At the Car Wash 4789

April 1, 2006

4 Min Read
At the Car Wash

Over my entire business life, I have been fortunate enough not to be influenced by the World War II generation, which basically was against anything foreign. My parents were very anti-anything that wasnt homegrown. If it didnt say USA on the label, it was inferior and not worth buying. 

As a car washer I have tried to avoid the prejudiced opinions of my parents. But lets face it, ask most car washers how they bleed and theyll tell you the right arm leaks red, white and blue; the left detergent. We are a very patriotic group and, on top of that, we basically feel we invented car washing! So if it wasnt built here, it basically isnt any good. Bottom line, made in the USA just works fine.

With that said, I have to admit to having a predisposition to some Asian products. As an ex-motorcyclist, I was impressed when Honda and all the other British look-alike bikes came to our shores. Good looks, great performance, and you knew that when you went out for a ride it would always be reliable.

As I have matured and been further exposed to the world, I have become a global buyer. My business life has always involved manufacturing and distribution. Like the countries we import from, I, too, have become an exporter. Other countries have recognized our skills in producing durable car wash products, and have welcomed our expertise to their shores.

Our manufacturing capability, which created the wealth of our country, has been studied, emulated and supported by other governments. As a result, other manufacturing nations have become successful and super wealthy. Instead of looking at the label on a product and refusing it because it was imported, we now embrace trade as a way of life. How and why we got here is fodder for a much longer and controversial article. For now, lets say that internal complacency has opened the door for imported products that are well made and competitively priced.

Since 1965, the percentage of workers involved in durable goods manufacturing has shrunk by more than 50 percent, while many service industries have doubled. According to a recent article in The New York Times, we are now becoming a nation of advisors, fixers, entertainers and high-tech engineers. As we have continued to lose our manufacturing base, the share of the economy that has gone to medicine, banking and law has grown. Maybe we could help the trade deficit if we could export more lawyers and bankers?

Global Access

No matter how you look at it, the Monroe Doctrine of insular isolation has no place in todays economic environment. And thank goodness. We have access to not only the best and brightest in our country, we now have the ability to choose from the best the world has to offer.

In the car wash business, the ability of an international player to be taken seriously has been extremely difficult. Not only do car washers wave the flag, they are a notoriously practical group of business people. A car wash only makes money when the equipment is operating. The importance of uptime for an operator is critical. Not many years ago, a major national car wash chain of in-bay automatics looked at downtime. In its evaluation, 1 percentage point of downtime was a loss of $100. So if you were operating at 90 percent, you were losing $1,000 per month. Imagine now the concern an operator might have for an imported product. How easy is it to find off-the-shelf parts and ensure that replacement time is at a minimum?

This recognition of uptime has become an opportunity for a few smart manufacturers. Programs that guarantee a certain percentage of uptime are now available. International manufacturers of car wash equipment that recognize the importance of the American market have listened well.

Just this year, several major U.S. players have announced affiliations with overseas counterparts. Mark VII, one of the major touch-free suppliers, was acquired by Germanys WashTec, the largest provider of vehicle-wash equipment worldwide. This was a good move for all parties. Mark VII remains a U.S. manufacturer, retaining all of its employees and gaining the opportunity to offer U.S. operators Americanized products that previously were only available as imports.

Yes, for some industries the distance between shores has become a nanosecond away. Those of us who buy durable goods are very fortunate. We now have access to concerned global players. For us, the best and brightest is a catalog away. It certainly has become a small, small world! 

Fred Grauer is president of Grauer Associates and vice president, investor services, for Mark VII Equipment LLC, a car wash equipment manufacturer in Arvada, Colo. He has made a lifelong career of designing, selling, building and operating car washes. He can be reached at [email protected].

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