View Cart (0 items)

When city construction threatens your wash

October 11, 2010
/ Print / Reprints /
| Share More
/ Text Size+

Tax dollars are collected and spent by city councils on many community improvements, from repairing potholes to expanding public libraries.

So what can you do when that expansion involves a parcel of land that is currently home to your car-care facility? Or when that pothole happens to rest near the entryway to your wash?

Roadwork rule #1: Accept the unexpected

Roadways must be repaved, rerouted and often expanded, though many times these changes occur on the roadway across town, it can also hit a little closer to home and your best bet is to cope with the construction while imagining the positive changes afterward.

When Dennis Ryan, owner of American Pride Car Wash in Evansville, WY, was notified of the construction that was to occur on the roadway in front of his carwash location he welcomed the change.

He knew that the congestion on that street had to be alleviated — sometimes the traffic to take a left hand turn would be backed up for two blocks — and he knew that the construction, though lengthy and inconvenient, was a good move in the long run.

When you know that construction is unavoidable and you have been given proper notice by the government, there are steps you can take to ensure that, even though the construction will undoubtedly impede your business, it won’t destroy it.

Roadwork rule #2: Form a coalition

Ryan found out about the construction that was to take place on the roadway adjacent to his facility about a year before the construction bids were even presented to the Board. But he decided to get ahead of the game.

According to Ryan, he contacted 17 businesses that would be affected by the construction and asked them if they would be interested in pooling funds to start an ad campaign that would alert the public to the construction and ask them to remain loyal to their businesses.

Of the 17 asked, eight businesses pooled their money and raised $14,000.

Discussing your options with other businesses along your street is always a worthwhile idea. Chances are they have the same concerns that you do and would be willing to work with you on a solution.

Roadwork rule #3: Reach out to the public

Ryan and his coalition devised a plan to reach out to the public in the months before the construction would occur.

Having bore witness to previous construction around the city of Casper, WY, Ryan knew just how negatively this construction would affect business.

The coalition used the $14,000 to set up a radio and direct mailing campaign. These direct mail brochures were geared towards a specific market in the East End of town, where residents would have to drive through the construction to reach the businesses.

The radio and brochure were to ask that the public remain loyal to the businesses and reminded them that the construction is not their fault — “don’t abandon us because we have to tolerate this situation,” Ryan said of the flyer.

However, as Ryan learned when the construction bid was rejected after his coalition’s radio advertisements aired, it might pay to wait before starting the campaign — as of this past summer, Ryan had over 22,000 brochures at his wash waiting to be mailed.

Roadwork rule #4: Offer a discount

Department stores have special one day sales where they mark down every item in the store by a significant percentage.

Even though every patron who goes to that store knows that they will have to deal with traffic, search for reasonable parking, fight for a look at a rack and wait in a never-ending checkout line, they still go for the discount.

This same rule applies to carwashing. If there is construction that might prevent the average consumer from wanting to drive to your wash, give them another reason to deal with the traffic delay — give them 25 percent off of your best wash package.

Eminent domain: When they’re trying to take your land

Ryan’s story, though difficult and costly, can be considered an inconvenience. But Earl Weiss, owner of Uptown Service Station Inc., Chicago, and two other nearby carwash locations had a definite problem — more than just a nuisance.

The city thought that by ridding the community of his carwash and building a parking lot for the library, they would improve the area.

According to a letter from Aldermann Mary Ann Smith of the 48th Ward, Chicago, the wash was to be removed because “In Uptown, neighbors, schools and the library have complained for more than a decade about the many nuisances and dangers created by the (Uptown) carwash.”

Weiss, who is also an attorney in the greater Chicago area, said that they had been aware of certain complaints but felt that they weren’t grounded. For instance, Uptown Car Wash’s traffic volume hadn’t changed but the properties on either side of the wash had been developed into strip malls and such over the years.

Some of the sites that were redeveloped had been vacant for many years prior.

One of the newer centers was directly across the street from Weiss’s wash to the south, one was kitty corner to the south, another was right down the road to the east and another was about 100 yards to the east.

Fighting the motion

There were a few very vocal people telling the Alderman that they represented the community and Uptown Car Wash was not a desirable enterprise or location, Weiss said.

The city initially wanted the site to be revamped. Weiss said that when he was notified of this he developed a plan and presented it to the board at a meeting that was not what he expected.

The six or seven individuals in attendance at the meeting were the vocal opponents to his wash and, not surprisingly, his wash plans were not approved.

In order to proceed with eminent domain, the city must show that the taking of land is for the public good.

In the case of Weiss, the city was not on firm ground by taking his land simply to build a parking lot; however, if the city let the public believe that they were improving the library via an expansion, they were on more solid ground.

Some tips for fighting an eminent domain case are as follows:

Fight or flier response

Weiss was aware that the majority of the public was not clued into city’s actual intentions for his property, so he handed out his own flier titled “Stop the Parking Lot.”

This flier was distributed at community events, chamber of commerce meetings, community council meetings and the like.

Weiss wanted to alert the community to the fact that this eminent domain case was to convert his wash into a parking lot, not to expand the library — he also felt that converting a money making parcel of land to a parking lot would not be seen as an ideal conversion by most.

He received a positive response because the subterfuge was exposed in his flier.

Customer involvement

According to Weiss, one of your best tools — if you are doing any volume of business — is the people coming to your business that like you.

You can have your customers write letters or sign petitions. You might have to give them a stamped envelope, a piece of paper and a pen, Weiss said, but your job is to make sure that they get it done.

Weiss also suggested that you get involved with local community organizations and ask them to put in a good word on your behalf.

Media participation

Get involved with local, regional or national newspapers if possible.

If there is someone who has an editorial or a column in one of these papers, Weiss suggests writing them a letter to ask that they take an interest in your issue.

You can hope that your story falls on a sympathetic set of eyes, or, as Weiss added, it’s a slow news day.

A lengthy battle

In the case of eminent domain, your battle could be quite long. Weiss can attest to that, his battle took up the better part of five years and, lucky for him, ended victoriously.

“We hired different attorneys, did whatever we could do with the media, did whatever we could do as far as community support at meetings and letters to the Alderman’s office,” Weiss said. But behind it all you have to have a good case for your business, like Weiss did.

As Ryan pointed out, the difference in road construction is that, most times, business owners will agree that it’s necessary; it just takes an effort on the part of the business owner to ensure that business does not dip and customers continue to patron the location.