There’s no question that this is a good time to be in commercial car washing: in a fairly short period of time, we’ve shifted from talking about how to squeeze every last dollar out of each guest to conversations about capacity and expansion. Normally, I’d say this is a great sign. However, there’s one big problem: it’s becoming ever more difficult to find a good site at a reasonable price. Moreover, when you finally locate that perfect piece of dirt, chances are you’re bound to run into obstacles such as zoning or permitting. So, what’s a simple guy like me going to do? Sure, I’ll look around, but if I don’t find what I’m looking for at a reasonable price, I turn my gaze down toward my own two feet and work with what I’ve got — in other words, I find ways to maximize the revenue potential of my existing sites.
Now, if you’ve read any of my articles in the past, you know that
I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy sharing the benefits of adding pay-waxes and value-added services such as tire shine to your tunnel. For the most part, this is the low-hanging fruit of conveyorized car washing: it’s relatively cheap, easy to install, requires very little downtime, and starts delivering customer value immediately. If you haven’t considered adding these to your tunnel, put this down and go explore your options. If, however, you’re like most and your service offering is already chock-full of added extras, you might be wondering how to take your entire business to the next level.
MORE THAN ADD-ONS
That’s exactly what one car wash operator in Alabama was thinking when he added one of the first polishing tunnels in the country to his property, and what motivated another in South Florida to add a second express tunnel to serve even more customers with even greater quality and consistency. Now, those projects were worthwhile in the long run, and the forward-thinking operators who broke ground on them made a wise choice but like most commercial renovations, a car wash remodel can be both costly and time-consuming. In order to try to lessen the financial load on his business, this express car wash operator weighed whether to stay open or close down during the construction. He understood that remaining open would extend the project timeline by about a third, which meant a higher bid from his general contractor (GC) and potentially lower volume during construction. However, he’s an experienced operator, and he knew that it was important to maintain positive cash flowing during construction, so he chose to keep on washing. Here’s how he did it:
Tip #1: Remain Engaged to Drive Results
Keeping his business open during construction meant that the project would take about 30 percent more time and money than if he were to have closed during the construction. While this was financially acceptable, the longer project timeline presented another challenge: keeping contractors and subcontractors engaged, on-site, and on time. This starts before you even break ground.
First, you’ll need to assemble the right team. This means getting your architect, civil engineer, and general contractor all on the same page and in sync with your design vision and timeline. Your GC will likely present and hire subcontractors such as electricians, plumbers, and concrete workers. However, know that in most cases you’ll have the authority to vet them first. Ask your GC to hire subcontractors that have car wash experience and demand accountability for their work. The longer a project takes, the more likely it is that you’ll need to corral the troops to keep your project on time and within budget. By remaining engaged with the project, you’ll better understand its complexities and you’ll be able to catch any mistakes early enough to avoid further delay.
Tip #2: Try to Appear as Normal As Possible
It is tough to completely hide a site remodel — after all, depending on the scope of the project, you’re bound to have concrete, dirt, steel, and contractors everywhere for several weeks to months. The owner knew that the remodel would be disruptive, but he still took steps to minimize its impact on customers. At this particular car wash, this meant paving a temporary egress path so that customers could comfortably exit the tunnel without having to maneuver around the containment areas. The owner and his general manager also modified their staffing schedule to allow for extra attendants to orchestrate traffic around the construction to ensure both safety and a smooth flow of traffic inside the lot. Finally, by placing notices around the property, the owner was able to keep the status of his project transparent, which allowed his staff to provide more accurate updates to curious customers.
These tactics kept operations running as smoothly as possible, preventing his loyal customers from getting frustrated and seeking out another wash. More importantly, however, he learned that by modifying his construction schedule to focus on the areas that impacted his customers the most — namely, the lot, vacuums, and concrete work — he could return the site to normalcy from a customer perspective sooner, which restored his throughput and allowed his numbers to pick back up to near pre-construction levels.
Tip #3: Save Equipment for Last
I’ll admit that you probably think I’m biased, but I know that I can’t be the only one that still gets excited about brand-new car wash equipment. After all, your equipment is the heart of your business — it’s what delivers value to your customers in the form of a clean, dry, and shiny vehicle. However, it’s also one of the few things that requires a completely offline tunnel to install. In this owner’s case, he added a second express tunnel to his site, which meant that he could continue washing in one tunnel while he installed equipment in the adjacent tunnel. However, he reserved this step for last to ensure that all of the prerequisites were met, the work was complete, and everything passed inspection prior to installing the car wash equipment.
Site remodels and retrofits present an opportunity for growth without the headaches involved with expanding to a new location, but are still challenging and complex projects. Whether to remain open during construction is a financial decision that each operator planning a remodel must make. To make the most informed decision, ask your GC to bid both ways — open and closed during renovation — and plan to double their estimates in both time and cost. Remaining open is a great way to maintain positive cash flow and minimize customer attrition — plus, the sight of a remodel creates anticipation for improved service to come. By keeping the three tips learned from this one owner’s remodel in mind, the only thing your customers will notice is the improved service.
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 AAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com.