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Car cleaning not ‘watered down’

How do you measure success in business? William Tang tried, but the counting became almost dizzying as the volume racked up.

How do you measure success in business?

William Tang tried, but the counting became almost dizzying as the volume racked up.

Now, he prefers to give an estimate on the number of litres of water his business has managed to save from going down the drain all for the sake of a clean-looking car.

To date, the count is in the several millions of litres as Eco Service seeks to gain momentum, and customers, for its waterless car washing process that started in Downtown Vancouver in 2010, and added a second stand-alone service at the beginning of June in Richmond Centre’s parkade.

But the impressive conservation of a precious, environmental resource is not what’s driving customers to get a shiny, dirt-free ride.

“To be honest, it’s the convenience they are sold on,” said Tang who joined fellow, late 20 to early 30-something Palmer secondary grads Jeremy Wong and Sam Mui, plus a few other business partners, to get Eco Service rolling.

They saw a niche developing for a kind-on the-environment method of cleaning cars as an increasing number of jurisdictions around the globe started restricting water usage.

Their focus was narrowed when a business acquaintance introduced them to a waterless car wash product that was developed in the U.K.

“There are many places like Dubai and portions of the U.K. which have heavy water sanctions,” Tang said, adding that even in Toronto it’s deemed illegal to wash your own vehicle.

In fact, a Toronto by-law, passed in 2000, prohibits the runoff from driveway car washing from entering the storm sewer and discharging into lakes and rivers untreated.

“You can’t wash your car on your own driveway. You have to take it to a commercial establishment because of the pollutants that go down the drain,” Tang said.

From research into water usage, Tang said he discovered the average car wash done on an owner’s driveway with a bucket and hose can use around 100 litres of water.

Automated car washes that have efficiency measures in place boost that to about 180 litres. And older, less efficient car washes can go through as much as 450 litres per wash cycle.

“And this is clean, potable water being used,” Tang. “So, for vanity purposes it’s hard for people from overseas, where water restrictions exist, to fathom that kind of usage. They think we’re crazy.

“One (regular) car wash can be as much water for someone to consume for weeks on end.”

While none of Tang’s group came from a car wash or vehicle detailing background, their combination of experience in finance, real estate development and fleet vehicle management helped identify a business idea.

“We thought of tons of uses for it (waterless car wash solution), and with the whole of Vancouver going green we saw a good opportunity,” Tang said.

They established a stand-alone car wash service in the underground parkade at Pacific Centre Mall in Downtown Vancouver last year, and began offering the service to office workers in the business core of the city that traded on the convenience factor of having their car cleaned — inside and out — while at work.

“All they (clients) do is drop their keys at their office’s reception after getting an email reminder the day before for a car wash, put down their credit card information, and collect their keys at the end of the day,” Tang said.

They also tapped into the growing car-sharing business, landing Zipcar as a client. And they  have “pop-up” locations at Hollyburn Country Club in West Vancouver, and Yaletown. There’s even a temporary location at YVR, but it’s restricted to cleaning taxis.

Along the way Eco Service even dabbled in cleaning the exterior of recently constructed office buildings.

One of them was MetroTower 3 in Burnaby where special attention was taken on the aluminium window frames which can be easily damaged by grit if not cleaned with care.

“What we did added to the fact the building was LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified,” Tang said, adding he estimated the waterless washing saved 500,000 litres of water.

An added feature was the ability to remove rust and watermarks from the building’s exterior.

Now, they are hoping to expand the car cleaning service to shoppers in Richmond.

“What people are used to is driving to a car wash, waiting in line for 30 or 40 minutes, then waiting another half hour for their car to get washed,” Tang said. “So, why not get it done while you are shopping? Then you don’t have to wait at all.”

The service is tucked away on the western, ground floor section of the parkade near the old Sears department store. That’s where Eco Service has leased four parking stalls and started serving customers.