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There is a continual trend we are seeing which I can remember participating in over a decade ago, when cities were trying to figure out how to increase sales tax revenues when the large box stores outside of town came into nearby or surrounding areas. For instance a big and easy example would be Wal-Mart. Sam was smart and built his stores just outside of town near towns, which drew from neighboring towns of 5,000 or more from three to five directions. If you look at an over lay of Wal-Mart stores to an atlas of that state you will see the rural America can get anything they need at the best price without driving all that far.
Unfortunately that awesome distribution system that Sam designed which accounts for nearly 12% of all retail sales in America today also made it tough for less efficient small town business owners on Main Street USA to compete. Since then many small towns have found a way to bring back and revitalize there towns. It is estimated that with 5-10 million most towns can totally revitalize their down town sectors and that maybe about the same amount of fees and permits to build the Wal-Mart in the first place. Since 1980 an estimated 19 billion dollars has been spent on such revitalization of down towns and made them a place to meet, shop, hang out and go.
Just like the song "Down Town, everything's great when you're downtown" great song and that is the goal. It is a feeling, a place to be, a destination location. And it has just about everything you could want, that is everything you cannot find at the mall or at Wal-Mart. Sure many of the typical stores have gone out. Such as the stationary stores, photo developing, pharmacy, video rentals, sports equipment, auto parts, grocery, pet stores, etc. But you can shop for antiques, something to eat, a movie, used books, lots of items that work well in that setting and many types of businesses, which cater towards those types of atmospheres. Such as Starbucks, certain food places and small mom and pop shops, florists, gifts, specialty, entertainment/liquor establishments, restaurants. If you look at cities like Pittsburgh for example you will see a well-served and thriving downtown area. In other cities you see a combo mix and made up facade downtown of tilt-ups prefab buildings, I can think of many like the Limited Groups Downtown area in North Columbus OH and it is hopping with people and spending. A place to go, and it works.
But many so many smaller towns have done well to rebuild the downtown areas where for lease and out of business signs abound. Why? Well all money made in town leaves town, it does not stay to re circulate. Just like those who get a paycheck in the big city have moved to the suburbs and therefore the subs get the first use of that flow of money. Why? Well city planners in the subs attract through incentives car dealerships and other such businesses and put them on the main roads surrounding the residential areas of single family dwellings and then allow multi-family town homes, apartments, etc on the same main thoroughfares, one city I recently reviewed in CA had done exactly that. These areas of businesses surrounding the residential areas serve as a net to trap the money from leaving their area. Well the downtown revitalization tries to do the same thing, attract people into the area to hang out and enjoy themselves and thus have time to spend their money.
If you look at this city Windsor CA you can see some of our observations: Now then some might think people in CA are all a bunch of Hippie Dippies. Such as the Cheech and Chong Comedy team, but as a whole People in CA are generally smarter than most due to oxygen level as most live near or around sea level. Better weather makes year round activities and human interaction easier and therefore more is learned both academically, physically, observationally and literally. So it is not much different than a city in Mass, NJ, VA, but with more ideal weather. The town of Windsor is an okay town. We have no problem with it. Some of everything there. Protectionism and good ole boy networking alive and well, this can be to your advantage by working the system a little and being in the right non-profit groups. It is doable. But it is not worth the headaches for our company to participate in anyway due to the CA mentality on business. These good ole boy networks want to make money in their downtown businesses but do not often allow the progress to revitalization until which time they get off their butts and visit a town which has revitalized their down town, then they immediately go and join the Main Street Program which currently has nearly 1800 communities which participate in it and they are really learning a lot from each other, as to what works and what does not.
I recently visited Franklin TN where the downtown was cooking along as a matter of fact you could smell the aroma from nearby restaurants, see a movie, get a beer or your favorite rendition of a Latte. If this is your dream to put in a car wash near downtown go for it. But watch out for the traps. Environmentalists who do not understand the cleanliness of the industry or water usage. Underground tank rules with regards to fuel or reclaim tanks. Labor issues if you do more than coin-op, automatic. Full serves are loved by customers if excellent quality prevails there, but a crew that has part time drug users can ruin your business quickly. Labor will be an issue. Regarding a location in the town of Windsor as this study samples example:
Notice the orange areas which would mean that it is zoned service area, least amount of issues with planning commission and easiest to get passed easily. Also near the mid center off ramp. Near the Retail Center, looks like a regional mall, near there is best on main road, but have to find an open location with no center medians. Looks like traffic issues there, notice the FWY interchange signaled intersections. It is not near downtown at all but would serve a small business owner better than a downtown revitalized area. A detail shop would be a better use of a closed down town area gas station, fixed up real nice. I have seen plenty in FL, GA, SC, AL, TN but also in Gold Rush Towns of CA, in the rural towns of north Washington state. Also your volume will come from a 10-mile radius, and you would be better served in the Suburban area near box stores, QSRs and strip malls. The demographics are good where in Windsor, lots of Bay Area rich refugees who bought right and modified their town. Took an existing town and developed the hell out of it, driving up property values and still a revitalized down town would draw them in and with their money they would spend.
In Windsor, CA, if you end up North West side where all the orange is there could be issues with visibility and you could be cut off by C-Stores with rollovers, car wash for $3.99 with fill up. But the middle to upper middle will not take their SUVs through there thus you advantage. Buying an existing car wash might be a better play, but car washes go out of business for a reason, it is not always poor service. It could be location issues. Generally a combination. Towns tend to grow North and West higher end your city has interesting trends not normally seen with the middle class center, probably due to the East Windsor area thus it is growing North West while the west side of freeway has remained the older area. But I cannot tell for sure without spending much time. Typically an area with a regional type mall if it has thee Old Navy Type stores which go in next to each other are trendy places of spending consumers that is good, but also need to be cognizant of the need to be by or near Happy Meal Station, or other QSRs. This is well documented in the annals of car washing guru's best advice and written articles. By putting the car wash near that off ramp you will not cut yourself off from your 10-mile radius sphere of influence where 80% of your customers will be coming from. now realize that those town homes or multi-family units, apartments that were built for the city to take advantage of matching Federal funds for low income housing years past will be a significant base not to mention the up the street Golf Course crowd. Like the Viking customers you will be paying through the nose for property, sewer hook-ups and hidden fees (taxes) and you will feel like Popeye the sailor by the time your all through and want to through some tea into your reclaim pit. So before you decide to put in a car wash in a town like Windsor or buy a piece of property, you should look at the layout of the town, determine where they filters or nets of wealth or money flow is going.
If the down town is going to be revitalized a car wash some where between both or a detail shop in the down town with a hand wash valet parking or just good old fashion look will put your business at the top of the food chain with the local founding families of the town and the powers to be of that fiefdom. Whatever you do it is important to do it right and to do well, or just don't do it. Regarding the question of car washes as a business in CA. Yes it is viable, but more money is made building up car washes and selling them in CA than in running them. The IRS likes to audit them a lot. Car Washes being a cash business by nature tend to hit all the red buttons. With the Tax cut and $100,000 immediate expensing it is a worthy endeavor, but risky too.
Having been in the industry 27 years washing stuff, I have to agree with much of the thinkin gof this gentleman with regards to downtown areas and possible car wash locations.
Steve is also good people and will take care of your needs. Investing in a car wash especially in CA with the real-estate prices is a difficult match to the intended ROI. But if planned properly with the proper location, it is a good business, once all the delays are done and the city approves it. The city planner of this particular city went to Chico State and is probably laid back so he maybe easier to deal with than the ultimate planning commission or all the yuppie liberal cream cake granolas which come out of the woodwork in their 1969 Volvos with leaky rings spewing Carbon Monoxide smoke and proclaiming themselves the environments last chance, all the while spreading the Redwood tree pathogen all around the forest each day as they go for nature walks and chain themselves to trees when the forest service is attempting to allow thinning as to not burn down the entire forest with 120 tons of debris and dead wood fuel per acre. Heck I could go on all night. Once opened toe the line and stay totally politically and non-profit group active, but keeping piece near paradise is not easy. They will claim noise pollution, water pollution, air pollution, toxic chemicals, none of which is true. The demographics are right provided there are less than two other car washes which are full service within 7-8 miles of your wash, having a more convenient location will net you the soccer moms if you choose full serve. If you are self serve probably across the freeway where land is cheaper since those self serve bays are only good for $1300 per month gross or so?
With that explanation told on this subject of location based businesses, you have to ask yourself which business models are viable for a down town sector to really thrive and attract even more people. This example goes into depth of the kind of thinking that needs to be thought of when setting up a downtown revitalization project, but with each type of business model. For instance ask any developer of property manager of strip malls of retail large income property and they will tell you the types of anchor tenants needed to make the center survive or strip center. What types of business and specifically which businesses, such as Kinko's, Starbucks, Blockbuster, etc. And the types usually preferring franchise businesses such as Juice Stores, Haircut, tanning, insurance, real estate, etc. It is important to understand the mall and the traffic without going over board, recently I saw a delightful strip center in a perfect location in Red Bluff, CA, right on a busy intersection across the street from Wal-Mart, none of the businesses moving in could ever compete with Wal-Mart and they did not have to. Across from Burger King sat a Starbucks as the strip malls anchor tenant. The center was good, but probably the coffee place was too well placed and even with a drive through would drive too much traffic into that strip center for parking. Parking in downtowns is equally as important. Building downtowns is always a tough one in convincing the older thriving businesses that street improvements, construction and general obstructions are necessary to do it. Long term it is great, but short term it is an issue, construction out front will kill you.
If you look at the highend areas of Naples Fl, Palm Desert CA, Scottsdale AZ, you see some great work at total revitalization. But the old funky look of Key West FL, Manhattan Beach CA, Montpellier Vt. you see they also work well. If you happen to go to GA and visit a little town 15 miles south of Statesboro, GA you will see it is the Fruit Cake Capital of the World and actually no where near San Francisco. A revitalization project must tke into consideration the natural flavor, in this case fruit. Every town is know for something. This is of value. Oxnard CA, strawberry Capital. Bozeman MT Sweet Pea Festival, heck recently we were in Sheridan WY for the Hoops Festival. But we have also been to the avocado festival, wine festival all in CA, Raspberry Festival in UT and Tamale Festival in El Centro near the Mexican Border. There is always a need for a local celebration to draw from miles. Renaissance Fairs, October fest, even the Forth of July Extravaganza. You have to make it happen with the locals and draw from everywhere, parades. I have had the good fortune of planning these events, participating in them and bringing in dollars. So far in America at last count the cities which have revitalized themselves have refurbished 90,000 buildings, sounds similar to what we are doing thanks to really great and faithful American corporations in the Open Markets of the cities of Afghanistan and streets and market areas of Baghdad. For more information on providing jobs and money flow locally in a town near you check it out.
"Lance Winslow" - If you have innovative thoughts and unique perspectives, come think with Lance; www.WorldThinkTank.net/wttbbs
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