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The ins and outs of various carwash models

Carwash Consultant Chris McKenna breaks down the full-serve carwash model.

February 25, 2014
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Hello everyone and welcome to spring 2014! Hope you all had a pleasant winter. As you know, we are starting a whole new series of articles for this new year which will focus on my personal experience as a car wash owner/operator and all the nuances and fine details associated with operating a carwash here in Southern California. In my dealings with clients on the East Coast, much of the same methods and techniques apply and we in fact share ideas and operating procedures.

First of all, let’s get a brief overview of what things we’ll be focusing on over this next year and this new series of articles and their topics.

I would like to focus on three different popular carwash models and give a run through of how each one breaks down operationally, and the ins and outs associated with each. I will break down each model into two articles since this is a bi-monthly column.

First let’s start with the full-service model. For years, full-serves have been the most popular model in and around the country and abroad; to this day it is still the go-to model for the greater Southern California area (where my carwashes are located) and most of the West Coast in general. But, gaining fast is the express model which we will visit in the next segment of the year.

So on to the operations and methods of full service…

The welcoming

The first thing we look at is where the customer pulls in and the area known by most as the ticket island or greeter station. How is the appearance of both the island/station itself and the service advisor or ticket writer?

  1. Do we have enough signage and are our pricing and package options clear and concise?
  2. Are the lanes marked clearly and is the flow of cars directed in a manner that allows them to be done in order and without queuing issues? (This is important as some customers can get upset if their cars are either perceived to be or are remotely taken out of order.)
  3. How many cars are lined up and is there the appearance that the cars are moving through?
  4. Are there obvious customers who have really dirty cars and are seen by other customers as a factor that will hold up the line? (I have seen customers actually pull out of the line and exit the carwash all together because the “minivan full of kids and car seats” is taking a HUGE amount of time to vacuum.) Just simply preempt this by moving the cars out from behind the “minivan” or offer the minivan a special post vacuum service to meet customer needs.
  5. Is the ticket writer taking the cars in order and is there a way to “lock” the customer into the queue? (Here’s a little trick to do that … take the cars /write up the cars starting at the back of the line and work your way forward toward the vacuum.) Be mindful though and don’t let the cars / customers in the front wait at the vacuum area for their ticket if you can help it.

The beginning

Next we want to look at the drive-on station and the arrangement of the wheel cleaners, prep-guns, CTA’s and roller spacing.

  1. Are the cars in the queue able to get around without adjustment? If not, properly space these cars and trucks so that a minimum amount of movement is required.
  2. What kind of wheels are you dealing with? Aluminum, chrome, high end, etc.
  3. Are any cars or trucks heavily modified? Will they even fit on the rack/conveyor? (NOTE: If the service writer has done his or her job correctly, then all the modified or lowered cars will have been dealt with and addressed.)
  4. Is there an enormous amount of bugs or other dead creatures stuck to the front? (I’ve seen dead birds in a grill more than once.)
  5. Is there any antennas that have not been lowered or retracted, and are there any convertibles that might need taping?
  6. What about loose mirrors or any other moldings that could be damaged in the wash process?

If we have looked at these carefully, then we are ready to enter the tunnel and begin the wash process. Depending on if you are running a hand or machine wash, the process from the entrance of the tunnel forward will differ (i.e. prep guns and wheel cleaners being applied manually vs CTA’s and auto prep cycles).

The show

Next let’s look at the show you are going to put on for your customers in the tunnel as they look on with great amusement.

  1. Are we color coordinated and do we have a multitude of different waxes and foams complete with lights and all kinds  of bells, whistles and signage around the arches and different wash cycles?
  2. Is there a way to distinguish what one car gets versus another?
  3. Do we have a good viewing vantage point in so far as the placement of the triple foamers, rain-x arches, etc?

This concludes the first half of the two part series on the Full-Serve model and the finer points and details therein (no pun).

In the next half of the series (the May 2014 issue), we’ll look at the quality control (QC) area, the detail area and last, but not least, the cashier and the vital importance this member of the team can play in retaining sales, dealing with questions and solving key concerns.

Until next time, watch for your queues!

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