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Daughter knows best

October 11, 2010
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A few weeks ago, my father called with a question. Not just any old question — a carwash question.

How ironic that my father’s first foray into the carwash industry would be timed to coincide with my own career move into the car care business. It was certainly a special father/daughter moment when he realized we could talk about more than the latest funny noise my car is making.

As a contract supervisor, my father oversees a lot of large projects that mostly involve housing and recreation halls for various businesses. What crossed his desk this particular day was different; a plan for a convenience store, gas station and an in-bay automatic carwash.

When a new investor/developer approaches this industry, they are confronted with not only the vastness of it — but also their pre-conceived notions of the business.

My father wanted to know if he should choose a touchless machine. He’s located in Northern New York (the real Northern New York — with snow in April and sometimes May, a poor economy and a Canadian border), and the majority of in-bay automatic carwashes around him happen to be touchless. When he takes his truck to the carwash, he buys a touchless wash because that’s what is offered.

Imagine his surprise when I told him there were hybrid carwashes. (“No, no, no — not hybrid like a hybrid car. Hybrid like a … like a… like a hybrid. You know…it has, like, both. Friction and touchless. It’s like, a hybrid…”)

After further explanation (that I swear was much better than the Valley Girl excerpt you just read) I advised him to start researching hybrid machines.

Why hybrid?
Here’s my take on the friction/touchless debate. Be careful, I’m about to be brutally honest. No holds barred.

My thoughts: Nobody has it right.


That’s right, nobody wins. And honestly, I don’t care if you tell me all the scientific research proves friction machines are best. Or if all the consumer market data shows without a doubt that the public will only purchase touchless washes.

Because despite any research that may be twisted to say otherwise, an option is always better than none. There will always be a customer who prefers one or the other, and why be in a position to turn your customers away?

Before I open my mailbox to a plethora of e-mails from advocates on either side, let me explain that I feel all in-bay automatics are wonderful additions to the industry. I’m not pooh-poohing anybody’s machine or advocating one side or the other. And I probably never will — because it’s all about the choice, man, the choice!

This is why self-serve operators accept tokens AND cash. It’s why over 40 percent of full-serve operators also offer an exterior-only lane (more on that in our conveyor survey on page 43.) And it’s why in-bay automatic operators should offer customers touch-free and friction washes, as well as a machine that can do both at the same time.

Yes, I realize that any wash that offers “both” touch-free and friction is essentially a friction wash — but stop thinking like a rational, intelligent carwash operator and start thinking like a carwash consumer — sometimes educated, sometimes not, but always biased and ready to vote with his pocketbook. The carwashing public is often misinformed (more about that in next month’s Prep Work column), and it’s not likely that any amount of signage at your wash is about to educate them to the fullest degree.

Instead, give them a choice and they’ll feel like a more informed, capable customer. And, if the manufacturers are allowed to have their say, the customer also spends more. Because for some reason, a “gentle, friction” wash (one that combines elements of touchless and friction) is somehow perceived as a better value than just a touchless or a friction.

It’s the choice, man, the choice.

Kate Carr is the editor in chief of Professional Carwashing & Detailing®Magazine and former Valley Girl. You can send your grumblings, compliments and suggestions to

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