Conversions - Question the Motive, Verify the Viability
By Ralph Nasca
When considering a conversion of a wand bay or an in-bay automatic car wash to a conveyorized car wash, the first question that should be addressed is why? Among the possible answers are competition, location, the customers’ needs, and the value of the services currently being offered.
This project involved the demolition of the entire existing self-service wash prior to the construction of the mini conveyorized wash. left: Concept Layout, right: Original Site Layout
If the answer is competition, it should first be determined if there is an opportunity to develop a conveyorized car wash on your current site that can satisfy your customers’ needs. You should also find out if there is already too much competition in your area regardless of whether or not a conversion is done. Prior to making a conversion you must decide what you can do to differentiate yourself from the competition if you do decide to convert (speed, pricing, convenience, better service, greater through-put, etc.) and do the customers want what you can provide?
Location is another important factor in the decision to convert a wand bay or in-bay automatic to a conveyorized car wash. The first question to ask is why has my location lost business? Has the population moved away? If the answer is an element that is within your control then a conversion may not be necessary; just correct the problem. However, if the population has moved away then you will want to sell your current location and find a new location where the population is and build a new conveyorized car wash based on your customers’ needs.
In the car wash industry value is extremely important. To achieve value you need to research what your customers find as being valuable to them. Time is often considered valuable to most people; in that case a conversion to a conveyorized car wash is ideal.
If your business has been stolen by a conveyorized car wash and your intent is to try and get your customer base back, I believe it is too late. I would highly recommend not making an emotional decision without proving that you can indeed get them back.
After your research is complete and you have determined that conversion is worthwhile the following assessments need to be made. The selection of an equipment supplier should be made and all research shared and checked by the equipment supplier.
Physical Restraints of the Property
• Is the physical size of the property large enough to accommodate the appropriate size conveyor? Conveyor length can be determined by a site proforma as conveyor length is extremely important — you need to produce the quantity and quality required to compete. • Once potential volume is determined, is there enough stacking room to support the anticipated volume, both in-bound and out-bound? • Turning radius and ease of customer navigation on the site is also extremely important, as it will help to establish customers’ comfort level — if they feel comfortable, they will continue to return provided the service and price is to their liking. • Sufficient room and quantity of vacuum area is important so as not to make the site look too busy. This can have a negative effect by encouraging competition. • Fire lane — is it necessary and what type? • Dumpster location and possible visibility restrictions on the site. • Landscaping and irrigation requirements. • Ingress and egress on the site. • Building setbacks and easement restrictions and limitations. • Zoning: does it have to be re-zoned? In some cases, if the facility has been closed for more than six months, re-zoning is required. • Topographic considerations for ease of customer use and surface-water control, especially when it comes to loading and unloading of the conveyor. • Visibility or loss of visibility as it should be easy for the customer to see the facility and recognize it as a car wash.
• Rainwater capture — do you need it — and run off. • Electrical service and size. Does it have to be increased and is the voltage correct? • Waterline supply and size. • Sewer supply and depth. In many cases the sewer discharge elevation is already determined and a lift station may be required. • Internet service for high-speed credit card clearing and/or computer updating. • Natural gas: size and volume. • Telephone service.
A full set of drawings must be created, submitted to the city, and changed if city requires. Once it is determined that any city changes will not negatively impact the business from a standpoint of profitability and serviceability then you can move forward.
The selection of the general contractor and discussions of the project with both the equipment supplier and general contractor should begin so all pricing can be identified.
At this point the budgetary numbers you have given your financial institution can be verified and corrected if necessary. Please keep in mind that contingency dollars should be included in financing. Operating capital should also be set aside to include startup inventory needs, office supplies, furniture and fixtures, printing and marketing material, signage, and other miscellaneous expenses.
Once the general contractor has been selected, we highly recommend holding a pre-construction meeting with all sub-contractors and suppliers to determine if interpretation of construction documentation is accurate. Then demolition can commence.
PITFALLS AND CHALLENGES
During the construction phase the following could arise: • Weather delays • Unforeseen underground challenges • Soil conditions • Undocumented utilities or easements • Utility calculations incorrect or by assumption incorrect • Availability of construction materials and stability of pricing • Municipality can change its mind based solely on the inspectors determination
After the construction phase the following could arise: • Delay due to occupancy permit requirements • Lack of training on operations and maintenance and the inability to understand the complexities • Shortage of qualified, trainable staff • Owner underestimated challenges of conveyorized car wash • Owner underestimated time and commitment necessary • Customer education on use of new business model and expectations of it • Human resource regulatory and governmental challenges • Housekeeping challenges — keeping the facility clean
I’m sure there are more challenges than listed above. However, hopefully this will provide a guideline to some of the challenges that you may experience in the conversion from one business model to another.
Ralph Nasca is an industry veteran and manager of Lewisville, TX-based Pro-Tech Service Company LLC. You can visit the company on the web at www.pro-tech-service.com.
This project involved the demolition of the entire existing self-service wash prior to the construction of the mini conveyorized wash.