On The Wash Front

Map to the Future

By Timothy Denman

10/01/15
The wash’s signage pays homage to the owners’
map-making roots.
Dual pay stations feed the wash bays.

 Print is dead. Pundits have been using those three words to torment the publishing business for nearly 20 years. And although digital media has not completely buried the printed page it has disrupted the entire industry and forced many previously successful publishing houses to shutter their doors.

When Lewis Amsterdam founded Franklin Maps in downtown Philadelphia in 1928 he could have never imagined how 21st century technology would redefine the map-making industry. Lewis and his son Andy and grandson David kept Franklin Maps profitable for nearly a century, publishing and distributing their product up and down the east coast.

While the Amsterdams enjoyed decades of success in the map business, the advent of GPS technology spelled doom for the industry — drivers have simply stopped buying maps. With their business disappearing before their eyes, Andy and David had a choice to make — they could shutter the family business or reinvent it. They chose the latter.

The Amsterdams moved their business to King of Prussia, PA in the mid-80s and were sitting on nearly five acres of prime real estate when their business started to go south in 2008. They knew they had to do something and decided in 2013 to take a chance and build a state-of-the-art automatic car wash on the property. It was the right decision. 

The two bays sport identical Autec equipment.

Seemingly from day one the newly formed 24 Hour Car Wash was a hit. Wash counts have steadily increased over the past two years, far exceeding Andy and David’s wildest expectations.

 

“This calendar year we have really crushed it,” David says. “Every month has been over $40,000 in revenue except for June where we had a lot of rain. We washed over 8,000 cars in May, and took in over $88,000. It was around 260 car washes a day, every day. It was unbelievable.

It is almost impossible for us to do more than that.”

While there are two other washes no more than a half a mile away 24 Hour has made its mark on the local community, capturing more and more market share with its unique approach. Rather than build a labor-intensive wash that requires onsite staff to keep the wash operational, the Amsterdams adopted a low-labor concept that allows them to keep the wash open 24 hours a day. The rookie car washers’ decision to keep the wash open around the clock has proven to be a key factor in their early success. 

The pet wash is available all hours day and night.

“Customers don’t have to stop and think oh I wonder if they are open,” David says. “It doesn’t matter if it is zero degrees or a 100 degrees we are open. When the community realizes you are always open you get more business. Not just at those peak times when any wash would be busy, but at the off-peak times. That has made a significant difference for us.”

 

Just a quick look at 24 Hour’s record-breaking May tells the story. If the wash was open a standard 10-hour wash day it would need to have a car in each of its two bays from open to close to clock the 8,000 washes it did in the month — a near impossibility. The success of 24 Hour is more than just a dedication to never turn the lights off — it is a commitment to providing customers with a top-level, convenient wash whenever they need it.

The dual-bay, all-glass building is equipped with two sets of identical Autec equipment, cemented by EV1 in-bay automatics. The bays feature arches, wheel cleaners, the gantry, tire shiners, and standalone dryer units. To ensure that each car drives off the lot completely dry without adding any labor to the process, the drying cycle is a full 90 seconds. Paid vacuums are available on site and cost an economical $1 for five full minutes of suction.

“We try to keep it simple,” David says. “We weren’t car wash people when we started and we wanted to keep everything as simple as possible for the customers and ourselves. We built it just the way we would want to use it.”

The wash has been increasing its car counts month after month.The menu features three wash packages.

In the interest of keeping things simple just three wash packages are offered at 24 Hour: Silver, $8; Gold $11; and Platinum, $15. Nearly half of all customers purchase the entry-level wash, with the rest split between the Gold and Platinum packages. In addition, a la carte tire shine is available for $3 on all wash levels.

The King of Prussia community has embraced the 24 Hour concept from the moment the wash unceremoniously opened its doors in the spring of 2013.

The highly visible wash is located on busy South Henderson Road, and the all-glass building garnered a lot of attention when construction was underway in early 2013. With construction complete and all vital systems up and running, the Amsterdams were planning to open the wash at some point over the Memorial Day weekend. While a 24 Hour employee was testing the wash on the Thursday before the long holiday weekend, a passerby saw her car parked at the pay station, and assuming the wash was finally open for business pulled in behind her. Within a few minutes a line was forming with customers eager for their first experience at the wash. Since the equipment was ready to go and they were planning to open up at some point over the next few days anyway the Amsterdams decided then and there that 24 Hour was open for business.   

 

Each car receives a full 90-second dryer cycle.

“We are open 24 hours,” David says. “Once you’re open, you’re open. People started lining up and I said okay I guess we are open now.”

From that moment forward the King of Prussia community has been streaming into 24 Hour in droves, drawn in by curiosity and hooked by convenience and new-age format. “People seem to like the concept,” David says. “They don’t have to get out of their car. They don’t have anyone touching their car and they don’t have to talk to anybody. People just want to get their car washed and keep going. It is a successful format and it is unique to the area. There is nothing like it anywhere around here.”

While print might be dead, the Amsterdams’ business is alive and well in King of Prussia. Although they still have some legacy accounts in their map-making business, the work is just a fraction of what it used to be. The Amsterdams are no longer at the helm of a sinking ship, but rather the co-captains of a thriving car wash that is growing by the day, and breathing new life into a near-century-old family business. 



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