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Big Brother is Watching...You Car Wash!
By Bill Paris

    Perhaps the biggest worry concerning loss of revenue at a car wash comes from theft. Unfortunately, thieves don't only come at night with black ski masks - they may very well be your own employees! A c-store grossing $1 million annually could lose an average of $32,500 per year due to shrink. Although some car wash owners have turned to the traditional time-lapsed VCR and
camera as a solution, they'll be the first to tell you that it's a false sense of security. Although it might catch a crime on tape, will employees change the tapes or really have the time to pour over hours of video? What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?
    The answer is digital video surveillance, the latest technological weapon in the fight against crime. Those readers out there who read the Michael Crichton novel Rising Sun or saw the 1993 film of the same name know exactly what we're talking about. In the film, a murder is caught on digital video, with the killer mysteriously edited out of the disc. Of course, the ability to easily doctor such technology is, frankly, the stuff of Hollywood films. The point is that this type of technology would be beneficial to anyone in the car wash industry. In this article we outline a couple of companies' products that can help you cut losses and increase revenue.
    One company that offers such products is View Systems Inc. of Englewood, CO ( Their SecureView(tm) line offers simultaneous 15 hi-res frames/second viewing of either four, eight, or even 15 cameras! The great thing about the line is that you don't even have to view it on the premises! An owner can view his business operations over the Internet via telephone lines, LAN/WAN or ISDN for signal transfer from home or remote laptop. There is plenty of footage to be stored as well - up to 28 days worth! In addition, the user can pan and tilt the cameras; ViewZoom(tm) either two, three, or four times magnification; or take a screen shot of a specific event. Of course, the video image recordings are "Date-Time-Camera" security stamped to assure authenticity.
    The potential is there to even use digital video surveillance as a license plate recognition system. Mr. Wash Car Wash-owner Steve Harris had this to say about View Systems' technology: "Being able to reconcile our register tallies with the actual car that was washed is very important. It allows us to not only balance actual washes with money, but also to be sure the exact same car is coming back if they request a rewash." Wouldn't this enhance owners' abilities to reduce loss and increase their receipts? Of course it would!
   A second line that View Systems offers is the FaceView (tm) line. This self-contained facial identification system was designed using the most advanced biometrics technology to compare an individual's face print to a database of previously approved faces, which then delivers a quick and accurate identification. By using View Systems SecureView(tm) Remote Interactive Video System the user can administer this application across town or half way around the world. What a great way to enhance security and improve attendance!
    What's truly amazing is that facial comparisons can trigger events to occur, such as opening a door, turning on the lights, setting an alarm condition or notifying the PC operator (such as a security guard) of the event. From an attended PC workstation, the operator can also obtain additional profile information on the person identified, such as name, address, or their status. This aids in the determination of their eligibility for access. The user can set a "threshold" to determine how accurate the match must be so that there is a high confidence that the person has been identified accurately. FaceView will interact with any system implementing compatible facial identification database software.
    Asheville, North Carolina's own Digitech ( is another company that offers top-of-the-line equipment for keeping your business safe from all predators known and unknown. Their top video surveillance product is DigiView(tm), Digitech's new digital video recording and remote viewing system. DigiView software enables the user to select any or all of its 16 camera inputs by pointing and clicking! The system's large hard drive capacity can record more than 16 video channels for more than 30 days with camera settings at full-time and "motion-only" settings. A variety of controls can enable the system to record more than a year's worth of video on the hard drive.
    Other features include variable setting 30 frames/second to 100 frames/second video resolution, with crisp, realistic full-color images. John Locke, Director of Sales and Marketing for Digitech, commented that "The old days of endless hours of viewing fuzzy black and white images in the back room are over. DigiView is easy to use, dependable and much more precise in its images and retrieval. For everyone who has said 'I know there has to be a better way,' that day has arrived."
    With all of this great technology, the only real concern for the owner is high cost. Larry Read, CEO of a California fast-lube chain called Oil Changers, may just have the answer. His Vice President of Information Technology, Joey Castaneda, internally developed a "Business Intelligence System" that not only statistically keeps track of revenue, but also keeps a digital video camera eye on the businesses! From their website, an owner can view any of their stores at the click of a mouse (from anywhere in the world!), as well as high profitability data such as ancillary sales and higher margin information. Although the cameras may not be as high-tech as the aforementioned cameras (only one camera viewable at a time), and past video is backed up onto videotapes, the cost benefit justifies the lower price in their opinion.
    There are plenty of other applications for digital video surveillance that can make it worth the while. It's a great way to limit liability if customers claim that their car was damaged in a car wash or items were "taken" from their car. Dennis Johnson, owner of Carriage House (covered in this month's Profile in Success), had customers claiming that designer sunglasses had been taken from their vehicles, when the video clearly showed the sunglasses atop the customer's head! Digital video surveillance is also a way to monitor wrongful workmen's comp claims. At Oil Changers, one female employee made a claim of falling on the job, while the video revealed her kneeling down and ripping her own nylons to make it look more realistic! It's a sad comment on our society that we need to monitor everyone like in George Orwell's 1984, but unfortunately that's the only way for a car wash or c-store to survive. It's money well spent!


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