When considering the addition of a roll-over, otherwise known as an in-bay automatic, to your existing self-serve — or if you're building a new self-serve and in-bay automatic from the ground up — you owe it to yourself to review all the carwash systems currently available.
These systems include: soft-touch (friction), touch-free and combination systems. But there is much homework to be done before a decision on a specific system is warranted.
Demographics and competition
Be sure that your demographics will support the addition of an in-bay automatic because not every location will. It is common, however, for an in-bay automatic to outperform self-serve bays in most locations.
Ideally, an owner wants to contract the services of an experienced independent researcher for an accurate, detailed report of the demographics at their location.
Expert researcher John Wasson with Quantitative Market Research (QMR) explained that a customer's decision to get their car washed is usually more of a planned event rather than an impulsive action. For this reason, demographics play an important role in determining the success potential of a specific location.
People naturally prefer to run errands, including getting their car washed, as close to home as possible. Obviously the density and absolute number of households in the area is of prime importance.
Discretionary income plays an important role as well. For example: automatic carwashes do better when they are centered in areas with higher than average incomes.
Some variables that help determine probable success also include:
- Traffic counts;
- Salt application;
- Traffic generators in the immediate area;
- Residential and commercial growth patterns;
- Nearby daytime work force population;
- Vehicle availability per household;
- Age groups within the population;
- Travel time to work; and
- Competing carwashes in the specific market area.
These numbers are the inputs that complex modeling systems use to accurately predict potential carwash revenue streams. The cost of a comprehensive report is small considering the high investment and risk involved.
The right combination
Once the research is complete, it's time to determine the carwash system that would be best received by the consumers in the area.
There are a couple of common fears and perceptions that owners have concerning in-bay systems. Many owners think a touch-free wash has fewer damage claims, but a friction wash gets cars cleaner.
For operators with this mentality the solution may be to offer both. A combination wash provides the consumer with a choice and provides the operator with the best of both worlds.
The combination of friction and high-pressure provides superior cleaning and operators can charge higher prices for the option-rich packages available with a combination system.
Adding extra amenities to your roll-over
Historically, consumers will pay more for carwashes that have an air dryer.
Operators can safely charge at least $1 to $2 more on every wash package when a dryer is included in that package, and most carwash systems will accommodate a dryer retrofit.
Triple foam is another option that will increase revenue and the number of cars washed.
Owner success stories
Accurate market research was completed on all the following sites, which successfully added either an in-bay or extras choices to their differing self-serve carwash sites.
1) Mall Way Car Wash in Jasper, AL, added an air dryer and triple foam to their wash, their revenue increased along with the number of cars they washed.
They did not have enough room inside their automatic bay to add the air dryer, so they added it outside and then covered with a nice, attractive and economical addition to their building.
2) Roger and Kay Miller were looking for a business that Kay could manage and yet still run her previous business. They decided to build a self-serve with an automatic.
NeonBubbles, their location in Sylacauga, AL, is located on an out parcel of a strip mall center that is anchored by a Wal-Mart SuperCenter.
They decided on a glass building and a combination wash with a 60 HP air dryer.
The prices that they are charging are higher than anyone thought they could get for that area, but they continue to get 30 percent of their top wash.
Spot-free rinse and reclaim
All of the example locations chose spot-free rinse and some of them chose reclaim systems. When considering spot-free rinse, the quality of the water (i.e. Total Dissolve Solids) is very important.
Using the spot-free water to mix with chemicals saves on chemical costs and helps clean the car.
Even with an air dryer, spot-free is advisable because the water on the car that the air dryer leaves behind will not spot.
When choosing a spot-free system, it is a good idea to select one that is well built and that your distributor is comfortable with and can support.
When deciding on a reclaim system, consider that the cost of water and sewer just keeps going up. In many cases, for new locations, the savings in the sewer tap fee will pay for the reclaim system.
The annual savings on the water and sewer bill can pay for the reclaim in 1-2 years depending on the percent of re-claimed water used.
In a reclaim vs. fresh water analysis done for a new customer, reclaimed water would save him approximately $16,000 a year.
Questions to ask yourself
There are some things to consider when adding an in-bay automatic to a new or existing self serve. The first step is to conduct an in-depth demographic study to determine the type of system(s) to best suit the location.
From there it's important to research the manufacturers who have the desired system available.
Ask the manufacturer or distributor of choice to design a site plan to determine what equipment will fit and the best layout for vehicle stacking and throughput.
Find out if the city or county municipalities require reclaim and if they don't, decide whether it is desired at the site anyway.
Other important questions and things to consider:
- What will the project cost and how will it be financed?
- How many vacuums and what kind of vacuum options will be offered?
- Will there be canopies with lights or area lighting around the vacuums?
Owning a self-serve carwash with in-bay automatics is a very profitable business. In fact, many investors are now looking into this rather than other businesses like franchises, fast food, etc.
Be sure to research and choose the in-bay and options that will best fit your particular wash site.
Jack Allison is president of Rain Tunnel Systems which is an AUTEC distributor that operates in Alabama, Mississippi and the panhandle of Florida. For more information email Jack at Raintunnel@aol.com.