On the Wash Front - August 2010

Supply Chain — Defend Against
What Can Go Wrong
By Anthony Analetto

So you’ve already organized your back room. Emergency replacement parts are carefully inventoried. You have a clean workbench stocked with all the tools, fittings, and supplies required for quick repair. Employees are trained to know exactly what to do in the event of a failure with documented procedures. Maintenance procedures are performed accurately and on schedule. You ask yourself, “Am I fully prepared to maximize the uptime of my business?” Not always. It’s not uncommon for car wash owners to find themselves scrambling for qualified trade services during a catastrophe. Under the gun to reopen, many are forced to pay premium prices for subpar work.

If you can pull out what I like to refer to as a supply-chain contact book right this second, stop reading and go wash some cars. Otherwise, let’s take a look.

Create Your Supply-Chain Contact Book

What can go wrong, will go wrong. The job here is to make a list of every possible contractor you may ever need to perform service on your property. Start with the basics — a plumber and an electrician. Next is having a primary and secondary wastewater-management company, and if they don’t also provide a drain cleaning service, you must have a supplier for that as well. That’s where most car wash operators stop. My recommendation, however, is to keep going. If, for example, you operate automated attendants, search for a local vending machine repair company. Although some aspects of these complicated machines will require service from the manufacturer, many breakdowns result from bill collectors and other problems common to all vending machines, which can often be fixed faster and cheaper by a local service tech.

Also locate service companies for all major support equipment including air compressors and HVAC equipment. Make sure they are certified to work on your brand of equipment with same-day access to replacement parts. Murphy’s Law states that when the pump on one compressor fails, the motor on your backup will too. Being able to call one company and be back online in a matter of hours can add thousands of dollars to the bottom line.

Last, don’t assume anything. Every equipment vendor and service company offers a different array of services. Most, for example, have emergency welding and fabrication capabilities, but this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Confirm the services available before you have a problem and find contractors as appropriate.

Commercial, Licensed, Insured, and Recommended
Short of time in an emergency, the statement from a friend “I know a guy” can seem like a blessing. Unfortunately, car washes are typically too complicated for the average plumber or electrician you’ll encounter through these referrals. Whenever possible, look for trades-people with specific car wash experience. Electricians must not only be skilled in commercial wiring and three-phase power, they must have experience in control voltage, not only low-voltage controls. Additionally, the average plumber won’t have the necessary skills, fittings, and supplies on hand to service your equipment. I can recall countless stories of improperly insulated pipes bursting. And pipes always seem to leak over expensive computer controls making it imperative that you annually confirm that all contracted vendors are licensed and insured. Speaking of insurance, does your provider require you to use contractors from an approved vendor list? Some do. Trying to get reimbursed on a $30,000 claim isn’t the time to find out that the contractors you used aren’t covered, so conduct your due diligence now.

Negotiate Hourly Labor Rates
How much a repair will cost should never be a surprise. Before approving a vendor to work on your property, you must negotiate an hourly labor rate for work performed both during, and outside regular hours. It’s also a good idea to establish payment terms that ideally afford you some time to submit any insurance claims.

Know Your Local Laws
There are two key areas of local law that a car wash owner must be aware of before approving a vendor. The first and most critical involves the handling of wastewater. At minimum, these companies must be licensed for grease, oil, and commercial waste. I’ve also heard of requirements for EPA approval and in some municipalities you’ll want to confirm your carry-through liability. If for example, the hauling truck has an
accident and leaks sewage, you may be responsible for any damages — a scary thought that necessitates your understanding of the insurance requirement of any vendor you contract for these services. Another area of concern involves noise restrictions on before and after-hour work performed on your property. Although the contractors you select should be aware of these regulations and properly insured, you owe it to the success of your business to know your local laws.

Know Your Local Supply
Many emergency car wash repair parts can be sourced at a local industrial supply store. Others have to come from either the manufacturer or a third-party vendor specializing in car wash parts. Never let yourself be caught waiting a day for a replacement part to arrive that forces you to close your doors. Solenoids, cylinders, bearings, hydraulic components, and certain pumps, are just a few examples of parts you may not be able to source locally that can be affordably kept on your shelves in case of an emergency.


The solution is simple. Get recommendations and locate the best talent before you have a problem. Negotiate an hourly labor rate, and establish payment terms with both a primary and secondary supplier. Lastly, request proof of insurance for every supplier and get an updated copy every year. Hiring service contractors in the midst of a crisis is like fighting with your hands tied behind your back. Don’t let it happen to you.

Good luck and good washing.

Anthony Analetto has over 27 years experience in the car wash business and is the president of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory’s Equipment Division. Before coming to SONNY’S, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at AAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com.

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