Shopping Centers Today International

DEC 2015

Shopping Centers Today is the news magazine of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC)

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way, using detergents, rags and elbow grease — but very little water: no more than 3 liters per car. The teams store their equipment in a yellow washing cart whose rocketlike shape has become the company's icon (and has also won some in- dustrial design awards). Car owners pull up to a bright yellow-and-blue tent in the parking lot. The operation, which signs a long-term lease like any other tenant, requires anywhere from 50 to 150 square me- ters of space, depending on the size of the car-wash team. The units tend to employ three to 12 workers per shift, and they may wash as many as five cars at a time. At some operations cus- tomers may make appointments online, choosing from among six levels of service — from a simple exterior job to a complete interior and exterior wash that includes detailing. ProntoWash's first targets at home in Argentina were shop- ping centers and hypermarkets, blessed as those are with large parking lots. But ProntoWash also offers business-to-business service in two forms: a permanent on-site operation from Mon- day to Friday at large companies or office buildings, which services fleet vehicles or cars belonging to employees of those businesses; or cars may be serviced on a fixed weekday using equipment stored at that site or brought in a van. In Kuwait, the franchise will even go to the customer's home. The company's first foray abroad was to Puerto Rico, in 2002, followed that same year by entry into Brazil, Packer's country of birth. "Tourists visiting Argentina found the con- cept novel, which spurred the sale of other master franchises," said Packer. "Between 2002 and 2003, we sold six franchises and had nearly 30 by 2008 when the global financial crisis hit." Car washing is a luxury, so the recession dealt a major blow both to ProntoWash's sales and its expansion plans. Of the 40 units ProntoWash had in the U.S. before 2008, only eight remained, and the company exited Spain and Portugal altogether. In all, the company closed 40 percent of its global units. Packer says sales nose-dived from $40 million in 2008 to half that much the following year. "We went through a restructuring period, and today there are fewer, but stronger, franchisees," Packer said. Annual sales are now back up to about $40 million, he notes. Roughly a dozen units are operating in the U.S. now, mostly at shopping centers in Califor- nia, Florida, Georgia and Texas. The U.S. is par- ticularly lucrative because Americans love to fuss over their cars, Packer says. "In Latin America our business competes with any car wash, but in the U.S. we are a premium car-wash service," he said. The typical ProntoWash U.S. sales ticket is about $40 or $50, he says. Nearly 50 percent of U.S. car owners reported using commercial car washers in 1994, but now 72 percent do, according to International Car Wash Association numbers. What unites car owners worldwide is their dislike for wash- ing their vehicles, says Packer, and many of them surely do not even want to be sitting around at a car wash — hence Pron- toWash's offer of services while customers go shopping or are at work. "Our concept was to bring the service to the client, making it more convenient," Packer said. But even nature seems to be working in ProntoWash's fa- vor — at least this is so in the drought-stricken Western U.S. and in Puerto Rico, where people are forbidden to wash their cars in many a jurisdiction. ProntoWash can do so, however, because it uses so little water. "People mistakenly think that froth and water clean a car, but that's not true, because dirt is impregnated on the car," Packer said. "Our system only uses between 1 to 3 liters of water per car — 3 only if it's very dirty." The key to this minimizing of water use is the mobility of the washing cart, which circles the vehicle with its low-intensity water spray and a custom-made detergent mixed with a small proportion of water, Packer says. Initially, some malls wanted to treat ProntoWash like any other tenant when it came to leasing, even to the point of charging for common-area maintenance. "There was no bench- mark, because at the time, malls were not making this space [parking lots] profitable," said Packer. "It took time for them to understand we offer a service and that some shoppers will favor a mall offering the convenience of leaving their cars wash- ing," he said. "Some malls now charge a fixed rate plus a sales percentage, while others [charge] a fixed rent [only]." Plaza Carolina, one of Puerto Rico's largest malls, has two ProntoWash units, at opposite areas of its parking lot, owing to high demand for the service there. "Pron- toWash is an excellent business partner," said Anthony Clementi, Plaza Carolina's general manager, "part of our mall's shopping experience." SCT S C T / D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 5 r e T a i l i n g T o d a y 48

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