Over the last decade, whenever I speak to self-serve and in-bay automatic owners, the conversation always leads to the advent of future technology. In a world that has witnessed massive technological advances across a multitude of industries, it often feels like our industry has been overlooked. That has finally changed, as my company has been beta testing in the field for a software company for the last 18 months.
The purpose of this article is not to overwhelm you with technical jargon that only Silicon Valley software developers understand, but to describe the experience that my company has had during this beta testing period. My company is 30 years old, is comprised of 30 different car wash locations, and the effect of these technologies was a game changer for us.
It begins with the installation of very small monitoring sensors. These sensors wire in as easily as an electronic coin acceptor. They are waterproof, and they can be mounted in any configuration. These sensors communicate with our phones, tablets, or desktop computers via the Internet. The next step is a downloadable app via the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, followed by a phone call to initialize your company user account and registration of devices. This portion can be achieved by an online registration process also.
At this point, monitoring begins and the information is fed to your device in real time. For those of you who don’t want to experience hours on end of staring at your phone, instant notifications are sent to your device when a problem occurs, an out of order is experienced, or a threshold is breached on your equipment.
The development of sensors has accelerated over the last 18 months based upon needs I recognized from more than 44 years of operating car washes. I currently have a revenue system that is installed in every location. This system counts all revenue experienced by individual bays and automatics. This includes all coins, bills, and credit cards accepted at the point of sale, while equipment room temps are monitored for catastrophic freeze protection. This same package includes a bill changer sensor that monitors out-of-order signals.
Our automatics are not only monitored for revenue and out of order signals, but pressure threshold breaches that are sensed from blown hoses, broken arms, split or leaking fittings, etc. The pressure sensors literally monitor hundreds of potential failures. A slightly different pressure sensor is utilized in the self-serve bays and it achieves the same outcome.
I am slated to begin beta testing of a fluid-level sensor that would measure levels in any and all tanks, reservoirs, soap barrels, or 5-gallon pails — regardless of the configuration of the liquid. This is highly anticipated by us, because it will sense the need for replacement orders of chemicals or malfunctions in liquid reservoirs of all kinds.
The bottom line of these platforms can be quantified based upon our company’s real-world experience with them. We experience no more unexpected out-of-order surprises, surprises that led to unknown downtime. Our technicians’ response time has been cut by more than 75 percent on average. These two factors have led to the recapture of revenue that was previously only possible with a full-time attendant on staff at every location. Regardless of employee structure, the total revenue uptick was measured between 6 percent and 9 percent across our car wash portfolio.
Which leads me to the next big disruption: manpower. Our labor costs were cut by 46 percent.
This was achieved because there was no longer a need for attendants — attendants who, honestly, spent half their time monitoring the exact same systems. Thusly, attendants were replaced with clean-up workers only, and the service techs became more efficient because of the real-time data being sent via smartphone notifications.
We recently experienced the coldest winter in over 120 years. These sensors notified us on three occasions that equipment room heaters were experiencing malfunctions. The problems were remedied in less than an hour and catastrophic equipment room failure was avoided. Unfortunately, my competition in many cities was not as lucky. When equipment rooms experience deep sustained freeze, the costs are comparable to total refurbishment.
Not every car wash is the same when it comes to overhead structure, but for us the recaptured revenues and lowered manpower costs were life altering. In the last 12 months, our bottom line has increased 34 percent. This was achieved without the single addition of any new car wash component systems. Thusly, it can be surmised that the economic life of all of our equipment has increased measurably also.
Although I am not an expert in the inner workings of tech companies, I can easily envision a future in which efficiencies are exponentially increased for car wash owners, their chemical suppliers, and equipment manufacturers. It could be achieved by end-user adaptation, chemical provider implementation, or manufacturers’ licensing agreements. And at the speed in which our beta testing increased for new sensors, their scope is limitless. Additionally, the applications for these sensors will be felt in self-serve, in-bay automatic, and conveyor washes. My costs incurred for these platforms during beta testing was about one third of the cost of a credit card system per location, and the monthly subscription rate was less than the gasoline savings from the efficiencies.
After 44 years of washing cars, I still dump trash and wash bays alongside my team. This much-anticipated technology will revolutionize our industry. And for the first time in my career, I feel in control of all my wash locations. I carry every location in my pocket — and I get a day off from time to time.
Corey Lawson and his family own Coach Lite Car Wash Company and operate 30 car wash locations across the Midwest. They have combined experience exceeding 100 years. The company has built over 200 wash locations for clients and is based in Hutchinson, KS. These locations have a footprint in large cities and small towns. He has contributed to the industry with submitted articles on several occasions throughout his career. He can be reached for questions or comments by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org