Revives Oregon Wash
Jim and Elaine Norland
Much has changed in the car wash industry in the past three decades,
but some locations seem stuck in the past. Many, however, have great
potential for a rebirth.
The new owner of a Pendleton, OR wash originally built in the early
1970s renewed that location with up-to-date equipment, services,
and convenience for northeastern Oregon drivers. He's also given
it landmark status with a prominent clock tower and a name, Time
to Wash, that suggests up-to-the-minute technology as well as 24-hour
Don Russell, who spent much of his business life operating or helping
run gas station/convenience store combinations in the region, bought
the wash at 820 Southgate Avenue in Pendleton in October of 2000.
Its owner wanted to retire, and he worked out a price with Don for
an aging wash with four self-service bays and a 54-foot tunnel for
full-service washes. The location, however, was good, surrounded
by nearby fast food franchises, with a daily traffic count of 20,000
Russell, who was a CPA before joining his father's business, recognized
that Pendleton, a city of 15,000 perhaps best known for its annual
Pendleton Roundup each September, needed updated wash equipment,
but that a full-service option was probably not economically feasible.
Under the old ownership, four employees were required to run the
tunnel wash, and it was open for limited hours. Whatever revenue
it realized was pretty well taken up by labor costs.
He gutted the wash from below ground level to the roof. The renovation
included covering up the old conveyor track in the tunnel and constructing
an entirely new gabled roof, topped with a cupola and an eight-foot
clock that can be easily seen by passing motorists.
|The entrance to the automatic
A pylon-mounted sign and the building itself bear the green and
yellow colors of Pendleton's only high school, giving the wash more
community identity. Bright Scottsdale lights, triggered by a photocell
to come on when needed, make Time to Wash easily seen and safely
visited at any hour. "We're the brightest candy wrapper on
the shelf," says Russell.
Between ground level and roof, Time to Wash incorporated the latest
in wash technology both in its self-service bays and in the tunnel.
Russell converted the latter to a rollover, equipping it with the
newest touchless wash equipment from PDQ, the LaserWash(r) G5(tm).
The tunnel provided not only enough room for the LaserWash, but
also space for a stand-alone dryer, so that one car can be washing
while another one is being dried.
The automatic washes start with a base price of $4, advancing at
$1 increments through a $6 package that includes undercarriage wash,
wax and spot-free rinse plus drying, and a $7 package that includes
all that plus triple-foam polish. Rollover washes represent about
60 percent of Time to Wash business.
On the self-service side of the 20,000-square-foot wash location,
Russell chose Jim Coleman equipment to give motorists a much wider
range of choices than they had before and also enable them to budget
their total cleaning time.
"With the old self-serve equipment you had high-pressure soap,
high-pressure rinse, and a brush as
choices, that's all. Now we offer tire cleaner, low pressure presoak,
high pressure wash and rinse, reverse osmosis spot-free rinse, and
triple-foam finish conditioner," Russell explains.
"In the old wash, you had no warning of when your time was
going to run out. Now we have an electronic countdown timer so that
after you've deposited your $1.50 for the first four minutes of
operation, you get a warning beep when you're down to your last
minute and you can add as much more time as you need, a quarter
at a time."
The new options, though, mean customers are much more likely to
stay a little longer. Russell has been surprised at the enthusiastic
reception by customers. The triple-foam conditioner attracted one
woman with kids about 8 and 10 years old who so enjoyed its colorful
display that she spent $10 letting them "paint" the car
with the foam. "She said, 'I know this is good for my car,
but really it's good entertainment as well,'" Russell reported.
In addition to basic washing equipment, Russell added important
options that increase the safety and convenience of Time to Wash,
and in some cases protect his equipment as well. An example of the
latter is the infrared heater tube incorporated in the automatic
wash area, minimizing the impact of severe cold weather on equipment
Credit card acceptance, now accounting for 14 percent of volume,
is a customer-friendly feature that may grow further in importance.
Cards can be used in both the self-serve and the automatic bays
as well as the eight-column Jim Coleman Autovendor, thanks to readers
and acceptors Russell has provided.
The Hamilton entry system on the LaserWash accepts credit cards
as well as ExpressKEY, the latter a convenience for fleet owners
and other business users of the wash. Russell has recently begun
marketing the ExpressKEY program, which he learned about at the
first International Carwash Association convention he attended a
little over a year ago.
(Time to Wash's fleet customers already include county, city and
state patrol cars as well as U.S. Forest Service vehicles. The wash
is just across the street from offices of the Umatilla National
Forest unit. United States Postal Service delivery vehicles also
use the LaserWash.)
While he's surrounded by fast food restaurants - he shares an access
driveway with Wendy's, and is located between a McDonald's and Burger
King -- Russell also provided a Pepsi vending machine as a service
to customers. The machine is provided by the area Pepsi franchisee
on a revenue-sharing basis, and Russell estimates he probably gets
enough from its sales to cover its electricity cost.
To further protect the automatic wash from severe weather, Russell
also bought Airlift polycarbonate doors which can be linked to the
entry system to open and close as needed.
All the new equipment in Time to Wash was purchased through Northwest
Pump & Equipment Co. Gerry Kern, sales manager, worked closely
with Russell. Kern was impressed by Russell's close attention to
detail and quality. "Don definitely stepped up and did it right,"
he said in a telephone interview.
"When Don was first talking about this, he was going to build
a brand new site, but then he and the owner of the old wash got
together and settled on a price, " Kern recalled. Russell told
ALN he was glad to work out that deal rather than build more self-serve
bays and possibly overload the Pendleton market with such facilities.
He knew the community demographics didn't warrant additional bays.
While he kept some vacuums from the old setup, Russell relocated
them and provided them with a facelift to make them more attractive.
Four J.E. Adams vacuum-only units have now been joined by two combination
units, both from Jim Coleman Co., a combination vacuum/shampooer
and a combination vacuum/freshener.
"In the old wash, they had been right in front of the wash
bays," Russell says, "but we moved them all to a more
prominent front location closer to the street. We put colorful green
and yellow awnings on top of everything, including the vacuums and
trash receptacles. Now when people drive by, that's the first thing
they see. Our thought was that people taking time to wash and clean
their cars want their neighbors and friends to see they're taking
care of their vehicles."
Easy-care landscaping keeps operating costs low while maintaining
an attractive site for Time to Wash. On the street side of the lot
near the vacuum island, four different areas accommodate plantings,
all served by an automatic sprinkler system. Even the lighted signature
clock that ties in with Time to Wash's theme employs the latest
technology. It's tied in with the Global Positioning Satellite so
it can resume telling the exact time automatically after a power
outage. It also resets itself properly during the twice-yearly switchovers
between daylight and standard time.
Russell recently installed a digital video surveillance system,
"trying to enhance the locks and other security safeguards
we already have." He made that move after some locks were drilled
on two different occasions in October, once while he and Dale Baker,
a longtime friend who attends Time to Wash, were at the Western
Carwash Association meeting.
Signage for the renovated wash includes a 10-by-10-foot main sign
with a small reader board underneath it. The sign is mostly green
with a yellow outline of a car and the name of the wash.
Russell wanted to make sure all of his new equipment was working
properly before any big promotional push, so he chose a soft opening
last March and then launched a radio advertising program about six
weeks later. "By that time, however, we had enough word-of-mouth
recommendations from satisfied customers that we didn't need to
do a lot of advertising." He maintains an ongoing radio ad
program that comprises the bulk of his mass media activity.
Russell has already demonstrated his community support and involvement
by providing free washes for all the sponsors of the annual Pendleton
Roundup, the Roundup Court, and the shuttle vans that provide transportation
to and from Roundup events.
The Roundup creates lots of business for Time to Wash. Pendleton's
population balloons from its normal 15,000 to about 100,000 during
the September event.
July, August and September business has exceeded Russell's expectations
by a little bit, and he believes those months plus June will probably
be his best on a year-to-year basis, even though he doesn't yet
have an entire year's operation to review.
The renovation and improvements seem to be paying off well for
Time to Wash. "We have records from the old wash, and it looks
like our revenue is about the same or slightly higher, and we have
really slashed labor costs. It takes a little of my time, and Dale
is here just 30 hours a week."
Every tick - or hum - of its big clock seems to portend more recognition
and more use of Time to Wash and its many features.
Jim and Elaine Norland are regular contributors to Auto Laundry