Pollen turns car washes green

Jaymie Baxley

April 12, 2014

LUMBERTON — When springtime pollen coats cars in yellow, Richard Miller sees green.

Pollen season ranks among the most profitable times of the year for Miller, who owns four self-service car washes in Lumberton with his wife, Stephanie. The couple’s car wash operation includes Bubbles, Squeaky Clean, Thomas’ Car Wash and Super Suds.

“When pollen falls, it’s kind of like our Christmas. It helps our sales a great bit and the longer it lasts, the better it is,” he said. “Of course, I’ll admit that I’m a little biased.”

During pollen season, Miller said that revenue ordinarily triples at each of his establishments.

“Snow and pollen will get people cleaning their cars more than anything else,” he said.

While people with allergies were rejoicing after three consecutive days of rain rinsed most of the pollen away from Robeson County last week, Miller said he was disappointed to see the powdery stuff leave so soon.

“It was short-lived, but we had six really, really good days,” he said.

According to Miller, the boon brought on by pollen season helps to carry his establishments through an inevitable downturn in business during the summer.

“It’s kind of like the beginning of the end for us,” he said. “We have better sales during the winter than during the summer. During the summer, people are more apt to wash their cars at home.”

Since purchasing the car washes in 1999, Miller said that the steadily rising cost of equipment and chemicals have made them more expensive to maintain through the years.

“We’ve had them for 15 years and our profit margins have dwindled,” he said. “A hog head brush was $15 at the time, now they’re $30 … the price of chemicals has gone up. We don’t make as much money as we used to, so pollen season definitely helps.”

Frequent incidents of vandalism and theft have also cut into his profits. Miller recalled a recent incident in which all of the cash dispensers were ripped out of the wash terminals at one of his locations, causing about $16,000 in damage. Last summer, a set of industrial-sized vacuum cleaners were stolen from one of his car washes.

On April 2, two metallic drainage grates valued at $700 were pilfered from the Bubbles on North Roberts Avenue and the Super Suds on Elizabethtown Road.

Despite the constant challenges facing his operation, Miller said that he strives to keep prices as low as possible.

“We charge an average of $1.25 per wash, while the national average is about $2,” he said. “Plus, it’s a very environmentally friendly and economical way to wash your car.”

Miller feels that pollen isn’t entirely deserving of its bad reputation.

“Most of the pollen we see around here is pine tree pollen, which is kind of rare for people to be allergic to,” he said. “But it is an irritant.”

Not all car washes benefit from pollen as much as Miller.

Connie Carter, owner of Connie’s Car Care on North Pine Street, said she doesn’t experience a significant increase in business during pollen season. According to Carter, people would rather spray their cars off with a garden hose than spend money constantly washing their vehicles while pollen is falling.

“The winter is our busiest time of year,” she said.

Jaymie Baxley can be reached at 910-272-6146, or on Twitter @Jaymie_Baxley