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The best ways to modernize your carwash

We reveal the top tips to making your carwash look and function like new.

August 27, 2012
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While there are customers out there who might cringe at the thought of change, or who like the familiarity of the tried and true, there is also a whole lot of younger and new customers out there who want to make sure your carwash is in tip top shape, clean looking and up-to-date. It’s potentially tough, balancing the two demographics. You will want to keep the loyal customers happy, but you will also want to make sure no one thinks your wash is out of date.

One way to appease all parties is to update and modernize your wash on a smaller scale. Fine tune it and keep it looking like new, without having to do any major refurbishing.

And, it’s also about making sure you’re doing what you can at your wash, and making the most advantageous choices. Dennis Snow wrote the book,Lessons from the Mouse: A Guide for Applying Disney World's Secrets of Success to Your Organization, Your Career, and Life. Hespent 25 years working for and at Walt Disney World. In his book, Snow talks about how it’s important to make things look good at the park, without going overboard. It was once rumored that all of the hitching posts on Main Street USA were painted every night. Not true, wrote Snow. “The theory being that such attention to detail communicates a powerful commitment to quality. The reality is that doing such unnecessary work would communicate a willingness to waste time and money. The reality is that the hitching posts are painted when they need painting,” wrote Snow.

The main point here is to do what you can, strategize accordingly and make changes that your customers will notice, either in the end result via their washed car, or in their overall visit to your business.

Now is the time

According to Marcus McLaughlin, a member of the marketing team at Belanger Inc., in the U.S., national employment has increased steadily for the last seven consecutive quarters, which bodes well for consumer confidence and discretionary spending on services like carwashing. But, he added, folks have come out of the recessionary period that began in 2008 with a new-found emphasis on value ― truly demanding ‘more’ for their money.

Regardless of wash format, today’s savvy customers expect more value for money, following a simple and universal equation, where customers are satisfied when Value = Worth > Cost. Whether in-bay or tunnel, operators who equip their washes to meet and exceed these expectations, will position themselves to thrive in the new economy.

For the in-bay operators

“For many in-bay operators, the time for a system reload is now ― there are many bays out there with equipment that is 10, 12 or more years old, and it shows. The question in-bay operators should ask themselves is, ‘Who wants to ride in a 12 year-old cab?’ Meaning, how many of your customers want to pay today’s prices to wash in a turn-of-the-century in-bay automatic?”

Fortunately, McLaughlin said, interest rates are at historic lows ― and attractive lease financing offers make in-bay reloads attainable for many operators ― often with a simple one-page application. The key to a successful in-bay upgrade is to select equipment that will truly update the bay with a modern user experience ― not simply replacing old equipment with a rebuilt carriage head or another copy of the ‘same old system.’

“When it comes to updating, upgrading and modernizing a touchless bay, the best systems available today feature color-changing, LED-illuminated wash arms that both attract new business, and help customers load their cars for washing, quickly and with maximum confidence,” said McLaughlin. “Not only do these systems have the ‘WOW’ factor that helps differentiate and brand the carwash site, they look completely unlike anything available 10 years ago ― and customers appreciate both their eye appeal and ease of use. For carwash operators and their customer base, these attractive, user-friendly systems are a true ‘win-win’ with long-term business benefits.”

For the conveyor operators

For tunnel operators, opportunities to upgrade are more varied, ranging from colorful powder-coated, LED-illuminated arches that announce and promote service offerings, to smooth-running conveyors with zero grease point designs that durably transport vehicles, keeping washes running profitably, according to McLaughlin.

“Perhaps the most cost-effective upgrades for tunnel operators are ‘bang for the buck’ components that target the vehicle areas customers care about most. Because clean wheels are important to all customers, improved wheel cleaning should be a priority upgrade for operators. Today’s best touchless wheel cleaners offer uniform cleaning with the smoothest wheel tracking action the industry’s ever seen.”

These units feature a new hinge-free pivot point that moves smoothly throughout its range of motion ― creating an almost ‘robotic’ effect that customers love, said McLaughlin. What’s more, he added, these wheel cleaners feature a twin stacked spinner design that cleans with a highly effective ‘figure 8’ spray pattern ― delivering a durable blast of cleaning that older single-spinner wheel cleaners simply can’t match.

“The popularity of these touchless wheel cleaners proves that while tunnel customers believe in the soft-touch cleaning style, they appreciate touchless components too ― both for their ‘show’ and their contribution to helping produce an ‘all-over’ clean on multiple vehicle surfaces,” McLaughlin said. “That’s why high-pressure arches are also well-received for the cleaning and rinsing capabilities they add to existing tunnels.”

The operator can also add equipment that supports popular services like tire shining ― or replace older units with newer, better-performing models, said McLaughlin. “Modern ‘individual roller’ tire shiners consistently deliver rim-to-tread shine – while using as little as one ounce of chemical per vehicle. In the average tunnel, these new shiners can pay for themselves in just three or four months through chemical savings alone.”

Take a look at your arches

The most intriguing new cleaning and rinsing arches use a captivating ‘trapezoidal’ motion that emulates the arcing of a handheld hose, bringing ‘the best of the driveway to the wash bay’ and creating a 30-degree overlap of coverage for each turbo nozzle, according to McLaughlin. Unlike previous high-pressure arches, he said, this new technology achieves durable ‘jet’ coverage with a zero grease point design, and without the installation, maintenance and programming complexities of belts, chains, photo eyes, sonars, or sensors. 

“Lastly, a new breed of application arches promises highly visible improvements in form and function ― helping sell high-margin services, and increase tunnel operators’ dollars per car,” McLaughlin said. “These arches combine the appeal of bright powder-coated finishes and LED-illuminated spray manifold lenses, with a twisting ‘flip’ that synchronizes the top and side manifolds to effectively cover the front, mirrors, sides and rear of every vehicle ― for the most complete application coverage ever out of a single arch. For all-over vehicle treatments like presoaks, rinses, waxes, surface protectants and spot-free, these arches are the ‘killer app’ that deliver maximum value per dollar – driving unprecedented customer buy-in and loyalty.”

The “look” of modernization

Although they say in business, the three most important things for success are location, location and location, but appearance has to be in the top five, according to Dennis Ryan, who has been in the carwash business since 1988 and the construction business for 40 years. He currently owns the American Pride Carwash in Wyoming.

“No one, particularly women, like to wash in an unattractive (or dirty) carwash. Men are less critical about looks than women but give them the choice side by side and most men will pick the nice looking one also,” said Ryan. “People will drive right by a carwash if they don’t like the way it looks. I’m not saying that the wash must be perfect or the Taj Mahal, but it must look nice. Of course it always helps for it to be more attractive with bright colors, lighting, openness, landscaping etc.” Ryan said he has owned his carwash for 24 years and have repaired the walls in the original building twice. Because, he said, a successful carwash is neat, clean, well lit and all the services must work all the time.          

As for the walls, it’s important to maintain the original walls first and foremost. “Our attendants,” Ryan said, “are instructed to wash the bays in the original building (white plastic walls) every time they wash the floor. Then once a month or so we have to scrub with a wall cleaner and rinse off to get back to the ‘new’ look. The new building with brown brick and brown mortar makes it harder to see the dirt on the walls so once a week we wash them down completely from ceiling to floor with high pressure soap.”

Ryan admitted that they had to do some overhauling at his wash, too. “When the brown cinder block walls in the original building began to look a little tacky we put up porcelain tile in the five inside bays. They were 12 inches square, off white, looked and worked great for about eight years. Then one tile would drop off, I’d put it back up then another would come off. It got so I was redoing tile two or three times a week. And of course I couldn’t repair it and make it look as good as before.”

So, Ryan said he then had to bite the bullet and tore out all of the tile and installed new panels. “We changed to plastic walls in 2006, and its worked well. The colored panels that are in the sunlight have faded but the white has weathered well.”

As for replacing block or brick walls, Ryan said a colleague of his built a portable “H” structure over the wall with steel beams with supports on each side so it would hold up the roof. “He would then remove the old block/brick and rebuild the brick wall. Then he would move the “H” structure to the next wall.”

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