The people of the United Arab Emirates, who have built the tallest building in the world and some of the most magnificent creations on the planet, who import nearly everything from a global marketplace, have been unable to import professional car washing. In the United States we place conveniently located tunnel car washes at a rate of around 1 tunnel car wash location for every 20,000 vehicles. In Dubai there are a mere handful of car washes serving a city of millions who thrive on vehicle pride. So why such a failure in Dubai? How can it be that a city with so much figured out could fall so short in one category?
• Inbay automatics will never achieve the necessary standard of Clean, Shiny, Dry, Fast
• With no passion for car wash revenue and operations, current car wash operators will continue to fail and under serve the market
For the most part today’s car washing in Dubai is conducted either via hand washing centers, which take about 45 minutes at most sites, or at oil company controlled inbay automatics. Inbay and rollover washes dot the highways with either a 45 minute wait for service, or are worn, torn, and abandoned by customers. As we all know these obsolete car wash models, capable of only 8 cars per hour, cannot meet or withstand the demand that exists in a major city like Dubai. The problem lies in the culture of oil companies which, as it is here in the US, places their interests in fuel sales alone and not in the success of other services like car washes. After fuel sales are considered they may be excited about c-store and food service revenues, but few know (though some are now realizing quickly) why we consider fuel and c-store focus a “loss leader” compared to the potential profits of a high-volume car wash.
Land values in many large cities raise the barrier to entry for independent operators. So while we have oil companies who are capable and failing to execute, the independents who want to get in our kept out due to high land costs or city entitlements. Land in Dubai is often valued based on its zoning allowance, so a lot zoned for a high rise will will carry a value that effectively locks ground level tenants out of the game. The land, in a sense, is available, but the best place to build car washes, as in the Unites States, is still at local gas stations which already offer space and highway access.
Another breakdown in Dubai logic is that car washing is strictly considered an automotive service. It’s not. Car washing is better considered a retail service, one that requires routine, quick access on demand. In the United States we put car washes on prime corners, near neighborhoods, nearly every two miles to ensure the beauty of our community is upheld with clean vehicles. In Dubai, they seem to think car washing, though cars are always filthy, is a less frequent service in the automotive classification (like changing your tires and oil). Therefore they push all “automotive” services outside the main populated areas and into the outskirts of town which is where you go to change your tires. Therefore car washing is not accessible, not easy, and cars remain filthy. The oil companies like Emraat, Adnoc, and Enoc, which control the petrol stations, have the ability to bring real conveyorized car washing to the accessible areas of the city.
There are challenges to consider. For one, some areas in Dubai lack waste water management systems. Even though water is available, getting rid of it isn’t always as easy. In some cases sewage must be hauled out by truck daily. This process is not feasible in a high volume car wash situation where, despite the highly efficient water use built in to our designs, we may use around 300,000 liters per day washing at a rate of 2,000 cars in a day.
As we continue to wash 200 cars per hour with proven American car wash technology, Dubai settles for an average of around 5 cars per hour at high-labor hand washes and obsolete rollovers in what is one of the greatest failures of car washing in the world. Fixing the car wash problem in Dubai will take one visionary leader and likely an oil company partner to bring in American-style high processing car washes that reflect Dubai’s identity as one of the great cities of the world.
-Ryan Essenburg, President of Tommy Car Wash Systems, Holland Michigan