How Yours Can Help
Generate Revenue & Profits
There are several approaches to take to improving the profit picture
of your car wash. The first approach deals with reducing your cost
of operation by maximizing the
efficiency of your chemical application. The second approach deals
with driving wash volume or changing the mix of your wash
packages to increase revenue. For purposes of this article I will
focus primarily on the touch-free in-bay automatic market, although
many of the ideas discussed apply equally as well to the tunnel
and self-serve markets.
GENERAL CAR WASH OPPORTUNITIES
While this article is primarily
about the cost-saving and revenue-generating aspects of your car
wash chemicals, there are a couple of aspects of your wash not
directly related to chemical application that need to be addressed.
In order to either save money or to improve profits in
your wash, it has to be up and operating. I strongly urge you to
implement a preventive maintenance program for your wash. If a
customer drives up to a wash and finds it down, he may be understanding
and probably return at another time, but if it happens on multiple
occasions that customer is going to look for another more dependable
wash. Spending a few dollars on preventive maintenance is definitely
a worthwhile investment that will minimize downtime and retain
I have seen various demographics of today’s car
wash user. The common element in most of the surveys is that over
60 percent of today’s in-bay automatic users are female.
Some common elements desired by this customer base are a clean,
well-lit, and safe environment. Take the time to clean your bays,
perform pit maintenance, and add lighting if needed. Make your
wash an environment that your customer feels comfortable using.
The customer is there to
get a clean, dry, shiny vehicle, and driving into a dirty, dingy,
foul-smelling bay is not very reassuring.
One area that I can’t overemphasize is the use of
soft water. For each grain of hardness in your water, chemical
costs will increase 5 percent — regardless of the brand of
chemicals you are using. The “hardness” elements in
the water tie up the surfactants, leaving less-effective product
to clean the vehicle. If you get beyond 3 grains of hardness, effective
cleaning in a touch-free environment becomes almost impossible.
Take the time to work through the math with your distributor. A
softener will more than pay for itself in a very short period of
time. If you already have a softener, monitor its output
on a regular basis so that it is indeed providing the soft water
and chemical savings you’ve paid for.
CHEMICAL COST SAVING OPPORTUNITIES
When looking at cost savings
in a wash, the chemicals normally are the first thing reviewed.
This is somewhat natural, as there is little that can be done about
electricity, water, taxes, or fixed overhead. Chemicals traditionally
make up about 11 percent of a wash expense.
The greatest cost-savings
potential in chemicals is normally found in the presoak applications
of the wash. Minimizing presoak-chemical costs is not about paying
less for a drum of chemicals. The concentration of the chemical
and effectiveness of the product must be evaluated on a cost-per-car
basis to do get a true picture of your cost. You may have the opportunity
to purchase a $300 drum of
presoak or a $600 drum of presoak. The assumption can’t automatically
be made that the $300 drum is less expensive. If you have to use
10 oz of product per car of the $300 drum and can get by with 5
oz. per car with the $600 drum, your cost per car is identical — and
you save on the additional freight and handling associated with
using more drums of product during the course of a year. Do yourself
a favor and either learn how to do a true cost-per-car analysis
or ask your distributor to perform one for you on a regular basis.
of the presoak chemicals you are using, there are savings opportunities
available to you on a seasonal basis. Again, working with a reliable
distributor that knows his market will allow you to reduce chemical
usage during the easy cleaning periods of the year and turn up
the usage during more difficult cleaning periods. Within the limits
of your equipment, there is also an opportunity to save some money
on presoak by increasing the speed of the wash or presoak pass,
thereby reducing the chemical usage during the easy cleaning time
If you are using dual passes of alkaline presoak or a
low pH/high pH combination, there may be an opportunity to use
a single pass of the alkaline presoak on the basic wash package.
This will save on both chemical and water costs — and will
also speed up the total wash time in the process. Again, the most
important measurement is whether you are still providing a clean,
dry, shiny car after making this adjustment.
Some operators have
shifted from using triple-foaming polish to using foaming conditioners
instead. You can put on a similar show with good color, scent,
and foam for less cost per application. This could, however, end
up being a false saving. Often the polish helps in the drying process
and, if you have to use additional drying agent to compensate for
the elimination of the polish, your savings may not be as dramatic.
Purchasing chemicals in the largest practical container size can
also save you some money. In most cases, the cost per gallon decreases
the larger the container size. Work with your distributor to determine
what is the best compromise between cost per gallon and turning
your chemical inventory on a reasonable basis. Most car wash cleaning
and protection products today have very good shelf lives, but once
a container is opened it can become contaminated after a period
of time, so you want reasonable turnover of your chemical inventory.
Thus far we’ve looked at some of the potential savings
to be found by maximizing chemical efficiencies. It is certainly
worth looking at the cost side of the chemical equation on a regular
basis. The average in-bay automatic uses approximately $10,000
in chemical products annually. Even if you could save 20
percent of these costs that would equate to $2,000. Not an insignificant
amount — but if you can improve revenues, the net effect
to your bottom line would be much greater.
Based on averages, today’s in-bay automatic washes 35,000
cars annually. The average basic package is sold for $5, with the
average best package sold at $8. If you could drive just an additional
5 percent of the customers from that $5 basic wash to the $8 best
wash, you could increase your gross revenues by $5,250. (35,000
vehicles x 5% x $3 = $5,250)
Driving that shift is not complicated or expensive. You
have to educate customers as to the additional value and benefit
they will be receiving by purchasing the polish or sealant offerings.
At the gas pump, that education requires attractive, informative
and educational POP materials — giving the customer a reason
to spend the extra $2 or $3 and move up from the basic wash. Most
chemical manufacturers will help you design these marketing materials
and supply them at a minimal cost — if you are using their
If you have a c-store in conjunction with the wash, make sure your
cashiers are familiar with the customer benefits of the added-value
products and that they ask every customer to purchase a deluxe
wash. Again, your solution representatives would be more than
happy to help with the training of the cashiers.
4th Wash Package
Several successful operators have also improved profits
by adding a fourth package to their wash offerings. This fourth
package can take several different formats. The first is a “dirt
buster,” “bug buster,” or “ultimate wash” package.
The name can be changed, but the intent is the same. This is
the ultimate cleaning package when your customer has a particularly
dirty vehicle. It includes a third presoak application and an
extra high-pressure rinse. With this $10 package, you use an
extra 30 cents to 35 cents in presoak and generate an extra $2
Another option for a fourth package is the addition of
sealant” package. Marketing of this package promotes the
return of that “showroom shine,” while providing vehicle
protection from the elements and beading the customer will see
until the next wash. We, like many of the full-service manufacturers
offering such a product, will supply unique marketing materials
to help you promote to the customer the benefit of purchasing this
ultimate protection package for his or her vehicle. With most in-bay
equipment this product and a fourth package can be added with little
or no equipment changes. In a tunnel, an arch may have to be added
to provide this additional service, but the return on that investment
is fairly short. With just a little promotion, you could realize
several thousands of dollars of additional monthly revenue with
such an offering.
The bottom line is improving the profits of your wash.
discussed, there are opportunities to save some monies in chemical
applications and those should indeed be explored. The greatest
opportunity, however, exists on the revenue-generating side of
the equation. There is no one answer that works for everyone. Talk
to your distributor partner and seek his help in evaluating what
would work best in your location and with your wash.
Jim Thomes is vice president sales and marketing of Cleaning Systems
Inc. of DePere, WI. You can visit the company on the web at www.lustrabear.com.