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Sore thumb vending

October 11, 2010
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To an old engineer like me, who is trained to be a very logical and critical thinker, merchandizing is an inexact science that sometimes appears to me as a lot of baloney wrapped inside an enigma. Over the years I have seen and observed all different types and shapes and sizes of vending systems whose sales volume numbers which vary just as considerably from wash to wash.

In August 2007, Professional Carwashing & Detailing published my article, “Vending the TLC way,” in which I described the TLC (time, location and convenience) method for maintaining high vending sales volume.

When I wrote the article, I thought the “L” or location of the vending system was the most important of the three factors for success. I still think it is, but a recent flash of inspiration came to my mind and I realized I hadn’t gone quite far enough. I would now like to expand the TLC theory into the TLSC theory. The “S” stands for the “sore thumb merchandizing.”

Sticking out
The most successful vending systems that I know about are out in the vacuum island area of the carwash and stick out like sore thumbs. Customers have to walk around the vendor and security system when moving around in the vacuum area, so they can’t miss it.

To reinforce and add credibility to this theory, I cite the following: No one hates to go to a grocery or retail store more than I do. What action do these stores take to get my attention on a new product or to move a product that is on sale?

They build a large end-aisle display, a large in-aisle display, or an island display as big as a mountain that you literally have to walk around to get through the store. You are forced to see it! To me this is a prime example of sore thumb merchandising. Whether you like it or not, it works!

Sore thumbs at the carwash
How does this apply to vending systems at a carwash? Since the vending system is not a destination for customers like a bill changer might be, the best choice for an operator is to purchase a vending system that is literally an attractive sore thumb to give customers the impulse necessary to buy vending products.

My advice is to look for a high-security free standing vending system which looks pleasing to the eye, but is still a sore thumb to attract attention. An installed wall vending system is practical in colder climates for servicing and security concerns, but of course, customers are more likely to walk by a wall unit because it hugs the wall and is not a destination. In essence, it is not a sore thumb and sales are likely to lag.

Many of the new express exterior washes include an alcove to put all the vending systems into, so they can use a roll down door to secure the vending area when closed for business. Because the vendor is not a sore thumb with relation to the vacuum islands, the sales volume never meets expectations. Many customers will not or do not read signage and do not see new equipment that does not literally stick out like a sore thumb.

Additional sore thumbs
Here, for your consideration, are more examples of sore thumb merchandizing at the wash:
• New LED rope lights to draw attention to the vending system
• Canopies on the wall which highlight a vending center or other equipment;
• Vacuum islands themselves with or without canopies; and
• Drop shelf vending islands with or without canopies.

The genius of wash design is to get all these sore thumbs blended together at a wash site to entice the customer to stop and use them. If the design is inviting and the systems are working properly, then the money rolls into the bank.

James H. Holve is the owner of ShurVendPlus Vendors and has been involved in the carwash industry for over 18 years. Holve can be reached at: or 1-866-748-7836.

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