Another month has passed. As I’m writing this, it’s the end of May 2020 and COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift in most markets. Dare I say, it feels like we’re starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel.

My column in the June issue was the first article in a four-part series: “Planning for Upgrades and Conversions to Make Your Business More Profitable.” This month, I’ll cover specifics related to space and construction considerations when converting to an express exterior.

First, Can You Convert?
And Should You Convert?

Converting a wash is a numbers game with volume requirements. To serve as a guide, I strongly suggest you refer to a recent proforma for traffic counts, capture rates, visibility, weather, and demographics pitted against your package pricing, hours of operation, and service levels.

The good news: I rarely see sites that can’t find a way to convert. Sometimes adding the requisite free-vacuums and pay stations is straightforward. And there are times that it may require driveway modifications or getting creative with space. I’ve seen owners lease parking spaces from a neighbor. I’ve seen owners install a front-wheel-pull conveyor and modify the tunnel entrance to make the turning radius friendlier for clients. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Create A Competitive Advantage Within the Tunnel

We’re in the business of washing cars. Cleaner. Dryer. Shinier. The day you reopen, your tunnel should produce a finished product superior to every competitor within a 10-mile radius. Work with your partners to make sure you do it right. After all, you’re the one with the shiny new equipment and calibrated chemistry. The cars driving off your location should be the cleanest, driest, and shiniest.

Next, look at windows and lighting, or the lack of lighting. Your goal is to create an unforgettable and satisfying experience within the tunnel that your customers remember. Some operators believe in bright, open, and airy spaces. Others blackout the tunnel completely to create an amusement park feel with LED lights and foam. Select the option you feel will resonate the most.

Choose the Conveyor

Personally, I prefer the proven durability of a traditional roller and chain conveyor. That said, I’ve seen many washes use dual belt transporters. Depending on yourFocus on creating a business that emerges quickly.competitive landscape, the additional expense and maintenance of a belt conveyor may make sense. My suggestion is to reach out to your local distributor and have a conveyor conversation. Make sure you understand both the upfront costs, as well as the ongoing maintenance requirements.

Clear for Conversion

During construction, my preference is to remain open when possible. This can extend the project timeline and may increase the cost of the project, but it also limits disruption to your customers and you lower the risk of customers having a reason to try another wash down the street. And perhaps most important, you still have cash flow from washing cars.

There will be times when you’ll be absolutely forced to close, even if only for a few hours. It’s best to orchestrate traffic around construction to ensure both safety and a smooth flow of traffic. Schedule construction to focus on the areas that impact customers the most — namely, the lot, vacuums, and concrete work. Finally, let customers know what you are doing. Place notices around the property to provide updates about the great new features coming soon.

Pitfall #1: Devil Is In The Details

I absolutely love this part of the business. If you decide to keep your business open during construction (and I usually do), make sure you’re prepared to work your fanny off. Pick suppliers you can work with and make sure every single one of them, and your general contractor, is in sync with your design vision and timeline — before you start.

Look for car wash experience and demand accountability for their work. Electricians, plumbers, and concrete workers; interview each and every one of them. And make sure your contract states that you have the authority to vet all subcontractors.

I also suggest you estimate a 30 percent increase in project time and cost if you keep your business operational during construction. Plan to manage the project from beginning to end to catch mistakes early enough to avoid overruns in budget or schedule.

Pitfall #2: Save Equipment for Last

Renovate the tunnel equipment last. It’s one of the few things that requires a wash to be shut down. Saving it for last lets you ensure that all of the prerequisites are met, the work is complete, and everything passes inspection.

From a customer perspective, the site returns to normalcy very quickly. Loyal customers won’t get frustrated.

How Much Will It Cost

Create your perfect equipment- and site-modification plan first. Then, ask your general contractor to bid as “open during renovation” and “closed during renovation.” As a worst-case scenario, I suggest you increase the estimate by 30 percent in both time and cost. Compare the investment against your proforma projections and pull the trigger if it makes sense.

What Lies Ahead

With all that has faced us the past few months, worrying is not where I’m placing my energy. My focus is similar to many of yours: create a business that emerges … quickly.

Next month, I’ll turn attention to express exterior operations management, staffing, and leveraging technology to bring it all together.

Extracting the maximum value from each square foot of land may start with construction and equipment, but the real opportunity lies in the tools you use and the work you do to make your business successful.

Until then, good luck, and good washing.

Anthony Analetto has over 35 years’ experience in the car wash business and is a partner at SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory. Before coming to SONNY’S, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at