This is a firsthand look at a new trend here in Los Angeles, which has been coined, for lack of a better term, as themed carwashes. Today’s modern carwash is more environmentally friendly than ever before, but savvy carwash owners and operators offer more than just state-of-the-art, energy-efficient, water-saving features. In addition, they are bringing fun back to the task of going to the carwash. In Southern California, well-known for sunshine, beaches and sports cars, the trend is toward themed carwashes that are eco-friendly and fun.

California dreaming

Our location choice for this new type of carwash was the Hermosa Beach Hand Car Wash. The owner had been planning his retirement for some time, and I was familiar with the operations, having had my eye on this location and this hand carwash. Real estate brokers tell you the key to any good purchase is location, location, location. With the address of 1000 Pacific Coast Highway, the Hermosa Beach Hand Car Wash was prime real estate, and I knew we could renovate this 30-year-old facility into a state-of-the-art, fully-automated operation. 

My partners and I met with our marketing and design team, and we came up with the vision that was to become Rock n' Roll Car Wash. We felt it was the perfect theme for a region that gave us well-known rock icons and locations such as The Beach Boys, Sunset Strip and The Roxy.

Asking for advice

Themed carwashes are a concept that is new to the industry. The only people doing this type of construction were the folks whose signature entry into this market, the Green Forest Car Wash, opened in Hawthorne, Calif., in 2009 (see sidebar). Like a trip through a rain forest, guests emerge with not only a clean car but a better understanding of our planet and the importance of protecting the environment. Since May, the developers of the Green Forest Car Wash have opened two more interactive carwashes featuring animatronic dinosaurs, more Jurassic Park than rain forest, and have plans for several more in the greater Los Angeles area.

Simply put, what makes a carwash themed is when there is a central design idea or theme running throughout the facility. This can include the building itself with the signage, branding materials, lobby, and of course, the tunnel. There is no limit to what can be achieved; all an owner or operator needs is vision.

Being so impressed with the company's facilities and their approach at Green Forest, I approached the group and asked what we could do to put in a themed carwash at the newly-acquired Hermosa Beach location. It was then and there that the pieces started falling together.

We knew what we wanted, we were extremely familiar with our demographic, and we had a track record with everything else. So, I scheduled the first of many meetings with Thomas Ennis of NS Wash Systems in Inglewood, Calif., and quizzed him about what makes his washes so successful. I also wondered what I could learn from the Green Forest model that would help me in Hermosa. 

Ennis' answers were simple:

  • “It all boils down to convenience and time. Give those customers a good, clean wash and have them out in 10 to 15 minutes.”
  • “Carwashes over the last few years have lost their ‘fun,’ their ‘excitement.’ It used to be a thing that the whole family could enjoy on any given day.”

When I asked Ennis what he saw as the future of carwashing, he had some interesting ideas that actually harken back to the days of old when full-service carwashing was actually more like today's express model. In other words, make a full-serve operate and act like an express with production line methods, and owners will bring the industry back full circle to where the industry was in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

A future project

I have decided that this is what my future project in the Redondo area will be like. I planned and designed the carwash myself to behave like an "I-Line" or linear type carwash factoring in the safety features and fallback options. The idea was to bring the full-service model back to being fun and convenient. We also plan to put cars out in record time. The Redondo project will be state of the art, environmentally friendly and extremely convenient.

We will also have a popular theme there, but you’ll have to wait and see what the theme is for that location. It will be something right out of the movies, and it will also coincide with the beach and the Pier vibe in anticipation of a new waterfront project. Even if the waterfront project is held up, our theme will still work well.

Rock 'n' roll all night

To give you a perspective of what's to come, I would like to spend a little time on some of the themed carwashes already in operation here in Los Angeles. I would first like to give you a tour of our main attraction here in Hermosa Beach: Rock n' Roll Car Wash. Here, we took time to pull out all the stops and offer Hermosa Beach the coolest carwash we could. Our theme throughout is all about the music and cars that make the carwashing business what it is, fun.

Our customers not only comment on the fun and inviting theme with great enthusiasm, but with the drought here in full swing, many customers are asking about our water reuse policy and the reclamation of water. We are proud to feature some of the best equipment available today. Our wash not only puts on a good show for the customer, but it allows us to reuse up to 80 percent of our water including our reverse osmosis water.

Another great environmentally friendly feature we have is our ultra-quiet and energy-saving drying system. This dryer not only uses about a third of the electricity of normal dryers, but at the same time, it dries at nearly twice the efficiency. The design covers more square inches using a robotic sensor. The dryer actually hovers over the vehicle, and the outputs move in and out and closer to the vehicle without ever touching the surface. This not only provides an added visual feature for viewing at the customer waiting area, but it also makes good sense to the bottom line come bill paying time. These and other environmentally friendly features are also in use at the other themed carwashes throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

Future plans

In closing, I would like to leave you with a perspective of what’s to come and how we plan on getting there. With more facilities planned for the future, we are looking at newer tools and wash methods. First, we are looking at 100 percent water reclamation. Next, we are researching viable energy alternatives and different ways of cleaning cars that involve much less manpower. Also, we now use more environmentally friendly cleaning and polishing agents to reduce the amount of leftover product and improve the methods for shipping. Lastly, as more and more cars become increasingly high-tech, we are researching ways to reduce wash process time while also looking for better ways to serve customers and their needs.

 

Christopher C. McKenna of McKenna Assets LLC, based in Redondo Beach, Calif., can be reached at 310-947-9711 or via email at chris@carwash-consultant.com.You can also visit his website at www.carwash-consultant.com. For more information on this subject and other carwash equipment, products and services, please visit www.theschoolofwash.com.