By Christopher Crawford
With warm tropical weather, sunny palm-tree-lined drives along the Intracoastal waterway, and an eclectic mix of historic and modern architecture, the City of West Palm Beach is a vibrant place to live and work. Located some 60 miles north of Miami, West Palm Beach is the county seat of Palm Beach County, Florida’s third-most populous with approximately 1.5 million residents. West Palm Beach has emerged as the top contender for the moniker “Wall Street South” with several global financial institutions announcing the opening of regional office hubs in the last 12 months, including Goldman Sachs.
Despite its population growth and corresponding construction boom, West Palm Beach continues to lag other cities in the Southeast in terms of its modern car wash offerings.
Identifying a void in the market, Vybe Investments, led by partners (and brothers-in-law) Brent Andrews and Jack Cooney, seized upon an opportunity to develop a new chain of express car washes to fill the unmet needs of drivers in both West Palm Beach and other markets in the State of Florida.
Both partners came from commercial real estate careers prior to forming Pink Bird Car Wash. Andrews served as a principal of a national full-service commercial real estate brokerage firm, where he advised various national retail/restaurant clients on new store expansion programs across the state of Florida, as well as strategic relocation and portfolio disposition initiatives. It was in this line of work where Andrews got his first taste of the car wash industry while selling a surplus bank property to a flex-serve operator several years prior. However, it wasn’t until his now business partner enlightened him to the owner/operator side of the business and pitched him on the concept of starting a brand of their own. The idea quickly took flight and Andrews realized his market knowledge, coupled with his broad network of real estate contacts across the state was highly valuable in helping to scale the business. Fast forward almost two years and he’s become captivated by the car wash industry, the people involved, and the idea of building a durable service-based business from the ground up. A majority of his time is focused on sourcing new locations and spearheading the entitlement and permitting process for each project.
Cooney began his career in investment banking, advising publicly traded real estate investment trusts on mergers and acquisitions and capital raising, before transitioning to real estate private equity in 2007. In addition to his expertise in transaction structuring and finance, Cooney has significant operations experience from the self-storage industry, where he is a partner in one of the largest privately held owner/operators of self-storage in the United States.
In creating Pink Bird Car Wash, the partners’ goal is to build a best-in-class express car wash with an emphasis on facility design and customer experience. In addition to a spot-free wash and exceptional customer service, they are convinced people demand a unique experience. Subsequently, they decided day-one to ditch the conventional, run-of-the-mill design/branding and focus on the physical aesthetic as a means to better engage the customer and elevate the wash experience. The facility design pays homage to their South Florida roots while creating a fun and inviting atmosphere to all customers.
Equally important to the owners is their hospitality-driven approach to washing cars. Being a majority of the wash is automated, there is even more emphasis applied to every interaction with the customer. “It’s our mission to ensure that every individual entering our facility leaves knowing our team has done anything and everything possible to create a favorable experience. This commitment to excellence starts with our employees who are the heart and soul of our business. Securing qualified, like-minded individuals and training them to lead by example will always be a top priority.”
Moving forward, Cooney and Andrews’ development strategy will focus on ground-up development in top-tier trade areas with established barriers to entry. According to Andrews, “The current market environment is very competitive; however, we still see a lot of opportunity for expansion in South Florida and surrounding areas. Our joint venture (with Montgomery Street Partners) will provide us the support and capital we need to accelerate store growth and expand Pink Bird Car Wash into new markets.”
A brief description of their first two sites follows below:
PINK BIRD 1
The site selected for their first car wash is located southwest of downtown West Palm Beach on Belvedere Road at the intersection with Australian Avenue, just west of I-95 and across from Palm Beach International Airport. The location is part of a four-parcel development on a former landfill that is anchored by a Wawa gas station/convenience store on the corner. Directly behind the car wash site is a newly constructed self-storage facility and to the southwest is a recently completed Mitsubishi car dealership.
Much of the 1.08-acre property is unusable due to access driveways, making the design of the car wash challenging. After exploring several layout options, our office concluded that placing the wash building parallel and as close as possible (for visibility) to Belvedere Road was the best path. We placed the stacking behind the building (to help hide it) and the free-vacuum spaces abutting the drive aisle shared with the self-storage facility. To achieve good stacking for the three pay lanes, we had to lay out the site to stack from west to east (16 vehicle stacking), then pull a 180 degree turn and load into the tunnel.
The only truly difficult part of the design was the tunnel exit which was forced to be next to the entrance of the stacking lanes. This was a tight area with little room for error. We resolved this by pulling a 90 degree turn parallel with the entry lane, and then combined the exit lane with a by-pass lane leading directly into the free-vacuum area. Another by-pass exit was installed just after the pay lanes, next to the dumpster enclosure.
The architectural design of the wash building had to have a lot of impact to attract customers, but had to meet all of the diverse stringent demands of the city’s planning and zoning department — not always easy to do in South Florida where an approval process can often go on for two years or more. The owners asked us to be really creative, yet produce something that the city would not reject and also be within their budget — certainly a challenge. Our solution was a modern version of Miami-style Art Deco with some interesting eye-catching geometry to boot.
The tough part was to make it affordable while handling the 170 mile-an-hour structural wind requirements, but our office got it done and got it approved by the city relatively quickly. There were also no compromises in the building room layout. The wash tunnel is more than 20 foot wide and features a 60-foot-long glass window for potential customers to see all of the action from the street. The equipment room is more than 66 feet long by over 11 feet wide, and we were able to fit in a good-sized storage room and office as well.
PINK BIRD 2
The second car wash site is located northwest of downtown on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, just east of I-95 and adjacent to a major shopping center and several big box retail stores. The site is home to a former Chinese restaurant that closed at least five years ago and has fallen into severe disrepair. Realizing its potential as a great car wash site, Cooney and Andrews tied up the land and started the development process once again.
Now with a larger and more rectangular-shaped site to work with, and with considerably smaller building setbacks, our design firm was able to create a much better site layout than the first car wash with more than double the number of free-vacuum spaces and much better stacking. The only negative issue on the site was it was located directly behind a gas station/c-store on a corner. To overcome this problem, we decided to place the wash building extremely close to the city street (7 feet) to ensure great visibility from the major intersection.
Utilizing the same outstanding building design we created for the first car wash site, the only major changes made to the design were relocating the pay lanes away from the building and lengthening the conveyor trench by some 8 feet. We also had to enlarge the wall sign area at the tunnel exit parapet so the sign could be raised higher making it easier to see from the intersection. This intersection is a major one in the city with a very high traffic count and the connection point of the large new shopping center to the north with several large retail stores (Best Buy, Brands Mart, and a soon-to-be-built BJ’s Wholesale) across the street to the south. These large retail stores abut the new car wash site, and to access them, customers have to drive right in front of the car wash with cross-access ability into all of them.
Once both of these new facilities are opened, Pink Bird Car Wash will be in a great position to dominate the car washing market in the West Palm Beach area. Positioned in excellent well-established commercial retail areas, the initial two sites are located less than three miles apart making it easy to manage and staff them and allow great cross-marketing. Attracting new customers should be easy as well due to the very eye-catching, highly appealing architectural style that fits in very well in tropical South Florida. Combine this with quality wash equipment, a highly functional site layout which is exceedingly easy to navigate, and three pay lanes with great stacking to get customers in-and-out fast, and customers should keep coming back again and again.
We have built hundreds of car washes over the last 20 years of many different architectural styles, but this updated version of Miami Art Deco is one of our very favorites, and one we are very proud of. When we first showed the owners our novel idea, we were not sure how they would react, but they quickly embraced it. Later, when the design was presented to the planning and zoning staff at the city of West Palm Beach, we weren’t sure what they would think either, but surprisingly enough they loved it as well, applauding our design and readily approved it. The first location is now under construction, with the second to follow in a couple of months. We wish them great success.
Christopher Crawford is with Car-Wash-Architect.com. He has written numerous feature articles for this magazine over the years concerning the design and construction of new car washes projects. You can visit his company’s website for more information about the services they offer, or call them at (561) 212-3364.