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JUNE 2002

Mix 'n' Match Is a Lube Bay
at Your Self-Serve Wash Right for You?

By Scott Holmes and Kit Sullivan

Adding a fast-lube bay to a self-serve car wash or converting an existing self-serve bay to a fast-lube bay is no longer a novelty. You have, no doubt, read about other car washes that have added lube centers to their existing operations and wonder whether this makes sense for your business, too. Well, it just may. But before you start pulling down the booms and ripping out the pump stations, let's take a closer look at what is involved. After all, you need to know the risks and the rewards of doing such a project.

One of the first issues that needs to be understood is how such a project will affect your overall revenue strategy. That is, will a conversion of existing bays be a smart move from a revenue standpoint?
Typically, the standard self-service car wash bay generates income of between $1,200 and $1,500 each month. Of this, there is little expense going toward inventory and labor. Therefore, much of the overall revenue that remains goes to cover fixed cost such as mortgage.

The typical oil-change bay will produce upwards of 500 oil changes monthly or an average of $17,000. The difference with the oil-change bay, though, is that the monthly expenses are much higher. You must now consider things such as labor, inventory, and other fixed costs that ordinarily are not associated with operating a self-service car wash bay. Labor can run some 25 percent to 30 percent of sales. Cost of goods sold can account for another 30 percent of sales. Advertising, utilities, and insurance can take another 10 percent.

Still, the average lube facility will outperform the average self-service car wash bay for bay. This includes the overall annual revenue basis and, ultimately, the annual profit.

Consideration must also be given to bay configurations. The typical fast-lube bay will be 15 feet wide and 30 feet deep. This means that a common three bay (side-by-side) lube center takes up approximately 45' x 30' for service area. This size will allow for approximately 5 feet in front of the vehicle for workspace.

In the event that only a small space is available, the minimum size that a lube bay can be and still be effective is 15 feet wide by 25 feet deep. Although this sizing is tight it will enable the technician to service the vehicle while still providing walking room. The shorter length can be a problem when working on larger vehicles such as trucks. In this instance, the rear garage door may have to be left open while servicing the vehicle.

You will need to provide a customer waiting area if you have chosen not to have the customer remain in the vehicle during servicing. The standard waiting area is about the same size as a standard lube bay. This will include a seating area, cashier area and restroom. You may even be able to provide an adequate office for the manager inside this space.

Positioning of the lube bays relative to street frontage is important, too. Most self-service car washes have learned that the best positioning is to line up bays parallel to the main road. This is best for a whole host of reasons including visibility, safety, and ease of ingress/egress.

You can certainly put the lube-bay entrances perpendicular to the roadway if you choose. One disadvantage here is that you can't show the motoring public what you are doing. Vehicle stack-up is also less than ideal since the cars waiting to be serviced are usually all in one row. This can give the impression that the wait time is longer than it actually is.

Another disadvantage is that stack-up for the fast-lube center can impede the flow of the car wash customers. This can cause backup for the entire site on the real busy days. Look at it this way: The average oil change takes approximately 10 to 12 minutes to complete, whereas the average self-service car wash takes about five minutes or so.

When considering the traffic pattern, great effort and attention must be given to design a positive flow prior to the oil change construction. Don't let the thrill of adding a new profit center disturb your existing car wash traffic pattern. Ideally, you want to create a looping type traffic system. If possible, have the vehicles all come on the property in one direction and exit the same direction.

Once customers pull onto the property you want them to feel relaxed and confident. Having traffic flow in the same or a similar direction will enable customers to focus. They will be able to read directional signs more easily and to quickly get to the profit center they desire.

When determining the most efficient traffic flow, always design for the future. That is, in the very beginning assume the customer will come to you for multiple services. Plan the route that will easily take the customer through the process of getting a car wash and an oil change. Convenience is the key.

Remember, the majority of customers are on the property only for the car wash. Their visit must be routine and without interruption of cross traffic flow. When the customer comes to you for a car wash, attempt to provide information about the other services you can provide.

A site plan can be of great service when you are trying to answer these questions. Look at the site as if it were your busiest day. Consider how you can best place the profit centers to achieve maximum utilization. Look at the best way for vehicles to enter and the best way for them to exit. Vehicle processing is the name of the game. You must determine where the hold up will be and eliminate it.
Overall, the goal is to maximize the revenue generated based on a square-foot basis. Keep the customer's experience in mind. After all, today's experience will determine the customer's willingness to come back tomorrow.

Scott Holmes is a partner in Connecticut Car Care, a Milford, CT-based firm whose operations include car washes, detail centers, and fast lube facilities. Scott was program chairman in 1999 for the Fast Lube Division of the ICA Convention.

Kit Sullivan has worked with fast-lube operators developing strategies for business growth while implementing continuous training programs to sustain their future success.

Scott and Kit work together as consultants specializing in the car wash and fast lube arena. They can be reached at (203) 232-1258.


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