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Writing in favor of building a new site

April 11, 2006
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Writing in favor of building a new site
Bruce Arnett, Jr.

There are many advantages to be experienced by new investors when they choose to build versus buy a carwash.

When building from the ground up, investors can take advantage of several opportunities not available to those who choose to purchase an existing site. These include:

  • Using the most recent equipment efficiencies;

  • Having the latest in POS technology;

  • Choosing the newest operational trends;

  • A stronger opportunity for market penetration; and

  • A thorough understanding of all aspects of your development.

The carwash industry, like many, is more complex than one might think. For that reason, I believe bringing an operation to life from the ground up enhances an operator's chance for a successful venture.

While some may feel development is overwhelming, I believe it is a beneficial process, which provides new operators with a strong foundation to move forward.

Equipment advantages

Building a new facility allows an investor to take advantage of the latest equipment technology.

There have been some great improvements in equipment over the years, such as:

  • Tire dressing machines;

  • Wheel cleaning systems;

  • Top brushes; and

  • High speed wraps.

Many of these are recent improvements of previous technologies; technologies that may not have been factored into the design of an older facility.

When buying, you may run into situations where the tunnel may be too narrow, too short or not have enough height to take advantage of a competitive equipment package.

I would advise investors to work with local equipment representatives to analyze all of the different configurations and components.

Once all of the information has been processed, configure the tunnel in a manner that will take advantage of current technology, as well as engineering additional room for future improvements in carwash equipment.

Pro: you can direct traffic flow

When buying an existing facility, the previous owners' problems become your problems. Layout and traffic flow are very important to the success of a wash.

When building, investors gain the opportunity to lay the facility out in a way that takes advantage of proven operational trends. Operators have been successful with exit-end vacuuming, express exterior washing, self-serve vacuuming and automatic cashiers.

Building allows for the model of choice to be laid out in the most efficient and profitable manner.

We have all seen operations change hands for various reasons. In some cases, the operations never seem to be able to turn around.

When buying, you buy the goodwill as well as the 'bad will'. Since few people actually sell a winner, investors that buy often have to overcome the previous owner's bad reputation.

When building a new facility there is a greater opportunity for market penetration.

In both scenarios, it is vital to come out of the box with a strong operation. The market, however, is more likely to try a new facility before they will return to an old facility under new management.

Knowing the building

Another important benefit to building versus buying a carwash is the level of understanding to be gained about the physical plant. A new operator will be faced with many issues relating to the equipment.

Failures and damages will be experienced at the worst possible times imaginable. Building provides the opportunity to learn and experience all aspects of the equipment package.

Here are just a few examples of knowledge to be gained when building vs. buying:

Equipment installation: Building allows for the opportunity to work with the distributor during the installation of the equipment.

New investors will gain valuable insight into how the package works, which in turn will help with repairs when equipment failures occur.

The more time spent on learning during the development stage, the less dependent an investor becomes on outside help.

Plumbing: New investors will understand how the reclaim is plumbed.

Investors should make a detailed map of the lines that go underground. This will be invaluable when problems are experienced.

Seldom do carwash plans reflect the true location of piping underground. Being involved throughout the site work allows the investor to document everything.

When buying, little to no information about how the trades work was laid out is captured.

Electrical: I would advise new investors to spend a good bit of time understanding the electrical layout of their facility.

Understand how things are routed, label all conduits and junction boxes. Be diligent about this step and it will reap many rewards.

I do not recommend trying to work on the electrical yourself, however being able to direct service technicians to the appropriate location will prove to be very valuable.

When buying, you have to learn these systems through trial and error, every repair or improvement requires a great deal of investigation.

Knowledge is power

These few examples can be played out in virtually every aspect of the development.

Certainly, the development process requires more time. However, if a new investor uses this time wisely and commits to learning all they can, they will have established a strong foundation towards a successful carwash operation.

Knowledge is power. Building a new carwash allows the investor the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge about their facility — knowledge that would otherwise be lost if it wasn't experienced first hand.

Bruce Arnett Jr. is co-founder of Carnett’s Car Wash and president of Genesis Modular Carwash Building Systems.