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Trend today seems to be giving your customer as many options as possible, which is what the new friction/touch-less hybrid in-bay automatic model aims to do.
A few years ago, one of the biggest trends in automatic vehicle washing was touch-free in-bay automatics. Operators and their customers liked the concept of using solutions and water pressure, in place of brushes or cloth, to wash their vehicles. While touch-free systems continue to be an industry mainstay, a new hybrid system — the combination of touch-less and friction — is coming onto the scene.
Based on independent research conducted in 2006, consumers have begun to show a slight shift toward friction washes, but until recently they haven’t had the confidence in the cloth materials or brush systems. Many consumers felt there was a higher risk of damage to their vehicles with friction systems.
Now with the development of hybrid wash systems, the possibility of vehicle damage is less significant and the quality of wash is very high.
Hybrid wash systems are also addressing the needs of the international market, where consumers have almost always favored friction vehicle wash systems.
One wash system to rule them all
I’ve recently been conducting a pilot test for a new hybrid system that will be unveiled at the Car Care World Expo in Las Vegas on March 26. This system encompasses both touch-free and friction cleaning methods into one vehicle wash system.
I’m a true believer in touch-free systems, but a hybrid system can be a great option for operators looking for touch-free technology combined with a friction action to wash those tough to clean areas.
Based on my current experience, approximately 30 percent of customers use the new hybrid system, while the other 70 percent prefer to use the touch-free unit. Each type of wash certainly has its benefits, but it appears in Rochester, NY, my customers prefer the touch-free unit for weekly cleaning.
Typically the capital investment for a hybrid system is about the same as other in-bays, and unlike exterior tunnels it requires little labor to operate. Hybrid systems also allow for competitive pricing, given the potential for savings on solutions and ancillary costs.
A few things operators will need to keep in mind, particularly if they’ve only had touch-free systems: there might be a greater potential for customer interaction. This occurs mainly if there are incidents of damage requiring resolution by the operator.
Also, operators will need to continue to rely on marketing and loyalty programs to garner additional visitations. With friction and hybrid wash systems, motorists may perceive their wash to be better and visit less frequently or only when the vehicle is heavily soiled.
Even with all of the new advances in vehicle wash technologies, the industry could really use a little help from Mother Nature. With less snow and more rain falling throughout the country, fewer people have been getting their vehicles washed. If the weather trend continues, it could have a negative impact on the industry, as smaller carwashes and suppliers will be forced to deal with lower than expected revenues.
While I don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future, one thing is for certain: ultimately, it’s customer satisfaction that will prevail. If customers feel they’re getting a better wash, whether its touch free, friction or a hybrid system, they will be willing to pay a premium price, and they’ll keep returning.