Good or bad every car wash can be described in a few short words. “Fast service.” “Modern equipment.” “Helpful employees.”
For Valet Car Wash’s latest location in Lawrenceville, NJ one word captures the essence of the site: Huge.
At 245 feet, the massive location’s wash tunnel is believed to be the world’s longest, impressive in its own right — but the scale and scope of the next-gen site doesn’t stop there. Not only does Valet sport a wash tunnel that keeps going and going, it has two other conveyors under its enormous 60-thousand-square-foot roof that sets it apart from nearly any other wash in the market today.
Owner Christopher Vernon began his car wash career in 1992 when he purchased the first Auto Valet in Trenton, NJ. The wash is located in a 100-year-old converted trolley barn and over the years Vernon invested heavily in the site’s equipment to develop a unique mix of old-school character blended with new-school technological firepower.
The 300-hp dryers take up 60 feet of conveyor space.
A little more than a decade later Vernon expanded his business, opening his second location in Hamilton, NJ. The Hamilton site sports high-end touches and its interior looks more like the lobby of an upscale hotel than the waiting area of a car wash.
Despite building two equally impressive sites, over the past 15 years Vernon has operated his washes from afar. Choosing to focus his attention on his numerous other management and development projects. But over the last couple of years the real estate developer has become reinvigorated with the car wash business, doubling his holdings to four sites over the past year with plans to grow the regional chain to seven washes by early 2018.
Vernon is not just increasing his site count, he is building over-the-top facilities that are redefining what a car wash can be. “We wanted to do things that people have never seen,” says project manager/imagineer Ray Cerwinski. “We wanted to make it as much as an attraction as it is a car wash.”
Calling the Lawrenceville site an attraction is an understatement. The one-of-a-kind location is housed in an old warehouse and is stockpiled with new-age equipment and modern architectural touches that help the wash meet its stated goal of becoming a destination business.
Plenty of Valet Car Wash’s signature lime green color.
The high-end touches of the Hamilton, NJ location.
The newest site features 24 free vacuum stalls in the building and another 10 outside.
For starters is the wash tunnel. At 245 feet long the tunnel is not only gigantic it is highly functional. It was designed to deliver the cleanest car possible day-in and day-out, even when unavoidable equipment malfunctions strike.
“The tunnel has built-in redundancy,” says Cerwinski. “We doubled up on some of the key equipment to ensure that cars continue to come out clean if we lose any one piece of equipment. We have three Peco top brushes, two sets of mitters, and two sets of wraps.”
With so much tunnel space to play with not only were the developers able to build in safeguards against equipment failure they were able to stock the tunnel with some luxury items that further set the location apart from the crowd. For example, over 60 feet of tunnel space is dedicated to the Aerodry drying system. The 300-hp system hits vehicles from every angle; ensuring cars come out of the tunnel bone dry.
Once customers finish their trip down the seemingly endless tunnel, they can exit the property, visit one of the site’s 24 indoor self-service vacuum stations or go down one of Valet’s two other conveyors.
Customers who prefer the convenience of a full-service location can get on line for the wash’s flatbelt service. The Interior Valet Service is powered by a flatbelt conveyor thatmoves a customer’s car through four distinct finishing stations manned by a minimum of a dozen workers charged with very specific duties.
At the first cleaning pod the vehicle’s mats are cleaned and the doorjambs wiped down. Up next is the glass cleaning station where the interior of every window is wiped clean. At pod number three the console, cup holders, and dashboard are dusted and quickly dressed. The fourth pod is the vacuum station where all of the dust and dirt is removed from the carpets. While still moving down the conveyor the vehicle is given a quality control check and the customer’s satisfaction confirmed before the car is sent on its way.
“The interior service takes around 10 minutes,” says Cerwinski. “If that is all you are looking for you can leave. Or you can go to our third step, a European-style polish/wax tunnel.”
The view from the lobby of the 100-year-old Trenton, NJ location.
A piece of the 245-foot-long wash tunnel.
The Hamilton, NJ site viewed from the street.
The Peco polish tunnel is one of just three such tunnels in the country and is designed to wax and buff a vehicle to a level of shine no traditional car wash can match. At the entrance of the 100-foot long dry tunnel, workers apply a spray wax to the vehicle, focusing on the painted areas. Once the car is coated in the silicone-based spray wax the human involvement in the process is complete and the car is sent down the buffing tunnel.
The tunnel is outfitted with a series of brushes equipped with special polishing cloth and shammy-style mitters that buff the vehicle’s surface to a brilliant shine. “You can see the exit of the polish tunnel from our conference room,” Cerwinski says. “Even after hundreds of thousands of services we are still distracted and amazed by how shiny the cars come out of the tunnel. There is nothing like it. Our customers are gushing over it. You can’t provide this level of shine from just a standalone wash process.”
While it will be tough to top the Lawrenceville location, Vernon and his team are in the midst of developing three more sites that should be up and running by early 2018.
All three sites will be mirror images of each other, featuring 180-foot express tunnels with free self-serve vacuums.
Once Valet has all seven locations running the development team will likely take a step back from expansion and double back on some of its older locations and begin retrofitting them and aligning them both aesthetically and technologically with the newer sites.
“We purchased our Princeton location last March,” Cerwinski says. “We took it over and converted it to a Valet location. We aren’t done with it yet. We are planning to triple the size of the site and install a lot of the services we have in our Lawrenceville location.”
Valet purchased a neighboring restaurant and is in the process of transforming the building with the installation of a flat-belt finishing service as well as a polishing tunnel. The site will have all of the bells and whistles of Lawrenceville but in a campus-style approach, instead of the all-under-one-roof design.
Valet Auto Wash is redefining the car wash. Its next-gen services and willingness to invest in both technology and labor to ensure each and every car leaves the site as clean as it can be has solidified its place as a true “Destination Wash.” Its unique mix of service, design, and equipment is truly redefining customer expectations.