Professional Carwashing & Detailing

The need for speed

October 11, 2010

There is nothing wrong with feeling the need for speed when it comes to in-bay automatic (IBA) carwashes. Faster is better for car lines — and for keeping customer grievances at bay — but upgrades and maintenance efforts need to be on point in order to ensure a quality wash.

Steve Crowell of Autowash Maintenance Corp., a supplier of carwash equipment, services and solutions, said he finds that the majority of his customers are looking for speed. “Who wants to wash 10 cars per hour when you can do 20? The carwash operator likes to see a line at their IBA, but he wants the wait time for the customer to be at a minimum,” he said. “Quality is nice, but volume also helps to pay the bills and a greater deal of people have a busy life and carwashing, to them, is an errand.”

Be open to upgrades
So, how does an IBA fulfill a need for speed and quality at the same time? It all comes down to being open to and willing to make upgrades.

David Dougherty, a senior product manager with PDQ Manufacturing, Inc, a manufacturer of touch-free carwash systems, said the operator should consider two primary enhancement and improvement points:

  • Technical or operational improvement; and
  • Esthetical enhancement.
“Most manufactures offer an abundance of options that allow operators the ability to improve their washes,” Dougherty said. “If an operator can install an option that will increase throughput and/or have a positive effect on his bottom line they should seriously consider the upgrades.”

Robert Criscuolo of A.E. Styles Mfg. Co, Inc., a company which distributes and installs tunnel, IBA, and self-serve carwash equipment and computer technology, said improvements can be costly and necessary, but will pay off in the end.

“When I look at enhancements for a retail operator, whether the operation is an existing one or one to be newly constructed, there are so many considerations that go beyond the price of the enhancement,” Criscuolo said. “Let’s face it, equipment comes with a cost, but most often the cost is really an investment into the future. To focus on price may end up to be the most costly investment of all in the long run.”

Improvements inside the IBA
The temptation to replace an entire wash may be strong, but there are other options. “They can obviously replace the entire wash, but they can also look to replace only major components of the wash,” Dougherty explained.

For example, a bridge replacement is an opportunity for the operator to dramatically upgrade their wash. Replacing items in the wash bay — the harshest environment — can prove to be a good upgrade without the need for a completely new system, Dougherty said.

Dougherty suggested adding on some features such as triple foam, gatling guns, or a new entry station. The entry station, according to Dougherty, should have the ability to properly handle all typical transactions plus have the ability to help operators build loyalty to their wash.

Criscuolo echoed Dougherty’s suggestion about improving the entry station. “Smart interactive entry systems help to speed up the operation and also to increase, often dramatically, the purchase of extra services by the motorist,” he said. Criscuolo also suggested a reverse osmosis (RO) system — which is “more expensive” to purchase, but will save the operator money over time, especially as chemical costs continue to rise — and, if space permits and speed is important, a freestanding dryer. “Drying is a popular optional purchase so if space is limited, it would be wise to have an on-board unit,” he said.

Consider the power of VFDs
Ryan Beaty, the vice president of sales for the western region at Mark VII Equipment Inc., said today’s IBAs can utilize new forms of programmability and variable frequency drives (VFDs) to lower the total cost of ownership for operators.

“Revenue enhancement through options like wheel scrubs, total surface protectants, tire shiners and contour drying are also being employed to drive customers towards the top wash and raise the overall average ticket price,” he said.

Options like colored brushes, frames and bright LCD displays are allowing operators more versatility and flexibility when it comes to communicating with customers, Robinson explained.

According to Dougherty, operators can upgrade the looks of the bay by simply adding new signage and/or a new bridge cover. Many manufactures offer specific image upgrade kits for this situation. “Sometimes a simple facelift is the best alternative to an older wash,” he said.

Work closely with the service provider
It is also important to have a good relationship with the service provider. Crowell considers it a “must have.”

“As far as a ‘must have’ the most important would be a good service provider, someone whom you can call with any issues that might arise,” Crowell said. “Someone who you can buy almost anything from as well as purchase from with the comfort of knowing you will have the minimum amount of down time.”

Dougherty said it is key to work with a manufacturer that has a solution for any upgrade, big or small. “Working closely with the manufacturer and distributor to determine what upgrades are needed and when may prove to be a savings in the end,” he stated.

A good supplier will help you to make the right choices that suit your particular needs and market, stated Criscuolo. They will also provide you with better wash methods and alternatives for your customers.

Beaty said that operators are also asking for more assistance when it comes to programs. “Whether that comes in the form of marketing programs, service and chemical programs or data tracking, today’s operators want to partner with a company that can supply them more than just equipment,” he said. “It’s these value added services which allow operators to lean more on the expertise of the manufacturers and distributors verses trying to reinvent the wheel themselves.”