Profile in Success - August 2010

Doing it His Way
By Timothy Denman

Connie’s Car Wash’s curb appeal.
The wash accepts credit cards in the self-serve bays.
The wash is surrounded by residential housing.

Not every piece of equipment is right for every location — sometimes nothing on the market is ideal. What is an operator to do when he can’t find the equipment that is perfect for his wash?

If that operator is Ed Walker the solution is simple: build your own.

Walker builds his own self-serve equipment, and admits that the driving force behind his local manufacturing business is pride.

“I like things done my way,” Walker says. “There is always something about someone else’s equipment that I don’t like. When you build it yourself you can have it anyway you want.”

In addition to manufacturing the self-serve equipment for his own four washes, Walker has made equipment for quite a few washes in his home state of Texas. Walker says the equipment, branded NEW MFG, is like “something built back in the ‘80s, when they built things simple.”

He believes self-serve equipment doesn’t need a bunch of electronics and monitoring systems to be effective. It just has to be dependable, and easy to use and maintain.

Building equipment is Walker’s second job, his primary occupation is owning and operating his four washes in and around Cedar Park, TX.

Connie’s Car Wash started in 1978 when Ed’s father, Noble, built the family’s first wash in Cedar Park. The flagship Connie’s Car Wash, named after Ed’s mom, is located in Leander, TX and sports seven self-serve bays and one in-bay automatic.

The wash was a ground-up project completed five years ago and features Ed’s self-serve equipment, a Belanger automatic, an ice machine, a shaved ice stand, and two vending machines.

Credit cards are accepted in all seven self-serve bays, and half of Connie’s self-serve customers take advantage of the convenient option.

“We have a Hamilton system here,” Walker says. “They offer an OEM kit. I built my meter box around it. It is a great system. It can process the payment before the customers can even get the wand in their hands.”

Walker says credit card acceptance has made him the busiest self-serve in the area. “The reason people are at my wash is the credit card machines. If you talk to anybody that uses my car wash the first thing they are going to say is they love the fact that we accept credit cards.”

In addition to NEW MFG’s self-serve equipment, Walker is also a Belanger in-bay distributor and has a Vector machine in his automatic bay.

The in-bay automatic produces about $8,500 a month in gross revenue, while the seven self-serve bays average $9,000 a month.

The self-serve canopy can accommodate seven cars at once.
The in-bay automatic pay station.

Helping to supplement the wash’s income is the ice machine and snow cone stand. Neither entity is owned or operated by Walker, he simply rents the small footprints for $500 a month each. The separate businesses help draw customers onto the lot, especially the snow cone stand on hot summer days. “When I built the wash some guys from Houston came down to erect the self-serve canopy,” Walker says.

“They asked me where the snow cone shop was going to be. They said every car wash in Houston has a snow cone stand, they told me I should run the electric for it. I didn’t, but I wish I did because I ended up having to put it in later.”

Connie’s vending machines have the usual fare: towels, air fresheners, soft drinks, and detailing products.

“Everyone has a reason why they go to a specific car wash,” Walker says. “A customer told me the reason he comes here is because we have electronic water faucets in the sinks. You just put your towel underneath it and the water comes on.”

In addition to automated fau-cets, the sinks feature towel ringers so customers don’t have to bring home dripping wet towels.

The area surrounding the Leand-er wash is the prototypical mixed-income neighborhood. Directly across from the site are numerous trailer homes, but further down the street sit permanent homes that sell for $400,000 and up. Since Walker built the wash, a Lowes has opened on the street, and most recently a developer purchased 440 acres and plans to build 1,400 homes.

Unlike most of the nation, Leander was not hit hard by the recent economic slump. Although Walker admits his numbers have been better in prior years, he believes the area has fared better than most, evidenced by the continued construction and development in the area.

Helping Connie’s tap into the area’s economic resiliency is the wash’s discount value card — The Connie’s Card.

The wash started selling the cards three years ago when Ed installed the Hamilton card readers. The cards are a resounding success; over 2500 have been purchased since the programs inception. Customers are rewarded for their purchase of a prepaid card with 20 percent added value.

Fleet cards are also available for local businesses with no pre-set spending limits. Fleet customers simply receive a bill at the end of the month.

Customers that lose their cards can have their remaining balance transferred to a new card and their old one cancelled. “I have done that a couple of times,” Walker says. “Talk about making a friend. Try asking for that at Home Depot.”

Ed Walker builds all his own self-serve equipment.

Complementing Walker’s self-service equipment manufacturing business is a line of chemicals privately labeled and manufactured by Tidal Wave. Walker sells his line of chemicals primarily to sites he built self-serve equipment for, but also to local owners looking for top-tier chemicals.

The chemical line includes a pre soak, tire and engine cleaner, high and low pressure waxes, foam brush soap, and spot-free rinse.

Walker’s entrepreneurial spirit will soon be on display again when he sets in motion his plan to design and build a dog wash facility at the Leander site. Walker of course will be building his own equipment, but what will really make his dog wash different from the others scattered throughout the country is his plan to include a dog grooming business on site.

Walker has rental properties in the area, and one of his tenants is a dog groomer. When he told her of his plan to build a dog wash the groomer wanted to be involved.

The dog wash is going to occupy the first floor of the facility, while the second floor will be rented by the groomer. The two businesses will operate independently, but will feed each other clients.

“The groomer will be able to advertise its services inside the wash,” Walker says. “They will be able to use the dog wash at a discount. It is a neat twist, if you have the room why not put a groomer with it. Also there will be someone on site to look after the store when we are not there.”

Walker will continue to look for ways to increase his revenue stream, and will no doubt do it his way.

AUTO LAUNDRY NEWS is published by EW Williams Publications Company
2125 Center Avenue, Suite 305, Fort Lee, NJ 07024-5898, USA Phone: 1-201- 592-7007 Fax: 1-201-592-7171