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There the customers go; they are driving by yet again. It can be depressing, watching potential carwash customers drive past five self-serve washes just to get to a flashy new tunnel. Self-serve owners are left standing by, wringing their hats and worrying, as their potential profits zip by headed to a trendy express wash.
Still, based on the typical "business as usual" self-serve menu, who can blame the customers? Today, it is way too easy for self-serve washes to just blend into the background. For owners looking to combat this, a dose of up-to-date technology may be the perfect prescription. When an owner stocks up on the newest services and technology, it gives drive-by customers a real reason to slow down, take notice and choose the convenience of a self-serve carwash.
Automatic mat cleaners
Mat cleaners are a new technology available to the self-serve carwash market that can definitely help turn some heads. Using these cleaners, customers have their rubber, plastic and carpet floor mats shampooed and dried in a matter of minutes, according to Cynthia Lee, sales manager with Clean World Distribution Inc.
Lee said a mat cleaning machine is a unique innovation for a self-serve wash that will draw customers' attention. In addition to generating extra profit, it can also facilitate repeat business because the quality cleaning and drying performed by the machine will draw customers back to the wash.
Since the mat cleaners are not installed in a bay, models can come equipped with a standard bill and multi-coin acceptor that receives up to three types of coins or tokens. The machines also offer MEI, IDX and Wash Card systems as an option. To maximize the machines' security, they are made with heavy-duty stainless steel, they have two heavy-duty side panel bars and they have lockdown capability for added protection of bill and coin transactions.
Adding mat cleaners can be easily advertised with signage and banners. Lee said her company offers self-serve signage and a 3-foot by 10-foot banner as optional purchase items to promote the addition of the equipment to a business. "We highly recommend signage for our self-serve customers. This helps the end-user understand the use of the equipment, and also provides simple instructions and precautions for safe and effective use of the equipment."
Dryers and foam conditioners
The most popular piece of new self-serve technology is an in-bay hand dryer, according to Tim Sater, director of marketing with D&S Car Wash Equipment Company. These are hand-held dryers connected to a hose that are used to dry a vehicle. "First of all, it is a relatively inexpensive upgrade, as carwash equipment goes." The return on investment (ROI) with these dryers has proven to be lucrative for owners with payback typically occurring quickly. Also, the dryers are an easy retro-fit for existing bays. They can be installed as a wall or attic mount.
"And, it is a product that appeals to virtually all customers, including car, truck and motorcycle owners," Sater said. "It can be a differentiating product for any business."
Another popular addition to self-serve washes is a foam conditioner selection. Three-color foam conditioners have proven popular in other carwash formats, and they can now be added to self-serve bays. Sater said adding conditioner is a simple solution. A low pressure pumping apparatus is mounted in the equipment room, and the conditioner position can be added on the rotary dial at the meter door. If there isn't an extra spot on the rotary dial, a function can be deleted and replaced, or a new dial can be added with more positions.
Credit card acceptance technology is also becoming the norm in updated self-serve washes. The newer, bigger bay meters with larger displays have replaced the smaller, coin acceptance only meters in many washes. "Over the last 20 years, we have migrated from a cash-based economy to a ‘cashless' economy," Sater explained. "The industry has simply evolved to meet the demands of their customers. After all, the basic premise of any successful business is to ‘make it easy for your customers to do business with you.'"
Sater said almost all new carwash construction projects include credit cards as a payment option along with coin and cash, and adding credit card acceptance is the leading upgrade for most retro-fit projects. Also, value cards are becoming more popular because they provide great value to the consumer. Many self-serve washes are incorporating these cards as they add credit card capability to their locations.
Upgrading the old
Besides adding equipment, self-serve carwashes can be aided by updating old wash equipment with new technology as well. Sater said dual by-pass booms and larger bay meters with multiple positions can help a self-serve operator generate more revenue.
While pumping equipment design and functionality has basically remained the same, owners can now add more pump choices and more services than the traditional soap, rinse and wax. Sater said there are now a number of popular seasonal services that self-serve washes can offer. Bug remover and boat cleaners are two examples that have worked well in specific geographic areas.
A new update to traditional vacuum design can benefit a self-serve operator as well. Lee said this innovative design offers a 360-degree swivel system on the vacuum that allows customers to go completely around their vehicle. This makes it easier to clean every area of a vehicle without dragging or cutting off the hose.
This vacuum design also features two powerful motors that give thorough cleaning and pick up of dirt and debris. And, for easy cleaning and maintenance, the system has a waste drawer system that collects the dirt from the car, Lee said.
Though in-bay automatics are a newer carwash option, they offer a few selections of updated technology that may be of interest to an owner. Sater said a new in-bay automatic washing system has been introduced that utilizes three-dimensional profiling and mapping software. This system's 3-D scan will capture each vehicle's unique shape while mapping details like luggage racks and spoilers. As the machine closely traces the computer scan, it uses the minimum power, water and chemicals required to produce a clean car. "The result is a safe, efficient, custom wash for every vehicle," he said.
Dryers have also become the norm when installing in-bay automatics. Sater said an installation is now seldom seen without dryers included in the equipment set. "The general consensus is that dryers provide an excellent ROI, relative to the total cost of the project," he said. "And, it is a feature that consumers have come to expect with a carwash. In our fast-paced, immediate satisfaction-based society, few people have the time or inclination to towel dry their car."
In-bay automatics with on-board dryers are also becoming more and more common as manufacturers look to provide the maximum flexibility in design and performance options, Sater said. Still, the most common in-bay automatic off-board dryer configuration is typically an interior or exterior wall mount.
A dryer application that is rapidly gaining popularity is the "elephant ear" design. Sater said a trunk attaches to the top, outside dryers and funnels air downward. Here, the air is forced into four vertically-placed foam "ears" at mid-height. Each ear is about 5 inches in diameter, and this concentrates the air in an even, consistent pattern to maximize water displacement.