Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is said. This explains why one collector will lust after a Caravaggio, while another adorns his walls with the works of Joan Miró. What is true in the art world also holds in the business environment. So, deciding on a “look” for a store can be a perilous endeavor. Being too extreme in one direction or another could either draw customers or, if not actually repulse them, leave them feeling “meh,” at best.

Consumer-facing business premises are designed, in part, to attract — to appeal, in other words, to the aesthetic perceptions of potential customers or, sometimes, simply to their sense of fun. Of course, the design serves other purposes as well, such as functionality or establishing, building, or maintaining a brand.

The appearance of its location is as important to a car wash facility as it is to any other retail business. The cover of this issue, and the story starting on page 50, illustrates how one owner went all out to build a multi-profit-center wash that impresses and attracts. By its size alone, this facility makes its presence known, starting with the 42-foot-high pay-gate structure that welcomes customers to the twin 160-foot-long car wash tunnels. From color choices to finishing touches, the entire venture speaks of high-class image and quality.

Of course, a large, spread-out facility offers multiple opportunities to display design flair. This is not the case when considering an in-bay automatic. How much can one do to pretty-up what is essentially a box? That might explain why the car wash is often hidden behind the convenience store — out of sight (and out of mind, except for those intent on getting their car cleaned).

Still, there is hope for the freestanding in-bay automatic that wishes to make a statement. The September 2019 cover of Auto Laundry News offers an illustration of how, with a few simple touches, a wash can be turned from dull to delightful. Note, for a start, the gable roof — already a softening of the harsh angular box structure. Then there is the split-block construction, subtly highlighted by down lights on either side of the exit. Finally, the equipment itself adds some color and intrigue with the effective use of LED lighting.

Operators can impress not only their customers, but also all passersby, by housing their in-bay automatic in a glass building. Combining this stage-like setting with an over-the-top foam and light show does more than provide an attractive facility; it sends an action-filled marketing message wash after wash.

The express-exterior wash in its purest form probably presents the greatest design challenges. Its building is an elongated version of the in-bay automatic’s and, without some architectural flourishes, is in danger of being designated an eyesore. Here’s an example — an extreme one to be sure, but an example nevertheless: A big-box store built an express wash for the exclusive use of its club members. It is housed in a rectangular concrete building surrounded by a vast expanse of blacktop. No windows, minimal landscaping, no embellishments whatsoever. With all the appeal of a shipping container, it is utterly utilitarian. It’s functional, but it ain’t pretty.

Operators already fear the commoditization of car washing as a result of the sameness in services and process in the express model. That the facilities look so similar is an aggravating factor. Aside from varying rooflines and opting for different finishes such as ceramic tile or faux stonework, a favored method of differentiation seems to be the adoption of a theme. Thus we find the airplane-hanger look, the farm-barn theme, or the surfer-dude styled wash.

Being different is good — and if customers like the way you look, even better.