The ability to achieve and maintain profits in the car wash industry is often dependent on numerous variables ranging from the location and demographics of the marketplace to the quality of service and operational costs.
Safety is an additional component that can never be underestimated. First, this includes the need to reduce maintenance costs through the use of products that ensure trouble-free operation for the longest period of time. Next is the construction and upkeep of inviting buildings that offer optimal amounts of visibility during the late evening hours or even early morning. This is especially important for self-serve businesses looking to establish a large base of loyal female customers.
These were all strong considerations for Barry Desruisseaux, who started his first car wash in Uxbridge, MA in 2007, self-admittedly “defying logic and breaking every rule in the book” to open his business “off the beaten path in an area surrounded by industrial companies.”
“Everyone advised me against it,” says Desruisseaux. “But I just knew the market. The community is predominantly upper-middle class and loaded with SUVs and four-wheelers with nowhere locally to go for a wash. Ours was the first to serve this area and now services between 30,000 and 35,000 vehicles annually.”
Built from the ground up by Desruisseaux, the Bright Shine Auto Spa began with three automatic bays. Most recently, it expanded in February this year with the grand opening of a second building comprising two wand self-serve wash bays located 80 feet from the original structure. This second facility, with each new bay measuring 15’ by 25’, was launched to overcome the regular backup of traffic.
“There were days when vehicles were backed up all the way to the street,” explains Desruisseaux. ”The addition greatly alleviated waiting times, while further proving we made the right decision. Understanding the area’s demographics and customers are essential for making any business work. This was overwhelmingly important for an operation relying on comfort and loyalty to succeed.”
Depending solely on repeat customers, gift cards, and charity giveaways for business, “without advertising of any kind,” Desruisseaux also understood the need to create “inviting atmospheres for customers, especially women during the evening hours.” Toward this goal, each building was built to depart from the common cookie-cutter, box-shaped look of most car washes with a quaint, colonial architectural design complete with pitched roofing, vinyl siding, and white trim.
Another integral component was lighting. The original wash has 10 400-watt metal halide bulbs in each bay, Desruisseaux was extremely interested in identifying lighting that would not only make the new facility look brighter and whiter, but would also greatly reduce maintenance time and costs. The high-intensity discharge fixtures (i.e., metal halide) of the original wash were hot, needed regular upkeep, and “definitely cost a lot to operate.” He also tried working with several different types of LEDs, only to find they were “cheap, clunky, and burnt out constantly.”
In the past, lighting options were limited, each carrying its own set of negatives. Metal halides tend to lose about half their light output midway through their lifecycles and generate heat that can “bake” residue from the car wash environment onto the hot lens. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are notorious for failing in severe industrial applications and can cause health risks if broken or cracked.
In comparison, LEDs have been around for decades, but only recent advances have provided the ability for heatless fixtures to supply warm color values designed specifically for wet, harsh environments like car wash tunnels and bays. Typically paying for themselves within two years of installation, today’s LEDs do not burn out liketraditional bulbs. They offer 10-plus years of operational life and emit up to 70 percent of their initial light output after this point. They also commonly use 60 percent to 70 percent less energy than metal halide and CFL bulbs.
As a result, Desruisseaux investigated several forms of LED lighting before learning about a series of LED luminaires developed specifically for harsh and wet indoor and outdoor applications. After sampling the fixtures at a recent tradeshow and experimenting with the LEDs on his own, he installed four 8-foot fixtures in each bay of the new building in Uxbridge. Desruisseaux was immediately impressed by the level of brightness and the easy way the system’s push-and-click IP69K connectors and cabling snapped together without hardwiring.
The LED lighting’s UL Listing provides further advantages. UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is a worldwide safety consulting and certification company that provides the UL Listing to products that have been tested against the organization’s set standards of safety and have been found to meet rigorous UL requirements. UL Listings not only help ensure that products are not fire or shock hazards, they also help to eliminate liability. Section 410.6 of the National Electric Code published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires that “all luminaires and lamp holders shall be listed.” In addition, if government inspectors catch non-UL-listed equipment or products on-site, the liability resulting from their use may fall directly onto the property owner.
Another key designation is the product’s inclusion on the DesignLights™ Consortium (DLC) Qualified Products List (www.designlights.org), which is an independent listing of “qualified LED fixtures that meet energy efficiency, color quality, and projected lifetime requirements.” Used to promote the latest quality energy efficient technologies, the DLC requires manufacturers to submit demanding industry standard test data on products as part of their applications. The purchase of DLC List products — the DLC logo can be found on spec sheets and other marketing materials — can then make car wash owners eligible for any available rebate programs offered in their area.
EASE OF USE
“I couldn’t believe the brightness,” offers Desruisseaux. “The bright white light of the LEDs reflected brilliantly off the white walls within the bay. If needed, you can change out the bulbs in minutes. Plus, they were so easy to install. Anyone can wire these up.”
Dennis Canal of B&J Electric in Milford, MA concurs. “It took me one-and-a-half hours to install the LEDs into the two bays. This included fishing the wires and everything. I’ve never worked with weather-proof lighting like this before, let alone LEDs that were this bright and easy to use.”
As for the future, Desruisseaux is already planning the replacement of his existing lighting at his original location in Uxbridge as well as a second 125-foot tunnel car wash he owns in Milford. “I wish I knew about these LEDs years ago. I certainly would have switched over by now. They are so much cheaper to operate and need virtually no maintenance. Plus, the customers have responded so well, regularly mentioning that they can see everything and how clean our recent expansion looks.”
Jason Baright co-founded G&G LED in 2010 to fill industrial lighting needs for high-quality linear LED products, especially those suitable for wet locations and harsh environments. Since its introduction, the company has developed a widespread reputation for innovative lighting and outstanding customer service within the car wash industry, and is rapidly gaining traction in the automotive, food/restaurant, transportation, industrial, and agriculture fields. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-285-6780.