Ten years may seem like a really long time, but when recalling the rate of passage of those years, the description of how the former millionaire lost all of his money often comes to mind: Little by little—then all at once. In the retail car wash industry, 10 years is a critical block of time since most pieces of car wash equipment can be expected to perform reliably, efficiently and economically for that time span. It’s when the conclusion of a decade—where did all that time go?—of reliable service approaches that car wash operators have to begin reassessing the peformance of their equipment, as well as evolving customer wash habits and market demographics, and decide whether repair, replacement, upgrade, or a switch to a new supplier with new, cutting-edge wash technology is the best way to head into the future.
Wallis Companies found itself in that position in 2001. Founded in 1968 in Cuba, MO, which is located 80 miles southwest of St. Louis, when Bill Wallis, with his wife Lynn, purchased a small gasoline distributorship there, Wallis has grown to become one of the Midwest’s leading distributors and retailers of petroleum products under the Mobil, BP, Conoco and Phillips brand names. As a top distributor for ExxonMobil since 1996, Wallis has converted many of its convenience-store locations to ExxonMobil’s “On The Run” concept, which was introduced in 2000.
In 2001, the 10-year in-service window for most of the equipment at Wallis’ 30-plus retail car washing sites, many of which are situated in the St. Louis metropolitan area, was closing. In assessing the performance of its touch-free in-bay wash systems, Wallis management determined that it wasn’t 100% satisfied with the performance of the current equipment in place and began looking for a new equipment supplier that could help it “reload”—to use the Wallis vernacular—its sites.
Saying you need a new supplier and finding the right one are two completely different things. On top of that, as Wallis began its search, the company noticed how much more sophisticated car wash equipment had become, with a slew of technological advances entering the market, all of which promised to deliver a cleaner, more satisfying wash experience—but at what cost?
“As car wash equipment has gotten more technologically advanced, the equipment has become more challenging,” explained Chad Wallis, general manager of Wallis Companies. “Challenging in a good way in that you’re getting top performance and the most-advanced equipment with improved services, but along with that you’re challenged with increased cost of operation and cost of ownership. It’s become a balancing act.”
A pivotal component in achieving that balance is the customer. A car wash can have all the bells and whistles, but, in the end, if it doesn’t produce a vehicle that has been cleaned to the customer’s level of expectation then it will drive that customer away, as well as limit the number of new customers that might frequent the wash.
So, that was the mindset that Wallis carried into its search for a new car wash equipment supplier.
The end of another car wash equipment cycle was rapidly approaching in 2010 and Wallis was beginning the reassessment process to determine which of its sites needed to be reloaded. For those sites that needed new equipment, the answer turned out to be a new equipment option from in PDQ Manufacturing, Inc., De Pere, WI, which had developed and released the Tandem® RiteTouch Vehicle Wash System to the market.
This system has been designed to provide full-body detergent coverage with two-brush, two-bridge engineering that delivers consistent cleaning performance with minimal brush contact, allowing the system to actually touch the vehicle 70 percent less than the typical three- or five-brush friction-wash system. The result is a wash system that touches the vehicle as little as possible, but still supplies the proper amount of contact to provide superior wash quality. In addition, the system is designed with no floor treadle or guide rails, allowing customers with the largest SUVs and trucks to enter the site with ease, which is an important factor with new and existing customers.
This was just what Wallis was looking for as it assessed the state of its wash systems and the needs of its customer base. Wallis is also always on the lookout for growth opportunities, so any new sites that may be in the offing, or any acquired sites that feature car wash operations, will also be candidates for a reload with the Tandem® system.
“We used to be completely touchless, but since PDQ introduced the Tandem® machine I became a big fan because it does such a great job of cleaning all types of vehicles,” said Wallis. “We recently loaded a new-to-industry site with one and the customers really like the cleanability of the machine. At that point, with all the features the system has, I recognized the benefits and decided to look at them for every single car wash we have where we’re reloading or putting a new wash in.”
What began in 2001 as a way for Wallis Companies to improve the operations at its retail car wash sites has grown in the ensuing decade into a partnership that has produced numerous benefits and happier car wash customers and more satisfied car wash operators.
“We’re very happy with PDQ, they’re very good to us and I’ve really enjoyed the relationship we’ve had with them,” said Wallis. “The dependability of the company’s machines, as well as the introduction of the Tandem® RiteTouch system, has convinced us that PDQ is the best in-bay automatic car wash company to partner with.”
About the author:
David Dougherty is the Senior Product Manager for In-Bay Automatics at PDQ Manufacturing, Inc., De Pere, WI. For more information, visit www.pdqinc.com or call (800) 227-3373. David can be reached at David.Dougherty@pdqinc.com.
While 2001 was the year that Wallis Companies began reloading many of its car wash sites with new equipment and systems, it was also a pivotal year for the company’s overall business portfolio. That was the year that Wallis founded the Great River Wash Company, headquartered in Pacific, MO, about 30 miles from St. Louis. Great River Wash is a full-line distributor of car wash services, equipment, chemicals and supplies.
Being a regular user of car wash equipment at the time that Great River Wash was founded has helped Wallis build the business, with the experiences gained on the retail end aiding in the success of the distributor arm.
“It’s been a good situation for us in the sense that we’re able to really know the business from both ends of the spectrum, and that’s challenging for a lot of retailers to know,” said Chad Wallis, General Manager of Wallis Companies. “Car washing is not an atmosphere that is conducive to the equipment that is used—with all of the water, the electrical connections and the harsh chemicals, it’s hard to keep a car wash operating correctly all the time. On the retail side, it allows me to understand and have some compassion with the site operator that the equipment will not work 100 percent all of the time—and that’s the case with all brands of equipment.”