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Business Operations

You modernize, you win

October 11, 2010
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If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind. This is the quiet mantra of every successful small business owner. He may not say it out loud, he might not have it posted on the wall, but his actions and decisions will certainly indicate this philosophy.

Case in point: “Operators who equip themselves to succeed in today’s market will have a clear advantage over those who buy on a whim, as well as competitors who settle for ‘business as usual,’” explained Sean McBride, tunnel product manager for Belanger, Inc.

When it comes to modernizing and updating your carwash business, many owners fixate on the costs associated with buying new equipment, freshening the look of the facility and putting new programs in place. But the experts Professional Carwashing & Detailing tracked down for this article said that is actually the process in reverse. To be truly forward-thinking, carwash operators need to first identify the areas that need to be improved, and then work on finding solutions.

It’s all about efficiency
Improving efficiency is the purpose of almost every new development for the carwash industry in 2010, according to our panel. From entirely redeveloped systems to smaller updates for the tunnel or in-bay automatic, the goal is to reduce water, energy and labor dependency at the carwash.

But that’s not all. Manufacturers are also trying to simultaneously increase throughput, dollars-per-car and encourage simplicity in design. For instance, Econocraft’s new Xeo 8 Conveyorized Car Wash System will use 1 HP electrical motors with variable frequency drives (VFDs) to minimize energy use, according to Bob Schrum, a distributor for the line and president/CEO of Flagstop, Inc., a chain of six carwashes in the Richmond, VA, area.

According to Schrum, who is also president of the Southeastern Car Wash Association, operators who use energy-efficient equipment coupled with VFDs will not only dramatically reduce their energy bills, but may also qualify for government subsidies.

McBride agreed with Schrum that VFDs are an easy way to control energy costs, but took the matter a step further by suggesting operators research and consider electric-drive equipment which can dramatically increase such savings.

“There’s no question that electric-drive equipment is more energy efficient for many reasons,” McBride said. “With electric drive, there’s no energy ‘lost in translation’ — electric motors drive equipment directly. By contrast, a hydraulic system uses an electric motor to drive a hydraulic pump, which then powers the equipment. Since the process of converting electric energy to fluid motion is not 100 percent efficient, the hydraulic system will use more energy than its all-electric counterpart.”

And by adding VFDs to an electric-drive system, the operator can avoid start-up power surges and lower the peak energy demand. “As well, when VFDs are controlled by an intelligent carwash control system, the speed of an entire tunnel system can be managed with ‘one button’ — speeding or slowing the conveyor and all other components together,” McBride continued. “During lighter wash volumes, this saves wear on the equipment. During high-volume washing, this can increase throughput while preserving wash quality. With in-bay automatics, VFDs can speed or slow wash passes and machine functions mid-cycle, to achieve higher throughput while providing greater dwell time where wash conditions demand it.”

If you can’t replace the whole system…
Not every operator can afford an entirely new conveyor system, though, and our experts agreed there are solutions for every budget. For instance, Ryan Essenburg, chief operating officer of Tommy Car Wash Systems, said the simplest of updates doesn’t even require new technology.

“Paint jobs do wonders,” Essenburg suggested, adding that operators should consider a new color in order to make the change obvious. “Clean up the exterior. Add different architectural components or metal panels to the exterior to reinvent your look.”

For operators who are looking for an equipment upgrade, consider the addition of a tire shiner to reduce labor costs and increase throughput. “They are not just for express washes anymore,” Schrum stated, adding that his full-serve locations have saved almost 4 percent on labor costs across the board after he added Belanger’s new tire shine machine, The Durashiner, and a poodle brush. “It doesn’t take long to pay for equipment at that rate,” Schrum explained. “[Especially] when you’re looking at $400,000-$500,000 annual payrolls.”

McBride agreed, adding that this service is popular for conveyor and in-bay operations. “Tire shine remains a huge hot button item for carwash customers, and the extra service for which they will consistently pay the most money,” he explained. “Washes that offer a quality tire shine service not only stand to increase revenue per car; they can gain market share at the expense of competitors who do not offer the service.”

He suggested operators with older technology should consider newer systems that offer better coverage and eliminate chemical drips on floors and sling on customer cars. “Not only can the right tire shiner increase extra service sales and customer satisfaction; it can grow profit margins as well, by eliminating costly chemical waste,” he said.

In addition to tire shiner, McBride also said operators on a budget should consider updating their carwash’s arches. “In many ways they’re the face of the carwash,” McBride said. “That’s because every customer drives under and through the arches, one after another — all the way down the tunnel.”

Many operators already use neon tubes to draw attention to arches that apply high-margin extra services, but McBride suggested they also look into brandable arches which can be used throughout the tunnel. Using bright, colorful arches can give a tunnel a whole new look, McBride said, and deliver a big ‘bang for the buck’ by turning a small investment “into a big ‘wow’ for new and repeat customers alike.”

“Much like a new street sign draws fresh interest for the wash, a new arch package can spark interest in online services such as triple foam, clear cost sealant and total surface protectant,” he explained.

Similarly, in-bay automatic operators can choose branding packages and ‘head unit’ remodels to achieve the same result, McBride said. “An impressive ‘new wash’ look and feel for a fraction of the price.”

Improve your throughput and sales-per-car
According to McBride, the key to improving throughput doesn’t lie in using a higher operating speed. Instead, the operator must take a systematic approach to optimizing performance, McBride said. This includes considering the wash media material and design for friction washes, and the nozzle type, placement and pump capacity for touchless locations. In other words, evaluate the conditions of your mitters, nozzles and pumps and look for upgrades which might improve their performance.

”For either type of system, frame construction, bearing design and mounting provisions can affect the equipment’s ability to run well at high speeds,” McBride said, adding that the system also includes the carwash controller. “Controllers that offer greater control make it possible to run the equipment at its peak efficiency. With a VFD-driven electric system, intelligent controller and the right software, the wash cycle can be best ‘tweaked’ for both optimum performance and throughput.”

Essenburg had a few ideas for increasing your sales-per-car, including a change in your menu. Unlimited wash clubs can give an operator a guaranteed income, as well as encourage customer loyalty by ‘locking-in’ the client. Expect to see more operators jumping on this bandwagon in 2010, and check out our profile here for one example of a successful subscription-based pricing model.

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