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Value-Added Option at the Self Serve
by Randy Travis

Adding an in-bay automatic car wash to an already existing self-serve facility is simply a value-added opportunity. An in-bay automatic provides added profits to you and convenience for your customers without any extra clean-up or contamination headaches. By broadening your market and expanding your services, you can wring much higher revenue out of every square foot of your property. And the added advantage of dual services will impress your clients!

First and foremost, before finalizing any add-on decisions, contact car wash equipment suppliers to find out the necessary information. When adding a bay, inquire about site layouts, volume and revenue projections, construction plans, maintenance and service programs, and marketing ideas. Equipment suppliers can assist you with all of these issues and can help you design and build a unit tailor-made for maximized usability and profits.

When adding an in-bay to an existing wash, the space requirements will be dictated, in large part, by the kind of equipment you want to install. Generally speaking, the standard size requirement for an automatic bay is 16 feet by 26 feet. Very little construction work is needed to accommodate this equipment, usually taking three to four days to install. This installation will not affect the rest of your business and will start generating revenue in no time! If you are starting from scratch, it is still a relatively short installation process.


If you are searching for a new location or merely considering adding onto a current site, the
drive-by traffic is all-important. Before making any decisions about your new or expanded venture, contact the local traffic authorities or chamber of commerce to obtain the traffic counts on the roads bordering your location. Some operators use a rule of thumb of 2,000 cars per day per self-service bay.

Fast-food restaurants and retail stores are excellent traffic generators. Locating your car wash close to these establishments will help your business benefit from their ability to draw customers. You can even employ speed limits to your advantage. Being located, for example, in a 35-45 mph speed zone is preferred over a 55-65 mph zone simply because cars are driving by more slowly and drivers are more likely to take note of the car wash. A corner lot is also advised because that allows cars access to and egress from the property on two sides. Not only does this ease traffic flow and enhance customer convenience, it also increases the passing traffic count from which all customers come. A stop sign or traffic light nearby is a further plus.

Population figures for the town you're considering building in are, of course, important. If you are considering a more densely populated area, you can obtain population figures on a per zip-code area basis. The number and types of car washes within the market area you wish to serve is equally important. Aside from identifying and counting them, it may be an idea to have your own car washed at each of these future competitor facilities. This will give you an inkling of the challenges you might face as you build your business. Equipment manufacturers can also help with demographic studies, wash capacity, revenue projections, site layout, and more.


In any town with a desirable traffic count, it is recommended that you keep at least two self-service bays open in addition to an automatic. You will find that in rural areas, self-serve car washes are often utilized to clean tractors and other maintenance vehicles. In both rural and urban areas, automatics are often used by business people who are hard pressed for time and who, along with many others, do not want to get out of their cars to manually do the job themselves. The revenues generated by the in-bay automatic often amount to triple that of what a self-service bay can manage. Besides, your customers will appreciate having both service options at one site.


Another decision to make is whether or not to hire an attendant. Many self-serve operators swear by attendants at their in-bays, arguing that increased sales and customer satisfaction far outweigh the cost of employment. Attendants are often paid minimum wage plus tips. Adding an in-bay, in fact, can be a deciding factor as to whether or not the location can comfortably afford a daily attendant.

Many car wash designs now offer standard computerized systems with self-diagnostic capabilities. These designs are particularly appropriate for the unattended site. A computerized system tells an operator what needs to be repaired and how to do the job. In many systems this also serves as a safety device, shutting down the equipment to prevent damage to a vehicle or the wash system.

Via remote alert, the computer software offers absentee owners/operators the added assurance that the system is working at peak efficiency. The remote contact feature can be connected directly to home computers, pagers, accounting programs, etc. and will instantly alert the operator to any problems on site.


Make sure the distributor you select offers on-site training when they do the installation. Arrange a tour of the distributor's business facilities. It's beneficial to you to learn how the distributor repairs equipment equivalent to what you plan on installing at your site. Get to know your distributor and your car wash equipment!

Many car wash distributors can be reached directly to personally help you pinpoint any problem you may be experiencing and suggest ways to solve it. In many cases, if an operator still does not understand the problem, the distributor will do the appropriate research and point the operator in the direction of a local repairman who can help.


A wash in the right location can generate gratifying amounts of revenue. The national average for monthly gross revenue per self-service bay stands at between $1,100 and $1,400. An in-bay automatic, by comparison, generates, on a national average, between $5,000 and $7,000 a month.

Keep profits in mind when searching for an in-bay automatic system to purchase. Make sure the equipment is of simple design for serviceability, has rugged parts for durability, and that it is full of common-sense engineering. Remember that you are looking for the greatest return on your investment. Add an in-bay automatic! Everyone will benefit!

Randy Travis is president of Pro Equipment Company, the manufacturer in the last 14
years of more than 3,000 private-label car washes located in 45 states. You can visit the company at on the web.

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