In the car-wash and self-storage businesses, we’re always seeking opportunities for extra income. Finding ventures that contribute to our existing operation with minimal expense or effort is difficult. Add to this the challenge of internal or external shrinkage, and you often end up wondering, “Why bother?” But over the years, a couple of unsung heroes have proven themselves worthy additions to car-wash sites.
If you were to look at revenue per square foot vs. total investment, one of the best ventures is the inclusion of coin-operated vacuums, which come in various strengths and sizes. Pricing varies according to options, style and horsepower. For example, you can install vacuums that have fragrance dispensers or carpet shampooers. A basic machine will charge the customer about $1.50 for four minutes and earn about $50 per week. When you consider the average vacuum sells for about $2,000, the unit pays for itself within a year. That’s a pretty good return for a relatively small investment and use of minimal space.
Vacuums are normally installed on an “island” that allows vehicles to park on either side. The island, equipped with lights and trash containers, can house as many units as you wish. Most car-wash owners say you can never have enough vacuums, and additional units don’t detract from the originals. So contact your local car-wash supplier and ask him to take a look at your site and make a proposal.
There are some very cool coin-operated vending machines designed to sell items of various sizes and prices in a compact space. In many cases, these are rear-loaded machines, meaning they are mounted on a wall opening to a secure space, so taking inventory and collecting money is safe and easy. There have been significant breakthroughs in monitoring coin-operated machines. These days, it’s possible to tie the electro-mechanical coin mechanism into PC-based software so you have total control over sales.
Good for Storage Too
If you are strictly a storage facility, the addition of vending machines or vacuums can be a no-brainer for you, too. If you choose to add them to your site, it brings you one step closer to adding the ultimate ancillary service: a car wash. In previous columns, I have written a great deal about the car-wash opportunity, and many readers have requested more information. Over the past six months, I have spent a lot of time on the road and seen many storage facilities with car washes integrated into their sites. All of them seem to be doing well. There’s little doubt the addition of this service may be the ticket to up your monthly revenue and profit.
The goal of all these potential business opportunities is to make a profit. The more I visit businesses across the country and study real estate, the pressure to maximize returns is evident. With land and construction costs escalating, we must always keep in mind the mantra of “highest and best use.” Simply put, we have to ask ourselves with every venture whether it produces enough revenue to support the investment—in particular, the land on which the site sits. The more our land appreciates, the more we need to increase the net revenue, either by improving our core business or adding extra services.
During a recent visit to some top car washes, I was impressed by the number and variety of ancillary services they offer. Their owners are seeking and experimenting with different options. If there was one common thread among them (besides improvements in their net income), it’s “outside the box” initiative. These owners realize their customer base is site-specific.
For example, one full-service car wash is in a town of 40,000 people, the primary businesses of which are agriculture and high technology. The site’s owner realized the customer base was more than 65 percent women, and there was a great opportunity to cater to this market with attractive, personal, non-car-related items. After conducting customer interviews, she realized there was also real opportunity to market local sports memorabilia. The result? Walls attractively lined with art, shelves stocked with candles and other gift items, and a waiting/sales area tastefully decorated to make people welcome and comfortable. This car wash produces well over $2 per car in ancillary income—and this is prior to the addition of signed sports memorabilia.
Revenue opportunities vary, and it all comes down to understanding your customer base and knowing how much time and money you are prepared to commit. As the gurus say, there is no such thing as a poor plan, but there are countless examples of poor execution. Look at other successful retailers in your area, ask lots of questions, interview suppliers, make a decision, and go! You’ll have lots of fun dreaming up ideas, planning and implementing. Let me know about the ancillary services you have used, for good or bad, and I will share your experience in a future column.
Fred Grauer is the vice president, distributor network, for MarkVII Equipment LLC, a car-wash equipment manufacturer in Arvada, Colo. He has made a life-long career of designing, selling, building and operating car washes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.