Operators across the country take great pride in being a part of the car wash industry. The business model shows that, if you make good decisions when planning and building your car wash and you control your costs, you can be very successful. Therefore, a great deal of time is put into developing a pro forma based on the best and most current data available at the time. Projecting the cost of consumables, wages, utilities, etc. has typically proven to be pretty cut and dry. Until now.
RISING UTILITY COSTS
I am seeing a trend that is spreading across the country. Municipalities are increasing the costs of utilities (specifically water) to make up for lost revenues elsewhere. And they are doing it in dramatic fashion. Jefferson County, AL has a sewer discharge rate that is three times their water rate. One operator was spending over $6,000 for water/sewer to wash 4,500 cars in a month. Cassville, MO operators were faced with a 186 percent increase in the cost of water in one foul swoop. I hear stories like this everywhere I go.
Austin, TX operators have been under a constant threat from their water authority of potentially having to close due to severe drought. I have personally been on Lake Travis and I can tell you it is like rafting though the Grand Canyon. The lake is that low. Unlike the operators in Austin, Central Illinois operators actually had to close one day a week as a result of drought. How do you plan for that?
IT TAKES A TEAM
There is no single answer. In fact, since every car wash is different and every geographical location is different, I would submit that there are many answers. The key is that there is an answer for your specific situation. The best way to determine what you can do to protect yourself from one of these unexpected bombshells is to take the time to contact one of the car wash industry’s water management professionals. Adding a water expert to your team will give you a huge advantage when facing some of these unexpected changes. Having a working knowledge of the many different kinds of water in a car wash and how to apply them to different applications is critical. For example:
• Foaming agents work best with soft water while drying agents work best with hard water.
•Spot-free water (R.O.) does not make a car spot free. Displacing the high TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) water that is on the car is the goal. The ultra-low TDS water from an R.O. system is simply the tool.
•The rejected water from a Reverse Osmosis system is the second best water you have. You can capture this water and use it a second or third time in the wash process.
•Reclaiming the car wash water is a big one. A reclaim system will have the single greatest impact on your bottom line. Remember the operator I mentioned in Alabama? He installed a reclaim system and was able to reduce his water/sewer bill by over 80 percent. That’s about $4,800 per month added to his bottom line.
Water management professionals work hand-in-hand with equipment and chemical manufacturers and distributors every day. Together, they will take the guesswork out of the equation and provide you with a solid strategy for your specific need.
Reclaiming your wash water is going to give you the biggest bang for your buck. I consider reclaim water to be a product like any other and not a by-product. Let me explain: In a fresh (city) water car wash, an operator will set each application up using this water source as a baseline. Wraps and brushes need to be lubricated so they don’t “grab” onto the car. So he adds a neutral foaming agent or lubricant to overcome this issue.
Most reclaim water retains residual soaps and therefore provides the necessary lubricity for wraps and brushes. As a result the operator of a reclaim-based car wash can reduce or even eliminate the need for this application. This saves him money on that chemical each month, the cost of the applicator, and, by the way, the cost of the water needed to deliver that chemical.
In a broader view, a fresh-water-based operator struggling with high water costs finds himself closing ball valves and eliminating water driven applications in an effort to mitigate the expense. At some point he starts to see the quality of the wash decline. It is a difficult balancing act to say the least. Whereas the reclaim-based operator can use as much water as his reclaim system can deliver.
I made some broad strokes in my descriptions only because of what I wrote earlier. “Every car wash is different.” The point I want to make is that it takes a team:
• Equipment provider/distributor
• Chemical supplier
•Water management professional/manufacturer
If you would like to know more about how you can put more dollars on your bottom line without limiting your water usage, come see one of the water management professionals/manufacturers at
The Car Wash Show in Chicago, March 31 - April 2.
Scott Avant has spent eight years in the car wash industry and is the national sales manager for Eureka, IL-based SoBrite Technologies.
You can reach Scott via e-mail at email@example.com.