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This article is the first in a two-part series featuring carwash owners who have actually purchased ice vending machines and are sharing their experiences with firsthand.
Marcus Kittrell is a former president of the Southeastern Car Wash Association and currently operates four washes and has another that is currently under construction. He owns a Kooler Ice IM1000 and an IM500, which he purchased through Kooler Ice Distributor, PESCO, Inc., out of Mobile, AL.
Kittrell first learned about ice vending machines by seeing ads in magazines such as Professional Carwashing & Detailing. He told us had spent some time exploring the ice vending business. Then, ironically, one of the locations he purchased already had a Kooler Ice IM1000 ice vending machine at it, which he began to operate and manage. Kittrell told us that, “The performance, reliability and ease of operation that we experienced with the IM1000 made it easy for us to buy the IM500.”
Kittrell found the process of installing the ice vending machines easy and inexpensive. “First, the machines are very easy to move. We moved the IM1000 to our self-serve carwash. Secondly, as far as installation goes, it was very easy. We had to run a water line and electricity to the machine and we were up and running!”
He tells us that there has been minimal maintenance associated with ownership of the vending machines. “As part of our normal routine, we vend a bag of ice every morning and we will typically give that away to a customer. Overall, honestly, there has been very little maintenance. We put the bags in, take the money out, and keep the units clean. We also clean the filters on the ice maker, and that’s about it.”
When we asked Kittrell if he feels an ice vending machine has benefited his business, he shared, “The machines have been a great fit for us. We have a lot of customers that use the car wash and buy ice, especially our commercial accounts.” He also said that he has found the machines very easy to market. “We have an attendant at our carwash and he makes it a point to give out a free bag of ice to landscapers and contractors to thank them for their business. We use the token notes and actually sell $200-$400 per month to commercial accounts, utility contractors, etc, that have service personnel who use a lot of ice.” Kittrell said. “With the token notes we give them, we bill them every few weeks when their guys use them. This does a few things. First, it saves them money since our ice is priced lower than the convenience store, and secondly, it keeps their guys out of the convenience stores, which takes time and costs them money since their people are paid by the hour. So it just makes them more efficient. The guys can come right up to the machine, grab two bags, and go.”
And, how do Kittrell’s customers like the machine? “Everyone loves it. It saves money. It saves time. And it is just convenient,” he said. Kittrell believes this is because, “You can pull up, leave your doors open, quickly grab your ice and be on your way. Plus, the ice is very consistent in quality, unlike the ice box at the store where the ice has been melted, bags ripped, frozen, thawed, etc. Customers really like the quality and the consistency of the product.”
When asked if he would recommend purchasing an ice vending machine to other carwash owners, Kitrell replied, “I would recommend it. I think it is a great way to add traffic to your carwash. There are a lot of synergies between the carwash and the ice vending business. The ice vending business is a simple way to increase your revenue at your car wash. You already have the property and the overhead, so it is a solid revenue stream that compliments the business and allows us to provide more service for our customers.”
John and Jacob Free own one carwash which has four self-serve bays, an in-bay automatic, and a pet wash. They own a Kooler Ice IM500 which they purchased directly from Kooler Ice.
The Frees said they first learned about ice vending machines when they started seeing them pop up in local communities. They thought it could be a good, new revenue stream for their carwash and decided to look into it further. When asked why they thought it was a good fit, Jacob said, “We already had the RO water in place. We utilized our RO storage tank which supplies the spot free rinse.”
When they were making the decision to purchase an ice vending machine, they said they looked at multiple brands. “We focused on reliability, ease of up keep, maintenance, good design aesthetics and the technology in the machine in making our decision,” said Jacob. He said the technology feature in the machine he likes the most is its iPhone application. “It shows us what is going on with the machine at all times. We put our phone number on the machine, and if the customer ever has a problem, they can call and we can vend a bag of ice from our phone and keep the customer happy. We can also keep track of our sales and what’s going on with the machine.”
The Frees said they found the process of getting the machine up and running “surprisingly easy” as well. “We had RO at the carwash, so we ran waterlines to the ice machine. We had a local electrician run the power and we put in the drain line ourselves. We built a three foot high block wall from leftover block we had from construction. It comes off perpendicular to the carwash, and we put the ice machine up against it. We wanted to put it up against something to give it a backdrop and to protect where the electric and water come into the machine. We had to do it this way only because we had no more frontage at the carwash to place the ice machine,” said Jacob.
And the Frees also report that the ice vending machine requires very little maintenance. “The maintenance is very low,” Jacob said. “Cleaning filters, cleaning the coin changer, cleaning the inside and keeping bags in it, as well as other little things…Pretty simple.”
Jacob also heard from customers about the machine. “We have heard from tons of people who not only think it’s cool that we have one, but thank us for having one. We are in a small town with questionable water quality, and we are the only ice vending machine in town. We sell ice for $1.25 for 10lbs. Our customers feel like they are getting a good deal, especially with the quality of the RO ice.” He also told us about another benefit he sees to the machine. Free explained, “Another reason we added the machine was to add another service for the people in the town we love. Oklahoma water can be pretty hard and expensive to treat, so we have been able to provide great water and ice that is not only healthy, but affordable, to the people of Newkirk, and we enjoy being able to help them in that small way.”
When we asked if he felt it had benefited his business, Jacob said, “Yes. If you can fit one on your lot, do it! It is one more revenue source, as well as one more reason for a customer to pull into your carwash. The more revenue streams, the better.”
In regards to the viability of ice vending machines in the carwashing industry, Jeff Dyson, vice president of sales for Kooler Ice, said, “Overall, it seems clear that due to the investment that carwash owner’s make in their high visibility locations, adding an ice vending machine to an existing car wash could prove to be an excellent way to increase revenue, to bring more customers to their locations, and to provide a product that actually increases sales revenue. Since most car wash owners are well versed in coin-operated machines, have electric and water already on site, locating an ice vending machine at a car wash is generally a good match.”