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Multiple Choice

By Stefan Budricks

08/01/19

About a month ago, I passed by a car wash in suburban Phoenix I had visited five years ago. I recounted my experience in this column then (November 2014). I reminded myself that I had expressed my intention at the time to return for another ride through the tunnel in the future and had not done so. Before I could expand on that thought, I noticed a brand new car wash less than a mile further on, on the same going-home side of the street.

The wash I patronized in 2014 is a multi-profit-center site with a full-service wash plus an added express lane and separate lobby, a c-store, 18 gas pumps, three detail bays, and three fast-lube bays. The new wash is an express exterior. The two facilities are about two miles from access to a freeway, just beyond which there is yet another long-established conveyor car wash. Thus: three car washes within a four-mile stretch — you can pick and choose.

This immediately brought to mind a recent article on azbigmedia.com under the title “Car Wash Trends to Watch in Commercial Real Estate.” The author referred to explosive growth in express exterior wash construction in metro Phoenix, noting that there were 100 express exterior locations in that market, outnumbering full-service washes two to one. The inevitable question arose: Is there a bubble in the making? As prime sites are rapidly being spoken for, developers are forced to consider secondary sites, the ones most likely to come a cropper in a shakeout. So runs the argument.

Competition aside, the new express wash’s location could not be described as secondary. It is housed on a major thoroughfare featuring commercial development on both sides over virtually its entire length. I couldn’t hazard a guess as to the traffic count, but it’s a busy street. The express’s neighbor to the west is a Starbucks. On the east and north sides a new three-story apartment complex is under construction, currently separated from the wash by a chain-link fence — its purpose, I gather, to secure the building site. One would assume that a more substantial barrier would eventually replace the fence. Regardless, apartment dwellers on the upper floors will continue to have an unobstructed view of the wash.

What struck me five years ago was how little wash business was being conducted — this on a cloudless Sunday afternoon with mild temperatures. I was eager to see how the new guy was doing. Turns out, this wash is sibling to the wash whose praises I sang in this space in the March 2019 issue. It wasn’t obvious at first, as this new wash was constructed with far fewer architectural embellishments than the one I previously reported on. The parent chain consists of six full-service sites and 14 express exteriors.

As was the case in 2014, there was little activity at the wash as I approached the pay kiosk. The only other customer on site was vacuuming her car in one of the 30 free-vacuum slots. Consider this, though: it was a Monday afternoon around 3:30. The temperature: 110°F. The young man who explained the subscription program to me and led me through the various on-screen menus must have been extremely uncomfortable in the heat, but it never showed in his patient, friendly demeanor. As for the wash, it was consistent with my experience related in the March issue. In a word: impressive.



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