variable frequency drive additions, which can at least reduce your electricity demands.
It’s electric, boogie woogie woogie
Speaking of electric demands, one of McLaughlin’s most enthusiastic recommendations was for the electric-drive conveyor. Although replacing an entire tunnel is not feasible for most operators, new investors have the opportunity to use electric-drive equipment together with VFD controllers for the ultimate in energy efficiency.
To maximize the benefits of electric wash systems driven by VFDs, McLaughlin said operators should use a ‘smart’ carwash controller that can synchronize the speed of the conveyor and all components with a single touch.
“Such ‘one button control’ allows the operator to speed or slow the entire wash line, responding in real time to changing business or weather conditions,” McLaughlin said. “This saves energy while reducing wear and tear on the equipment.”
Working with an existing hydraulic system
For operators who choose or have a hydraulic system, McLaughlin had some suggestion to optimize performance. For example, he suggested automating the vehicle prep of the carwash to reduce labor expenses and improve throughput.
“One of the most overlooked areas in the carwash is vehicle prep. Which is a shame, because good prep is the foundation for a great wash — both in terms of wash quality and efficient use of water, chemical and energy,” McLaughlin explained. A touchless prep station, on the other hand, can use a large volume of medium pressure water to effectively prep vehicles.
According to McLaughlin, these systems operate with flow rates as high as 85 gallons per minute, which is equivalent to more than 24 spray wands. And because this is a prep station, it can run on 100 percent reclaim water.
Another addition that can help a hydraulic system is a foaming presoak arch, McLaughlin said. “This is a small change that can pay big dividends, in customer satisfaction, wash results and chemical use,” he offered. He also pointed out that a foaming presoak can impress customers by showing them the cleaning action as their car enters the tunnel.
Aerating the presoak conserves chemical by increasing its volume, as well. “But increasing the chemical’s volume also increases its surface area — which multiplies its effectiveness on the car,” McLaughin said. “Lastly, a foamed presoak will ‘cling’ better to the vehicle’s vertical surfaces, improving the dwell time of the chemical on the front, sides and rear of the vehicle.”
Focus on improving the wash, not discounting it
Last but not least, when it comes to investing in your carwash business during the recession be cautious not to undersell or undervalue your service.
“When times are tough, the ‘casual’ wash customers may go away, but the frequent carwasher continues to invest in a clean vehicle,” McLaughlin explained. “That’s because every consumer maintains a certain level of discretionary spending even in a tight market. For drivers with higher-value vehicles (or just drivers who value their vehicles highly), carwashing remains a priority on which they’re not willing to compromise.”
McLaughlin cautioned that operators should be careful not to fall into the trap of selling their carwash as a commodity service. “Carwashes that win in this economy will be the ones that appeal to the most discriminating customers — with exceptionally clean cars, and highly valued extra services like effective wheel cleaning, tire shining and total surface protectant applications,” McLaughlin said.
“Services should be fairly priced, and deliver an extraordinary value,” he concluded. “It’s not about the price; value-conscious customers are focused on the price/performance ratio. Diehard carwashers will gladly pay good money for a great wash.”