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A powerful carwash brain

Improve service, increase security and realize savings using the tools provided by modern point-of-sale systems.

November 30, 2012
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As 2013 looms, technology is now more important than ever in the business world. The power of circuits and microchips has actually grown larger as items have grown smaller, and the development of miniaturization has allowed computer and cell phone technology to warp forward and become efficient and affordable. Though microchips are tiny in size, they have had a huge impact on both industry and individuals around the world.

From creation to fabrication, a myriad of processes have morphed and benefited from the addition of new technology. In many industries, automation is now synonymous with innovation as improvement processes generally include the introduction of technology into the workflow. In the carwashing business, the addition of up-to-date electronic systems in tunnels and bays has become commonplace.

One technology that has proven important to owners on a number of levels is a point-of-sale (POS) system. In fact, a functional POS system can accurately be described as the business brain of an operating carwash. These systems link security, cash management, reportage and monitoring to increase automation and improve ease of use. Further, POS systems actually allow different wash phases to work together and act as an automated employee.

Speed

Throughput is important for every owner today, and the continued development of POS systems in the carwash market is one factor that helped the express format evolve. Payment kiosks working with POS systems help express businesses — as well as other wash formats — because they allow for maximum throughput while conveying a consistent, professional image to customers, according to Brad Quay, vice president of sales with Hamilton Manufacturing Corp. This quick, quality-driven service, plus the opportunity to upsell additional items, works especially well for the express tunnel market segment.

Full-service operators can benefit from the speed POS systems provide as well. An exterior lane with an automated pay station can help full-service washes gain more customers and increase their frequency of use. “Fast, affordable and convenient — that’s what customers want these days. Put technology to work,” Jon Simmons, SONNY’S AutoPilot – president, said. Using automated pay stations paired with POS systems gives an owner total cash control, a speedy line and consistent messaging interaction with customers.

Another method of speeding up a carwash that POS facilitates is the use of RFID tags, Simmons stated. Customers who participate in monthly wash clubs can affix a small RFID tag to their windshields; then their vehicles can be quickly identified. The systems scan the tag, identify the customer as a monthly pass holder and open the gates. This lets monthly club members move through the wash process without ever having to stop.

Selling

But, POS systems can do more for monthly wash clubs than just speedy scanning. Various POS functions can help sell and collect monies for monthly wash clubs as well. One great POS feature is the monthly recurring billing with automatic replenishment, Simmons noted. This automated process eliminates the need for an owner or operator to manually charge the customer each month.

Instead, customer monthly plan accounts are monitored and charged to a credit card automatically, allowing the carwash operator to bring in steady revenue month after month. Here, knowing that a large percentage of customers do not fully utilize a wash club’s value, the operator will benefit in the end, Simmons said.

“One of the most eye opening features or benefits that I hear operators talk about is how much more consistent their sales are when using a point-of-sale system at the entry to their wash,” Quay revealed. “We all like to believe that the employees we hire are [giving] their best effort on behalf of the business, but that’s not always true. An entry system provides the same presentation and options consistently.”

Marketing videos that play on automated pay stations help customers understand the value of choosing higher-priced packages or adding on specific services. Quay said that POS systems and automated cashiers can also sell multiple wash packages without the driver having to get out of his or her vehicle. In addition, wash club sales can be done on a more individual basis. While direct, personal interaction is required to set up a wash club account, it can be handled in the customer’s time frame for convenience purposes.

But, the system’s ability to sell does not stop with monthly wash clubs. Other sales packages can include incentives for paying in advance, i.e., buy two washes today and save 50 percent on the second. Also, gift cards and wash books can be pushed at any time, but especially during the holidays. “Give an incentive for buying — a $50 gift card for $40, or buy 10 washes and get two free,” Simmons recommended. “It’s not a secret that many people do not fully use a gift card’s value.”

Savings

Different facets of POS systems can offer operational savings to carwash owners as well. Simmons explained that labor monitoring seems to be a never ending task for operators in the carwash business. To assist, many POS systems have a built-in time clock function that tracks all employee hours and wages. The time clock feature allows the operator to monitor not only employees’ time sheets electronically, but also the labor percentages used per hour when washing cars. With the live reporting used today, an owner with a labor module in his POS can monitor labor dollars per car or cars per man hour in real-time, and that is a tremendous business advantage.

According to Quay, POS systems and connected kiosks can help operators save on labor costs by replacing one to two employees, depending on the makeup of the business. Here, the cost savings alone could pay for a new POS system in months, depending on volume. “The future of POS systems will continue to improve on the concepts of customers being able to complete business transactions without the help of employees,” Quay said. “The more that we can allow customers to create their own wash club programs and loyalty programs, the better the opportunity for ongoing revenue generation.”

Finally, the tracking included in POS systems can help an owner save by focusing his or her marketing efforts. The sales information that the systems provide is very detailed in regards to peak times versus off-peak times, and it also records what products and services are top sellers. This information can be the basis for unique, focused marketing opportunities that aim to increase daily revenues. “I believe that operators like the ability to create special pricing for certain time segments of the day or week in order to increase business during off-peak hours,” Quay stated.

Security

Simmons noted that the POS systems can also help operators keep money, transactions and information secure using built-in access functions. An owner or designated employee assigns access to specific areas in the POS system to specific employees. This log-in security feature prevents employees from accessing confidential information.

Also, if a POS system properly integrates with a wash’s tunnel controller, the sync will eliminate the ability of employees to give away washes or services, Simmons stated. Once a customer pays for their wash, they receive a code or a number that must be activated by a wash employeeto start the tunnel equipment. The services that are entered into the tunnel must be accounted for in the POS system.

Simmons said that automated pay stations can have a camera built in as well. The camera would be tied into the site’s camera or alarm systems, and it would monitor the station for any instances of unauthorized access.

“POS systems provide security from both internal ‘silent-partners’ as well as from vandals and thieves respectively,” Quay explained. “The overall construction of these kiosks makes it difficult at best to break into. They also provide security from employees handling of cash.” Newer models require user IDs and passwords for employees that wish to access the vault area where cash is stored.

Multi-tasking

Speed, sales, savings and security — when all facets are considered, POS systems can be seen as the ultimate multi-taskers. From compiling reports and monitoring operations to acting as a selling face for a business, the integrated technology can improve every carwash in a number of ways. But, regardless of the impressive technology, the only contribution that really matters is making carwash customers happy.

“With POS [enabling you to keep track of] your customers’ purchases and visit history, you can build a loyal relationship with them, differentiating you from your competition,” Simmons concluded. “With convenient automatic billing for unlimited plans, a birthday wash or a 10th wash free program, your POS can track these programs and implement new ones easily.”

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