An off-hand remark from a neighbor sent Emilie Baratta down an uncharted, but ultimately rewarding, path.
After 15 years of building mixed-use buildings across the United States, Baratta had recently launched her own small real estate firm. When her neighbor casually mentioned the lack of car washes in the area, Baratta wondered if a car wash might be a good early project for her new business.
Baratta conducted significant research, ultimately concluding that a car wash would be a great project and one that could even provide cash flow to fund future projects. But her vision expanded beyond business success.
“Car washing – especially a flex car wash – offers a dynamic way to make a huge impact on your community, both from a job creation and inclusion perspective as well as an opportunity to be a good steward of our environment,” Baratta said.
To that end, Baratta opened Gleam Car Wash in Denver in 2016, creating 40 new jobs, about 20% of which are filled by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Gleam also prides itself on being one of the greenest car washes, voluntarily employing a number of environmentally-friendly measures. This includes installing and maintaining a large water reclamation and treatment system that treats and reuses 90% of the water in the tunnel.
“Running a flex is hard and challenging work, but it’s inspiring as well, and our employees are proud to work at Gleam,” Baratta said.
Setting a Solid Foundation
Although Baratta was new to the industry, she quickly realized the importance of selecting the right point-of-sale (POS) system for her flex-serve model, which includes a full detail shop.
“We have a complicated business model because we’re not an express exterior,” Baratta said. “There aren’t a lot of point-of-sale companies out there that can combine the flexibility we needed with the tech support.”
Baratta found the only option that provided the flexibility, tech support and expertise she needed was DRB® Tunnel Solutions. She selected the SiteWatch® POS, which was able to handle complex business model.
While SiteWatch helped the operation run smoothly, Gleam Car Wash struggled with throughput. To process sales, an employee with a tablet would walk the line. For unlimited wash plan members, they used barcodes that had to be scanned by the tablet.
While this was less than ideal, Baratta didn’t see any other options. Gleam Car Wash sits on less than three-quarters of an acre and has no room for expansion, so Baratta didn’t think there was enough room for a pay station or more than one line to move things along faster.
That’s where the expertise of their technology partner DRB came into play.
During the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, DRB Regional Sales Representative Rich Hays voluntarily visited the wash to see how they might be able to improve the physical processing of cars as well as decrease person-to-person contact. He measured Gleam’s entrance and determined they had room for two lanes: One with an Xpress Pay Terminal® (XPT®) for pay-as-you-go customers and another with a FastPass® RFID reader that scans tags on member vehicles and automatically raises the gate to allow them into the wash. While cars still initially line up in one queue, the line breaks into two just before the wash entrance.
“It was challenging, to say the least, to swap out thousands of bar-coded member stickers with RFID tags, but now we’re through it and members are thrilled,” Baratta said. “This definitely keeps us competitive, even given the onslaught of private equity money in the car washing space.”
After a month or so of fine tuning, Baratta estimates that the change increased Gleam’s throughput by 20% while decreasing unlimited plan member wait time by at least half.
“Boy did DRB ever help revolutionize how we do business!” Baratta said. “The XPT transformed the speed at which we process transactions, the accuracy of those transactions, and ease of training – all of which directly improve the bottom line.”
Gleam’s increased profitability has directly impacted how quickly the brand can expand and positively impact the community, opening more green locations with diverse workforces. Two more locations were in the works at the time this was written.
Baratta credits a large part of Gleam’s success to selecting the right technology partner in DRB. She urges new car wash operators to take the POS decision seriously.
“Flexibility and tech support are positively your keys to success,” Baratta said. “You need your POS to work every single time, and because it’s a complex computer system, controlling robots that clean cars, all of which is subject to employee interaction and therefore human error, inevitably things will go wrong; when they do, you NEED to know your POS company has your back.”