A closer look at self-serves and in-bay automatics

A closer look at self-serves and in-bay automatics

For any carwash model, management and oversight are essential components for efficient operations.

Hello again everyone.

I hope this fall has been enjoyable and profitable. And, as we start our fast ascent into the winter season, many carwashes are preparing for the high probability of inclement weather this coming season. Here on the West Coast, we are preparing for El Nino, which is reported to bring some record harsh weather patterns our way.

In many ways, the winter season, as well as weather anomalies in general, can provide a quick surge or “spike” in business as customers flood (no pun intended) into the queuing area to get in line for a carwash that will rinse off all of the salt, rain residue and dust.

Now, let’s move on to this month’s Consultant’s Corner topic of self-serves and in-bay automatics (IBA), also known as rollovers, which are popular carwash types being utilized more frequently in the industry.

Covering the basics of self-serves and IBAs

First, let’s take a closer look at self-serves and IBAs, and consider the main features, such as:

  • Self-serve models are typically set up as in-bay stalls with high-pressure water guns outfitted with the ability to switch from initial prep to soap and even a hot wax application.
  • Most IBAs are also outfitted with their own individual drainage systems at each stall, which feed into a central system.
  • Almost all self-serve carwashes have some type of vacuum setup, which utilizes its own pay system with the option of either tokens and/or quarters.
  • Self-serve carwashes are known for having vending machines on-site; and, with growing popularity, they are now even more prevalent.

One of the main reasons a new investor or operator would want to consider a self-serve or IBA is simply because of space. The great thing about these wash types is they are able to fit into areas like small gas stations or corner lots. If you have around 10,000 square feet, installing a self-serve/IBA may cost a fraction of what a tunnel carwash might cost.

Depending on time and ability to invest, self-serve and IBA models offer a great return on investment. However, the number of washes in your portfolio could limit earning potential. To have a high generator capability in this model, it is important to have several high-performing washes and, of course, the key (as always) is location, location, location.

 Management and oversight

As with any carwash model, management and oversight are essential components for efficient operations. With today’s technology advancements, it is even easier to properly oversee and manage a carwash. Moreover, with the immense influx in Internet use and the high usage of debit and credit cards, dollar bill and coin changers are being replaced with more streamlined and accurate methods of accountability. This eliminates problems usually associated with less than honest managers and maintenance employees. Also, by having money tracked directly through a desktop and/or mobile device, you can check car count, revenue stream, chemical usage and traffic in and around the carwash several times a day.

Additionally, by adding cameras to your facility, you can directly monitor all the activity going on at the carwash with many different options to help control traffic flow, wash stall time and any unwanted visitors that may frequent the location and, perhaps in some cases, try to pander to your customers. I have seen people try and approach customers time and time again at unattended wash facilities and attempt to solicit work from the patrons there.

Great opportunities

Even with many seemingly daunting obstacles, self-serve and IBA models can be significantly profitable and relatively easy to run.

The great thing about these wash types is that they are generally easy and affordable to get started, and the current technologies available make them great choices for new investors who may be on limited budgets.

Other considerations to keep in mind are sewer and water hook-ups as well as a few of the permits involved with obtaining those. Your local officials can assist with some of those questions; and, as always, feel free to contact me with any questions you may have, or visit my website at www.theschoolofwash.com.

If you want to know about any other factors, such as specific ROI or location viability, please give me a call, and I will do my best to help. Also, you can check out the latest issues of Professional Carwashing & Detailing online and search for related topics for more helpful information about running a carwash business.

Until next time,



Christopher M. McKenna of McKenna Assets LLC, based in Redondo Beach, California, can be reached at 310-947-9711 or via email at [email protected]. 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.

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