Auto Laundry News - January 2011

Express Exterior Matches Service with Need

By Jim and Elaine Norland

The view from the street: The car wash tunnel doubles as its own billboard.

Seeing and meeting a need for quality car washing is every wash operator’s dream. Offering a low- to mid-price washing choice on a busy four-lane highway frontage made sense for the owners of High Tide Car Wash in Shelby, NC, between Charlotte and Asheville.

Construction snags didn’t permit opening in the busiest carwashing season, nor did the owners foresee the impact of the recession when they started building. Despite opening at the start of the usually slowest months of this year, the wash is “paying the bills” and gaining a strong local presence among those who live in Shelby and surrounding Cleveland County.

Shelby has a city population of about 25,000 and the county has about 80,000 residents, co-owner Bob Watson says.

High Tide Car Wash gives drivers a quality express exterior wash in a glass-walled structure that serves as its own billboard on East Dixon Road (U.S. 74) at its intersection with County Home Road. The wash slogan of “Clean in a Splash, Dry in a Flash” appeals to motorists who want a clean car without spending a lot of time.

High Tide is one of only two manned car washes in Shelby. An Autobell full-service wash is the other.

Let the cleaning begin.

The end of the ride — where clean, shiny, dry cars exit.

Owners Bob Watson and G.H. and Barbara Walton chose a more friendly attendant-operated entry pay station rather than an automated system. Wiring is in place so an automated system can be installed later if desired.

The greeter can chat with and counsel entering customers, and a second attendant can help guide the car into the 92-foot tunnel. At busiest times, three employees may staff the wash.

The wash is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or dark) six days a week and is closed on Sundays. An on-site staff of five employees headed by Bryte Warrick covers all operating hours.

Washes are priced at $5, $8, and $10, but motorists tend to choose either the $5 or $10 wash, Watson reports. For an additional $3, drivers can choose to add Simoniz Double Bond protective coating with DuPont Teflon to any wash. High Tide will soon offer specials for returning and frequent customers with its Cowabunga Wash Club, its website suggests.

Free Vacutech vacuums are offered with every wash, and free use of the mat cleaner comes with the $10 wash. Customers who purchase a $5 or $8 wash can pay to use the mat cleaner. The $10 wash also includes Wheel Blaster and Bumper Blaster treatment, while both the $8 and $10 washes include underbody wash and spot-free rinse. Simoniz chemicals are used in all wash packages.

High Tide is equipped with Peco Car Wash Systems gear. The tunnel is 20 feet wide, and the equipment room, office, and bathroom are on the driver’s side of the tunnel in a 10- by 62-foot structure. The roof and support columns are blue, and a knee wall around the building is constructed of split-face block. The tunnel interior is lined with light-colored Extrutec panels. Big ceiling lights keep the tunnel bright.

The small lot was a challenge for engineers, Watson notes. A substantial portion of the site had to be devoted to grass and shrubs, but much of the landscaping was lost to extreme and sustained summer heat, with 90 days of 90-degree temps and many days over 100. “We still have some (landscaping) to do,” he said during a late October interview.

The site is well located, attracting drivers not only locally but from some distance around. “We draw from a fairly large area because of our location. A projection of traffic counts puts our exposure at over 40,000 cars daily,” says Steve Eckard, project engineer, trainer, and construction manager.

“I don’t know of another express exterior wash west of us, and for people who don’t want to spend the time or money at a full-service car wash, we offer a good choice.” (There is one such wash in an adjoining county, but it’s fairly distant from Shelby.)

Nearby businesses include a Western Sizzlin’ Steak House, sizeable Verizon office, car dealer, bank, and motel.

Eckard had been urging an entry into the car wash business for four or five years, Watson said, and had looked at various sites. “The trigger got pulled when he visited washes in Savannah, GA, and saw one very similar to what we have here,” he recalls.

While the time to get into the car care business seemed right initially, consumer spending tightened up before High Tide could open. “Still I think we’ve done well considering the economy,” Watson says.

Vacuum stations line up along the busy four-lane highway. The mat cleaning and vending machines are underneath the sign.

The equipment room, office, and bathroom are accommodated along the right side of the tunnel.

“Bob saw the opportunity, and wanted to be in business in Cleveland County,” Eckard adds.

Watson and Eckard prepared the business plan for High Tide with a spreadsheet that factored in geography, demographics, and businesses within a five-mile radius. “Steve had done one in Knoxville, TN, and the operator had good records — a three-year database of information, not projections but historical data,” Watson says.

The wash was introduced to the community with plentiful coupons and full-page ads in some local papers including weekly shoppers. High Tide also runs a “crawl” ad on the area’s TV weather channel, and ran ads on cable television stations serving the area and on the local headline news station.

While many in the community knew something about the enterprise — “In a community like this by the time you get the footers poured, most everybody knows what’s going on” — the car wash got a tremendous boost with a
sizeable news article in the Shelby Star in late June 2010 describing how area residents could now “go green at the car wash.”

The article cited the owners’ commitment to the environment and the community. It described the wash’s water reclaim system, sending wash water to storage tanks and then filtering, treating, and recycling so that only 12 gallons of water is used per vehicle washed. The article noted that 95 to 100 gallons are used in home driveway washing and 65 gallons in a car wash that doesn’t reclaim water.

The wash also uses environmentally safe detergents and bio-degradable products. In a further eco-friendly touch, some reclaimed water is piped to water the trees.

“We’re not required to reclaim,” Watson says, “but we chose to. We’re an official member of the International Carwash Association WaterSavers program,” and that is pointed out on some of High Tide’s web pages.

A further section of the feature write-up detailed how High Tide Car Wash supports local organizations’ fund raising efforts. Nonprofits, schools, and churches have an eco-friendlier way to do car washing promotions without running wash water into the storm sewer system.

High Tide’s location along the four-lane highway doesn’t favor live on-site promotions which might create a traffic hazard or endanger the fundraisers themselves, so the wash will give organizations a 30-day supply of coupons printed with the group’s name. “For every coupon turned in, we’ll make a donation to their charity,” Watson says.

Solid planning, matching car washing needs of the community and area with the right kind of product and presence, and showing concern for the environment are all contributing to a bright future for High Tide Car Wash.

Jim and Elaine Norland are regular contributors to Auto Laundry News.

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