Help From Above
When starting a new business every dollar counts. Finding new and inventive ways to save a few bucks on overhead can be as simple as looking skyward.
Gregg Mercede opened Greenwich Avenue Solar Car Wash in January and along with the usual equipment that goes along with a ground-up construction he install-ed a few pieces of technology that should fatten up the bottom line for years to come. As the wash’s name suggests, the location sports two separate solar panel systems that provide both electricity and warm water for the Stamford, CT wash.
Mercede has plenty of green initiatives at his full-serve location, and with a name like Solar Car Wash, he is obviously using his environmental consciousness as a marketing tool.
In addition to the solar panels on the roof, Greenwich Avenue utilizes environmentally friendly soaps, variable-frequency drives (VFDs), high-efficiency lighting, high-R rated spray-on insulation, and reclaims its wash water all in the name of environmental stewardship.
The most public and marketable environmental-friendly installation at the wash is without a doubt the two groups of solar panels. The first set of panels is photovoltaic (PV) and produces electric power. Currently the roof-mounted units produce 10 percent of the wash’s electrical needs, helping to modestly slim the monthly electric bill. The other set of panels are solar thermal and produce 100 percent of the wash’s warm water needs for the wash process, detailing, and the building’s interior (faucets).
Most solar thermal panels don’t produce much heat, but Mercede’s custom-made German panels can produce more warm water than the wash actually needs. The system draws its power from the sun’s rays and pipes the energy through coils in the 820-gallon holding tank, warming the water for use throughout the facility.
Since the solar installations have been a fixture of the wash since day one, the monetary savings of the two units is hard to judge. “You need a good profile of historical data,” Mercede says. “Obviously we don’t have that. On paper the two systems could stand to do a decent job saving us money. From a hot water standpoint we need to do a little more gauging to see the total cost savings. A lot of the time we use hot water simply because we have it. If we have it we might as well utilize it.”
Utilizing all that hot water and solar-produced energy is the 85-foot MacNeil equipped tunnel. Despite its relatively short length, the tunnel does a good job washing cars and even sports 20-feet of drip space. “I can’t say enough about the equipment,” Mercede says. “Cars come out absolutely immaculate. We utilized equipment that works well in a little less space. Every nook and cranny on every vehicle gets clean.”
Helping to ensure that every vehicle is returned to the customer as clean as possible, Greenwich Avenue has a stringent inspection policy. Mercede employs a tactic made famous by the Japanese auto industry — any employee has the ability to send a car back through the tunnel if imperfections in the finished product are found. Employees throughout the facility communicate via radios for seamless handling of any imperfections found. At any one time the wash has between six and 12 employees on site and employs a total of 20 workers. In addition to the power of rewashing granted every employee, a worker in the finishing area does double duty as a quality control in-spector. The inspector looks over every car, specifically checking the wheels, drying, and vacuuming to ensure consistent results.
Customers have embraced Greenwich Avenue’s commitment to quality — car counts have increased each month since the grand opening at the beginning of the year. Despite the 10 or so washes around the general area and three or four within a three-mile radius Greenwich Avenue has carved out a loyal following in the predominantly upper-class Stamford.
“It all comes down to your expectant clientele,” Mercede says when asked about his decision to build a full-serve wash over the increasingly popular express exterior option. “In our area people are willing to spend the extra money on their car. There was enough competition in the express exterior segment. I have a customer service background, and I felt that with a full-service wash we could really compete against the other car washes in the area.”
To ensure that his vision of superior customer service is instilled in his employees, Mercede and his general manager personally train each em-ployee and keep an eye on performance throughout the day. Mercede is not a stay-at-home operator — he is onsite seven days a week to make sure that his business is growing and performing up to his standards.
Mercede talks to as many customers as possible to build solid personal relationships and goodwill — so far his efforts are working. The community has accepted its newest member and is partaking in the wash’s most successful marketing campaign to date: word of mouth.
In addition to relying on the ability of satisfied customers to spread the word, Greenwich Avenue has a limited print marketing campaign that is primarily coupon driven. The wash also has a vibrant website that provides all of the basic information: menu, hours, contact information, etc.
Although the website is very similar to the web presence of other washes, the site has one feature that is unique to Greenwich Avenue: The Solar Advantage. This section of the site allows visitors to view the British thermal units (BTUs) produced by the thermal solar unit and the kilowatt hours (KWs) produced by the PV unit in real time. The interactive feature allows the user to see the wash’s current production, the production for the period, and the product-
ion since beginning the program. The power creation statistics are also available at the wash itself at a kiosk next to the cashier in the retail store.
The building itself is a billboard for the business and its green efforts — the solar panels are visible from growing Greenwich Avenue. The street is in the early stages of retail development, but is a heavily traveled road that features steady traffic flow during rush hour.
The wash has five packages ranging in price from $8.50 to $21.95, with the top-of-the-line Platinum featuring wheel brightener, vacuuming, sealer wax, under carriage rinse, wheel blaster, triple foam shine, clear coat proctectant, tire dressing, floor mat washing, and RainX. All prepping and vacuuming is done prior to entering the tunnel.
The site features both express and full-serve detailing services. Express services start at less than $40 and the full-serve treatment sets the customer back at least $195. Rounding out the wash’s offerings is a retail store stocked with all the standard items: air fresheners, steering wheel covers, cold drinks, etc.
All of the wash’s marketing materials, and the business’s name itself, evoke a green image and help establish the site as environmentally friendly. By establishing itself as eco-conscious, providing a quality product, and building personal relationships with customers the wash has staked a claim to a piece of the highly competitive Stamford market and continues to grow its customer base through dedicated, consistent results.