Professional Carwashing & Detailing

The evolving IBA market

October 11, 2010

This January, a manufacturer of in-bay automatic washing equipment had an announcement. Sales of friction IBA units had increased to 51 percent at Mark VII Equipment Inc. Previously, these machines had accounted for only about a third of Mark VII’s total sales, but now they had become the majority of new equipment purchases.

Steve Robinson, director of marketing and product management for the company, noted two factors driving the trend:

  • Demand for newer technology that significantly reduces water consumption.
  • A desire to reduce operating costs.

Other trends leading the way
The move towards friction and hybrid washing machines isn’t the only major trend affecting the in-bay market. According to Al Huntington, in-bay product manager for Belanger, Inc., IBA machines are also becoming more affordable and efficient.

“For operators, the IBA offers a lower entry cost for building a carwash,” Huntington explained. “Not only is the machine more affordable than a wash tunnel, it can be built on a less expensive, smaller property that may not support a conveyorized wash. Indeed, the real estate cost may be zero — since many IBAs are added to existing sites.”

Thomas McLain, vice president of A-OK Equipment and Supply Co., Inc., agreed, adding that new chemical applications introduced in the 2000s are evening the playing field for IBA operators who want to compete with tunnel facilities.

“A big hit,” said McLain, over the past decade was when they started offering tri-foam conditioner, Rain-X and the virtual treadle.

Moving beyond chemical features, Huntington pointed out some other updates to improve performance and market appeal.

“In addition to mechanical refinements and engineering updates, cutting-edge in-bay washes are receiving updated controllers and operating software that improves their performance,” he explained. Including:

• New software. It does more than enhance the performance; it can actually increase the wash’s throughput and revenue potential. That’s because wash passes can be programmed to run more efficiently, and extra service application options are increased.

• Cosmetic updates. Just as today’s new car starts to look dated in five to 10 years, an older in-bay can often benefit from a ‘freshening up.’ These makeovers may range from a redesigned carriage fascia, to new decals and accent color pieces. One popular program replaces the entire carriage ‘head’ of the touchless in-bay wash with the latest model carriage. Since the backroom equipment and wash frame are typically in good shape, this gives the operator ‘new machine’ operational benefits and increased revenue potential, for a fraction of the price of a full reload.

• Tire Shine. The most lucrative update is actually an addition — in-bay owners now have the ability to add a tire shine machine specifically built for in-bay applications. IBAs can reap the benefits of offering tire shine, the most popular and profitable extra service in carwashing. Washes offering the solution will quickly become known as “the one with tire shine” in their respective market areas, Huntington said.

Choose your investments wisely
Some updates, according to Huntington, such as software revisions and cosmetic enhancements, can be quick, easy and inexpensive, but the more extensive updates are more involved — and therefore more costly.

“Even with extensive updates, the cost is much lower than new construction. Also, investing in updates means investing in a proven wash at a proven site with a proven customer base,” Huntington continued. “The existing business funds the updates, then the business benefits from a nicer-looking, better performing wash.”

McLain added that for the most part, these updates and changes are not that expensive and the return on investment will make the cost and trouble a lot easier to bear.

“Most of these upgrades can be accomplished in a short amount of time if the owner/operator is using some of their existing equipment for the renovation,” he said.

“If the owner/operator is doing a complete overhaul this may take more time. Owner/operators need to do their research on the process of the changes and when is the right time to do them in order not to miss out on high volume days.”

Make any upgrades known to the customers
Any upgrade made to an existing IBA should be the sole focus of a marketing campaign for at least the first 90 days after the upgrade is operational, according to Robinson of Mark VII. This, he said, should include:

  • Signage around the carwash site;
  • Signage at the point of sale;
  • A verbal sales pitch of the upgrade’s benefits by on-site personnel;
  • Direct mailings to the customer database; and
  • Advertising, etc.

“Remember,” Robinson said, “you invested in the upgrade to provide better wash quality to the customer and increased revenue/lower operating costs to you, so don’t be shy about getting in the customer’s face about how great it is and why they should take advantage of it.”

McLain suggested having a “customer appreciation day” to help notify your market of any upgrades. “When the customers come to use the facility for the discounted or free wash make sure you have an attendant there to explain the changes and educate the customer of the new features.”

Huntington said less obvious updates, such as those that improve throughput, should be promoted in customer-centric terms. “If a wash improves its cycle time from five minutes to three and a half, it could promote this with a street-facing banner that reads something like: Now Faster! Wash in Under 4 Minutes!”

Looking to the future
The future of the IBA is bright, according to McLain. “With all the new technology that is out there the IBA is always evolving. Manufactures are working on how to be greener about their products. Reducing water usage is a big concern for new investors and with reclaim and other technologies manufactures are finding news ways to conserve water.” McLain added that green chemicals and safety are also at the top of the list in terms of future developments.

Huntington said there are strong trends in the current in-bay market that will continue for the foreseeable future. “In-bay customers are looking for better, faster washes with more extra service options. Operators are responding, with better-cleaning equipment, higher throughput and profitable add-ons like tire shine. Done properly, these improvements can halt or even reverse declines in wash volumes, while building per-car revenues and profits.” Tomorrow’s in-bay machines, he added, promise further improvements on all of these fronts. “It’s going to be exciting to see what’s coming to the in-bay market.”

Like any industry, we’re always searching for the next big thing, said Robinson, adding that there’s always room for incremental improvements. “I expect there to be a lot of focus on lowering operating costs, particularly in the area of energy consumption, over the next few years,” he said. “As an industry we need to move past unsubstantiated claims of being ‘green’ and provide solid evidence to customers and legislators that professional carwash equipment is the most efficient way to clean vehicles and protect the environment at the same time.”