The Totally Tommy site model continues to realize its potential in the field. Quality Car Wash of Holland, MI and Tommy Car Wash Systems are pleased to announce that during the 2017 calendar year the combination carwash, gas station, and convenience store located at Waverly Road and Chicago Drive in Holland Michigan washed a record 515,367 vehicles – an astonishing achievement for the two year old facility which serves as a template for the expanding Tommy’s Express franchise.
This record marks the car wash as one of, if not the single highest producing car wash in the United States and a fitting flagship for the much-loved Quality Car Wash brand. Design highlights include circular stainless steel arches, a rounded acrylic roof, Tim Horton’s drive-through, and a centralized Flight Deck for wash control and convenience store checkout.
According to a representative, “Breaking half a million cars in a year at a single site remarkable, you just don’t see it in the industry… Credit goes to our outstanding team who constantly go above and beyond at Waverly and across all our locations, the dual belt conveyor and other equipment which is engineered to process as efficiently as possible, and the deep roots our brand has cultivated in the Holland market.”
The facility features a 130” tunnel as well as unbranded gasoline service and a Tim Horton’s franchise. Tours of the wash, as well as the Tommy’s Express Car Wash franchise site located nearby in Grandville Michigan, are available to interested parties upon request.
This blog has considered the problem posed by Automatic Emergency Braking systems (AEB) and other systems before (read it HERE, it’s a good one), but with the 2022 deadline for universal implementation of these features nearing, the topic takes on increasing urgency for wash owners and customers.
Last year problems with modern vehicles were more commonly reported at car washes around the country than ever before, usually centering on one of the four following areas:
Collision Avoidance Systems, including AEB: These systems automatically scan the area ahead of the vehicle and engage brakes when facing an oncoming obstacle. While potentially life-saving on the highway, the system is not intended for use in the car wash tunnel and may lock down when faced with brushes or water curtains, causing vehicles to stop in their tracks and risk collision with those behind.
Electronic Parking Brakes: Designed to prevent roll away accidents, which are surprisingly common, a variety of vehicles are being equipped with systems that automatically engage parking brakes when the car detects rolling motion, even in neutral or with the vehicle switched off. Similar Shift to Park Systems only lock up the tires when the car is in neutral and the doors are opened—which may present an unwelcome challenge for conveyorized interior detailing teams.
Automatic Wipers: Triggered by the application of water on the vehicle, the wipers engage and are then torn off by the action of brushes which would otherwise pass over the wipers without incident. Drivers must be warned to disable the feature prior to wash entrance.
Keyless Entry Systems: When some vehicle mounted touchpads are contacted by car wash cloth they can record so many failed entries so quickly that the system goes into a theft prevention mode, closing and locking all doors until the vehicle is unlocked by use of the actual vehicle key. In the case of interior detailing carwashes, where the customer has left the vehicle prior to the starting wash, this lockout system can be disastrous. As a result, certain vehicles need their staff or the owners to ride through during the entire process, which can be time consuming and inefficient.
Manual overrides for most, if not all of these features are included in the operator’s manuals for the respective make and model. But without any sort of standardization the solutions can range in complexity from a button press to a complicated trudge through seven or eight settings in the electronic dashboard. This can cause long delays and embarrassment for many drivers approaching the tunnel, and puts pressure on team members expected to recognize a larger pool of problem vehicles while committing to memory the varied steps steps required to help drivers disarm the systems before the wash, and restore them afterwards.
These changes represent a challenge that will continue to test the car wash industry, an industry which must continue to lobby heavily for standardized deactivation procedures across the industry along with improved clarity from automotive manufacturers.
Operators are also invited to explore dual belt conversions as a solution for modernizing their washes against these and future features. The Tommy Transporter Dual Belt Conveyor sidesteps most wash-prohibitive systems, securely carrying customer vehicles through the tunnel regardless of any braking or parking action that occurs. The 30” wide dual belt platforms are also able accommodate a far wider assortment of vehicles than other conveyor options (including dually tires, low riding vehicles, compact cars, and more) with faster loading and processing speed.
Car washes are diverse and complex facilities that require careful planning and no small amount of troubleshooting. So build as much experience as possible and get a sense for what a successful, thriving car wash feels and looks like.
Fine Tune Site Layout with the Help of Professionals
Site layout has a dramatic influence on capture rate, in/out speed, and return customer rates over the lifespan of the car wash facility. A good layout will easily make or break a site, which is why it is so important to perfect all details of the design with professionals who have a background in car wash layout design and day to day operations.
Focus on Quality from End to End
The retail business is extremely reliant on return customers. If you sacrifice quality or customers have a bad experience you will be continually be fighting to get them back. Focus on quality from day one and be prepare to make regular adjustments over time.
Your team shouldn’t be forced to rely on outside services to maintain or service your wash, and you should never rely on someone else to tell you what your cost per car is. Train the right people and equip yourself with the right knowledge and experience to manage problems as they come up.
Work Hard to Reduce Labor
Overhead and administrative costs add up and are deeply underestimated by most. Focus on efficiency and invest in the right equipment to minimize labor requirements on-site.
Use an Invested Operator
The more deeply invested operators are in the car wash, and the more they have at stake, the more involved they will be. If investing in a car wash, instead of acting as your own owner operator, make sure you have the right person taking the lead.
A bad investment can take a lifetime to recover from. Projecting low can protect you from overextending and makes it easier for your wash to beat expectations.
No matter what you do, do it the best of your ability. Don’t cut corners, don’t reduce value, and don’t skimp. It will end up costing more in the end. Factors like architectural designs, quality general contracting, landscaping, modern equipment technology, and total customer experience should never be sacrificed if you expect your wash to thrive.
Closely Evaluate Your Investment vs. Cost of Property Balance
When it’s all said and done you may find the value of your property is your biggest asset, especially if you might consider selling your wash in the long-term.
Focus on a Revenue Model Rather than Cars Per Year
While cars per year and total revenue are related, they aren’t equivalent. If you allow your overhead to climb or rely too heavily on costly promotions it will affect your bottom line, no matter how many cars are getting washed.
Do Not Underestimate the Draw of Great Architecture
The image you project on the outside of your facility is the impression the customer lives with long before they experience wash quality, value, and customer service. Choose a car wash facility design that is memorable and which makes a powerful statement.
Don’t Under Build or Under Spend
If your wash is too small for your location you won’t be able to handle incoming traffic, bottle necking your income and degrading both customer experience and wash equipment alike.
Don’t Over Build or Over Spend
If your site is too big the cost of your investment will weigh down your future growth and you won’t be able to maintain an appearance of healthy in/out traffic.
Do Not Rely on the Advice of Salespeople
Take your input from existing operators in the industry who will give you unbiased opinions regarding equipment, detergents, and operations.
Do Not Build Because of Ego
If there are problems with your plan be willing to back off and reevaluate. Good follow through won’t make a bad plan into a good one and sometimes it’s important to take the advice of an expert – even if that advice isn’t in line with your original vision.
Do Not Inflate Numbers for the Bank
Lying to the bank is only lying to yourself; if the bank won’t approve your business plan or financing you should honestly consider reevaluation.
Do Not Underestimate Depreciation
Washes experience significant wear and tear due the presence of water and the operation of heavy equipment. Take maintenance seriously and plan for replacement, repair, and upkeep costs.
Do Not Base Depreciation on Flat Time Schedules
Deprecation doesn’t have to do with time alone. It has to do with the total numbers of cars washed. As traffic increases so will your expenses, and the urgency with which you must address them.
Do Not Neglect Marketing
If your belt isn’t running at its maximum capacity, you aren’t reaching your wash’s full potential. Modern marketing practices, partnerships, and a flushed out plan relying on a combination of streetside, print, and digital advertising will help you expand your reach, market your promotions and wash memberships, and bring in more first time and returning customers.
Do Not Give Up
Car washing is a growing and changing industry and full size express tunnels with high-value membership packages are in extreme demand. Don’t give up if you have rough patches, reevaluate your fundamentals, and remember that success is out there waiting!
For more modern car wash fundamentals as well as an overview of the industry today and where it is going on the future, watch this presentation from the 2017 Car Wash Show, hosted by our very own Ryan Essenburg.
What are the most important lessons an experienced car wash manager have for their up-and-coming colleagues? We asked managers Nate Chandler, Brian Grecu, and Jeremy Welsh, all serving at our sister company Quality Car Wash of Holland, MI, and this is what they had to say:
1. Hourly walk-throughs are critical, and most major problems equipment and detergent problems can be avoided or caught early simply by being present and keeping the site monitored on a constant basis.
2. Be deeply aware of your wash quality standards and monitor your results closely and constantly. Just because a car leaves cleaner than what it did when it entered, doesn’t mean the wash is putting out a high quality, well-washed car.
3. Monitor chemical usage closely and keep product lines clean. The smallest inconsistency will cause a car not to clean or dry correctly and will affect chemical usage.
4. Bad weather days are blessing. Good managers use that time wisely to inspect, repair, and maintain the equipment and facility as a whole – especially around the changing of the seasons.
5. Mind your customer service. A smile will make the customers day, a clean and dry car will make both your and the customer’s day.
6. Appearances and routine tasks are important. Keep the vacuum area clean, check the trash cans hourly, and sweep up.
7. Learn all of your team members’ communication styles. Not everyone will react the same way to directions, it is important to know how each of your team members react and how they prefer to be communicated to.
8. Patience is a virtue. Be patient with your team. Be patient with your customers. Be a listener and hear what they have to say.
9. Even though you’re in a leadership position don’t stop asking questions or learning. Not everyone knows everything, nor are you expected to know everything. Having the willingness to learn from others is still a leadership quality.
10. Have the right attitude. As a leader your team looks to you and they copy you. If you have a great positive attitude it will rub off on your team and the quality of their work go up. If you have a negative attitude it will destroy the atmosphere at the wash.
What value does the local car wash hold their customers, and the community at large? What does a community lose when they lack an updated and well-maintained car wash facility?
Fast, Affordable Vehicle Maintenance
A dirty car experiences more wear and tear than a vehicle which is regularly cleaned. Road salt, used to keep pavement clear of snow and ice, is the most severe example and both triggers and accelerates rust and corrosion on exposed metal surfaces. Even in warmer climates a coating of caked mud, bug slime, or road tar will slowly etch at paint surfaces and degrade paint over time if tolerated.
Local car washes provide an extremely time and cost-effective way to scrub away these offending materials and protect the vehicle’s exterior—including the underbody where rust and corrosion is usually the most extreme.
Greater Owner Satisfaction
From gearheads, to soccer moms, to retirees, each and every driver in a community deserves a vehicle that provides them a certain measure of satisfaction and respect. Dirt, tar, salt, and road droppings take an otherwise good looking vehicle and lessen its beauty. If the owner doesn’t have the time or isn’t physically capable of washing it themselves it has an impact on the way they feel—both about the vehicle and about themselves.
Car washes help by once again providing a fast and easy way for all vehicle owners to keep their cars looking new with body soap, spot free rinse, and tire shine service available on-demand. Not to mention on-site vacuum service for interiors heavy on pet hair, cheerios, or old French fries.
Washing the car in the driveway on warm summer afternoons is a distinctly American tradition, but it comes with an unseen environmental impact: detergent runoff into local waterways and significant water waste.
Car washes address both problems. Water use is metered and minimized, typically reduced to forty gallons or less per car (a fraction of the water pumped from a standard garden hose during an average driveway wash. All detergent runoff and cleaning products are kept out of storm drains and properly disposed of via sanitary sewers.
In addition to hosting seasonal and entry level positions (ideal for students and new graduates), local car washes also have a strong tradition of supporting local organizations and otherwise serving their communities. From youth program fundraisers to unique local events, car washes provide a well-known and trusted venue for local philanthropy.
Veterans Day – Nov 11 – is almost here! And that means that car washes across the USA will be taking part in a unique and growing tradition: Grace for Vets.
Since the event’s founding by Mike Mountz in 2004, Grace for Vets has stood for a single, simple principle: to give back to the men and women in uniform who give so much for our nation. Participating car washes open their doors to all veterans and active service members, providing free washes all day with no strings attached.
Born from a single wash only thirteen years ago, thousands of independent and often competing washes across four nations now participate each year.
If you are a car wash operator and you would like to participate, you should visit graceforvets.org/car-wash-operators/register. There is still time to sign up, get the word out, and celebrate those who have sacrificed and given so much of themselves!
Halloween is just around the corner, and that means that car washes across the nation are readying for special, terrifying events to draw and entertain their customers once the sun goes down-including our affiliates at Quality Car Wash here in Holland MI. These events are hugely fun for children in particular, and are perfect for express car wash tunnel layouts. They also offer a valuable way for car wash operators to generate extra revenue, marketing buzz, and community goodwill.
Here’s how to get started:
Once you name your event (“Tunnel of Terror” is a perennial favorite) generate branded marketing materials with the event date and details and begin advertising at least two weeks beforehand. Flyers, on-site posters, and mailings are all options, but social media and Facebook in particular is your best tool.
Not only can you use social media to advertise the event to thousands of local individuals for just a few dollars, but you can also generate organic interest as viewers share the event to one another. Be sure to monitor your posts during the lead-up and answer any questions that are raised.
If there is a charity you would like to support with a portion of the event proceeds (your local children’s hospital, for instance) you can include that information on your marketing materials. You may also be able to contact the organization ahead of time for help marketing the event or generating positive media coverage.
Many wash operators begin by stringing up spider webs and other decorations, shutting off all tunnel lights aside from red, and setting up strobe lights or lasers with a fog machine. Custom signage and soundtracks are also a nice touch as the red lights from the service indicators turn foamy water into torrents of blood and the strobes illuminate the scenes from decorations or mutilated staff members spaced along the tunnel length.
Keep in mind that this event should be targeted towards young children and their parents. Also note that in order to generate the right experience operators may need to tweak the services offered (if any) during the wash and slow down the belt conveyor speed to give customers more time in the tunnel.
Your staff members and any extras you can round up can make or break the event. Position them near the entrance, inside the tunnel, at the exit, or elsewhere on the property and let them know that just by dressing up in scary costumes, laughing manically or screaming, and enjoying themselves they will become the stars of the show.
Safety, as always, should be a key concern for all involved. Car wash equipment can be extremely dangerous if regular safety procedures are ignored and any extras used in the event should be properly trained and kept outside of the wash tunnel or any other employee-only areas.
It is also wise to set an age advisory for the event, depending on just how gruesome of an experience you plan on delivering, and to disclose at the cashier station and on any marketing materials that there will be flashing lights, as these can trigger epileptic seizures.
Take videos and photos and add them to social media to extend the marketing benefits of the event. You may be surprised just how much your audience will grow from one year to the next!
Many car washes are simply not in a position to host a true tunnel of terror, usually because of their location. While a steady stream of customers may not be a problem during the day, large numbers of gawking families at night may cause lines that back up off the property and into traffic, resulting in a public hazard. Whether this becomes a problem will depend on the layout of your site, the cooperation of the local community, good planning, the event’s popularity, and the typical volume of traffic on the road.
And even if your wash is not able to host a true nighttime Tunnel of Terror there is no reason not to decorate, advertise, and enjoy a smaller scale event during normal business hours on or before the holiday.
Note: the following blog post is adapted from Ryan Essenburg’s presentation at the Car Wash Show 2017 in Las Vegas, NV titled “Fundamentals of Express Carwash Success: Why Belts, Brands, and Buildings Will Dominate in 2017”. If you would prefer to watch or listen to the presentation, you can do so using the video embedded below.
The car wash community, both in the United States and worldwide, is in a period of transition and ripe for the same level of disruption that has revitalized and transformed countless other industries in recent years. In the same way Uber and Lyft leveraged mobile technology to cut costs and connect riders, or ‘casual fast’ restaurants like Chipotle found a way to deliver a better meal experience faster, our industry is ready for innovations that will take the car wash experience, streamline, and perfect it with the right technology and a newly professional approach.
Where we are Today?
What does the average American car wash look like today? On the whole, it is an aging, small, independent owned facility, probably an inbay automatic or rollover system, or possibly an outbuilding connected to a gas station or some other business. It is single story, fairly unimpressive, poorly lit, and could stand for a fresh coat of paint and power washing.
And for huge portions of the United States, there may only be one or two of these facilities serving tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals in nearby communities. These blue water markets exist by the thousand and harbor real demand for car washes able to jettison the bare-minimum, mom-and-pop approach that has long defined the car wash business. If new washes open, professionalized with powerful, performance-focused equipment and an ROI, expansion-driven business model, they will find untold (and untapped) potential.
What Will Make this Leap Possible?
The technology and strategies that are going to drive this change will come from a holistic approach to performance-oriented car washing. Factors will include:
→ New Retail Operations and Investment Capitol
→ Presentable and Highly Efficient Equipment
→ Digital Branding Strategies / Franchising
→ Lean Operations Supported with Facility Systems
→ Mobile App and Customer Club Integration
In the past, many individuals seeking to launch car washes did so with a subsistence mindset. They sought to open a single, moderately successful wash or set of washes using the bare minimum of capital required to do so. Concerns such as customer experience, maximizing wash capacity, or wow-factor came a distant second.
However, car wash growth now and in the near future will be built on a very different mindset and will follow the concept of profit amplification. Entrepreneurs entering the market understand that investing the capitol required to secure the right location with the right technology in the right package is more than worthwhile—it is paramount. An ROI focused approach will yield a higher caliber of membership-worthy washes able to turn out substantially higher wash counts and better margins.
We are already in the midst of a car wash industrial revolution today, in which the technology and systems that have served the industry are being re-imagined and improved in order to provide 1) an improved customer experience and 2) better processing speed and capacity.
This shift is perhaps best exemplified by the shift to Dual Belt Conveyors. From our own experiences, in the last few years at Tommy Car Wash Systems we’ve seen an explosion in belt conveyor orders. Today we are now selling five of our Tommy Transporters for every one of the older, slower, and less customer-friendly chain and roller conveyor. This technology drastically improves the speed at which client washes can process vehicles and serves as either a foundational choice for a high-performance wash system, or a much-needed (and easy) upgrade to an older existing wash.
Similar revolutions are expected across points of sale, controller systems, wash arches, club infrastructure, and wash hardware.
Brand saturation is a core principle of modern retail, and one with considerable potential impact on new car wash development. Consider that, nationally, after six years more than 90% of newly developed franchises remain in business. The same is true for less than 50% of independent startups. Even local car wash chains can use this powerful effect by pursuing a critical density of stores in their local community. By launching similarly branded stores that deliver the same experience, all in drivable distance of one another, the young brand generates more familiarity, a larger footprint and pooled customer base, and improved economy of scale.
The digital aspect of this modern, experience-centric branding also opens the door to exciting new possibilities. For instance, collaborative club roaming schemes such as those now appearing in European markets
For too long prospective car wash owners and entrepreneurs have viewed the car wash building and car wash equipment as separate and interchangeable, rather than a single unified whole. But from the perspective of both the customer and operations personnel, the entire car wash property (including the building and all equipment within) is a single machine with the function of taking dirty vehicles in one end and releasing clean vehicles at the other. And even the smallest details of this machine will have an impact on it’s efficiency and ease of use—for good or ill.
For this reason it is newly important that car wash facility and equipment designs be prepared by developers with specialized experience and expertise in performance-centric car wash operations, rather than out-of-industry architects. From proper floor slopes to staff routes, lines of sight, queue spacing, stop button locations, conduits and much, much more a favorable and well-designed building will contribute to the car wash’s day-to-day operational success, allowing a smaller team to handle large vehicle loads with minimal effort and less incident risk.
In the same way, window placement, lighting, and attention-garnering architecture allow the equipment and building as a whole to function as a recognizable landmark and as an effective marketing tool. The importance of this wow-factor and using the building/equipment as marketing cannot be discounted.
App and Club Integration
The forces acting on the car wash industry today have been a long-time in coming, and many of the most exciting innovations on the horizon are long overdue. While car wash membership and unlimited clubs have been a staple for some time, fully integrating these programs with mobile and other high technology (such as licence plate readers) is a more recent move with the potential to streamline and even digitize the wash experience.
With new options freeing local washes from expensive point of sale commitments in favor of cheaper and more flexible modern car wash POS solutions, new wash clubsystems will also reduce the level of labor required to administer the club program from the cashier window as many customers will become self-sufficient, adjusting their plans from their cell phones or online accounts as needed. This system will ultimately give modern customers fast, connected, on-demand service they have come to demand.
Franchise Opportunities and Development Assistance Available Now
The only way to ride a wave without wiping out is to catch it early, and that means moving now. At Tommy Car Wash Systems we seek to push these boundaries in our quest for never-ending improvement and innovation.
If you are interested in the latest in high-performance car wash design and investment-minded development you should contact our team by visiting our contact information page. You may also be interested in the rapidly-growing Tommy’s Express Car Wash Franchise, where franchise partners receive close operational and marketing support as well as extensive training prior to and following a facility launch. Visit the car wash franchise information page to learn more.