Equipment Purchases - Look Beyond The Bells and Whistles
By Buzz Glover
In January of 2014, I sold my last car wash to a regional car wash company that owned eight other car washes. It was the last of three car washes that I had owned over my 10-plus years in the car wash industry. I truly believe that I would still be in the car wash business, if I had chosen a different manufacturer for my equipment. I realize this is a bold statement but, in hindsight, I truly believe I did not view the equipment purchase decision rationally when deciding on whom to partner with for my in-bay automatic equipment.
In short, I placed too much weight on the bells and whistles and the advice of my equipment distributor and not enough weight on the engineering of the equipment.
As I reflect back on when I first started exploring investing in car washes, I relied too heavily on which vendor could give me the closest thing to a “turn-key” solution. I settled on my eventual vendor of choice for the following reasons: • They could provide blueprints for the construction of my new car wash. • They were able to offer solid advice on the design of the wash and its appearance. • They were able to supply me with a site plan for my new car wash. • They were able to supply me with site analysis information when I was investigating possible sites. • They were able to provide the closest thing to a “turn-key” solution. • They owned car washes and had many years of experience in the business.
While I realize that there was quite a bit of added value by providing me the services listed above, it is now glaringly apparent that I should have placed closer attention to their equipment offering. Being a “newbie” to the car wash industry, I did not know what to specifically look for in the equipment specifications, engineering, and features.
With that said, here is what I would pay special attention to if I were to upgrade my wash or invest in new IBA equipment today: 1. I would spend hours looking at how the product was engineered. 2. Was it over-engineered with too many moving parts, too many controllers, or too many motors? 3. What types of metal were they using and where; would it stand up to the chemicals and rigors of water exposure each and every day? 4. What was the design of the robotics used to clean? 5. Was it a very heavy unit rolling down tracks over the car that would require bearings, motors, and constant maintenance or was it a lighter unit that rolled on tracks above the vehicle with less moving parts? 6. What type of hoses and hose design did they use for water and chemical delivery? 7. How was the freeze protection engineered? 8. What type of chemical and water usage would I expect from the unit? 9. What type of technology did they use for mixing chemicals and was it reliable? 10. How aesthetically pleasing was the unit in giving my wash a new, modern look? 11. Did the equipment provide an “open bay” type of experience for my customers versus needing to steer through rails and/or tracks? 12. How many years has the equipment been on the market; how many units have been placed in service; and how many washes are they typically performing before needing to be replaced or overhauled? 13. What were the most common repairs and maintenance and after how many car wash cycles? 14. How well did the unit integrate with the auto cashier? 15. Did the auto cashier have a good user interface? 16. Did the auto cashier have solid-state electronics vs. mechanical relays for inputs and outputs? 17. What customer loyalty features did the auto cashier provide? 18. What type of security features did the auto cashier provide?
FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED
Unfortunately, I was at the mercy of the vendor that I finally settled on, and I relied on most of their recommendations for my first car wash. It could be argued that the vendor’s recommendations for building design, site layout, and site analysis were more important than the equipment buying decision. In a perfect world, if my vendor of choice had been representing an equipment manufacturer that met many of the criteria listed above, I might still be in the car wash business. Providing this type of information to new car wash investors will allow others to avoid some of the mistakes I made and will help them stay clear of the pitfalls of choosing the wrong equipment when first getting started.