Patronized most often when we have some spare time and change, car washes can draw a casual attitude as if they are a nice leisurely nuance to a nice little Saturday.
In contrast is how today’s car wash has become refined, sharply efficient and much more technological.
For instance, the new Express Exterior Tunnel Wash that opened Feb. 13 at the Strawberry Hill Car Wash, 4796 Village Square Drive.
At the beginning of the Tunnel Wash’s drive-thru lane is a price board with wash options (similar to a fast-food restaurant’s board) and a card and cash receiver. Mounted on the board is a scanner capable of reading a bar code, registering data pre-loaded in a software system and selecting wash options based on that data.
The bar codes are on stickers placed in a vehicle’s window, allowing it to be scanned like a bag of chips at the grocery store check-out counter. It’s all part of a system that allows customers to sign up for monthly wash packages at Strawberry Hill Car Wash and then drive through for a wash without rolling down the window to pay or interact with an attendant.
For competitive reasons Mark Knecht, owner, wouldn’t say exactly how much the Express Tunnel cost his business, but he said similar systems can cost from $1 million to $4 million.
A company in Florida manufactured the equipment, and Wagner Car Wash Company out of Simpsonville installed and tested it.
Construction of the Tunnel Wash began in October and required new ground to be razed and prepared. Its addition was part of an overhaul that added five vacuum machines, two fragrance dispensers and two carpet shampoo machines.
Strawberry Hill Car Wash certainly isn’t the only car wash in town with touch-less wash options, but its evolution shows the direction car washes must go to survive, and the strategy behind their ability to hang around.
Location and speed are paramount, Knecht said. The new Tunnel Wash can handle 90 cars an hour with washes averaging less than a minute per vehicle.
For comparison, Strawberry Hill’s existing dual touch-less car washes can handle 25 cars per hour with wait times ranging from five to 25 minutes.
Handling as many cars as possible during busy times is essential because business is feast or famine.
Weather, gas prices and recessions that take away disposable income for luxuries all have direct consequences on his business, Knecht said.
When Knecht opened the Strawberry Hill location in June 2002 (he owns another car wash in Reidland), Village Square Drive was much less traveled and populated. Knecht was a lone cowboy with just a sparely-occupied commercial complex across the street. Traffic has risen enough over the years as to require the city to install a traffic light on the road at another nearby commercial complex and at the site of two new medical buildings with a third neighbor planned.
Standing in a control room adjacent to the new Tunnel Wash, Knecht marveled at the technology required to machine-wash vehicles at 90 cars an hour.
He said friends and colleagues have similar reactions when introduced to the inner workings of his business, which employs four people at Strawberry Hill.
“Once they come in here they’re amazed at the complexities,” Knecht said.
Not too shabby for a man whose business acumen and investment can be treated rather casually without inspection.
Further evidence: this may be the most ink he’s received for his business dealings, but it isn’t at all his first recognition in print.
Just seven months ago the Paducah Sun featured his prowess on the links after he won the Greater Paducah Amateur Golf Tournament, one of the many times his name has been associated with local golf successes rather than business success.
Call Adam Shull, journal editor, at 270-575-8653.