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Sizing up shiners

April 25, 2012
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When it comes to operating a carwash tunnel or bay, this truly is the era of packing in additional profit sources. Attentive owners search for exciting new services and equipment that will give them a leg up on the competition. Every inch of tunnel or bay space includes added automations to help differentiate a business from the others down the street.

But the need for new profits may lead owners to ask, "What services do my customers want the most?" Giving them shiny tires for an additional fee should be a no brainer. "For carwash customers, wheel and tire appearance is hugely important," Marcus McLaughlin, a member of the marketing team at Belanger Inc., said. "Specifically, shiny black tires are a 'hot button' for many consumers — a service they will gladly pay a premium for."

Proven popularity

The appearance of tire shiners traces back to 2000; this is when tunnel operators first began to show interest in automated shining, McLaughlin recalled. Now, savvy operators have offered tire shining for years, and they have typically priced the service at $2 to $3 a la carte. This "extra service" often sells to 30 percent or more of customers, depending on the application quality and how well the offering is marketed.

"For many customers, you'll find that once they've had tire shine, they have to have tire shine. And they'll gladly buy it at full price on subsequent visits," McLaughlin explained. "For some, this might even become the key differentiator that causes them to choose — and remain loyal to — your wash over your competitors. It's that important."

John Kelliher with Simoniz U.S.A. said the tire shiner systems deliver the desired service to customers using a totally automated, highly-profitable system. Also, this is a profit center and service that many businesses would not be able to offer without the automatic application process. Thus, without the shiners, many would lose the opportunity to generate additional profits.

Improved technology

Since the early days, technology has advanced dramatically and tire dressing quality has much improved. McLaughlin said one newer technology, the "independent roller" design, offers customers "better than hand applied" results. The system smoothly rolls dressing onto the sidewall for a full rim to tread shine. This shiner design uses 15 foam applicator rollers that rotate independently in response to the moving sidewall.

Other technology advances addressed the problem of excess dressing leaking onto floors, walls and vehicles. The independent roller system regularly rotates one-quarter turn to keep the dressing in the applicators. McLaughlin said this design uses half the dressing of older flat pad designs, as little as 1 ounce per vehicle.

Martin Geller, president of Vehicle Wash Systems Inc., described a different tire shiner system that applies dressing to tires with a soft, spinning brush. While the first generation tire shiners utilized foam or sponge pads that were often ripped and damaged, the brush used here solves that problem.

To preserve chemicals, the brush system has a pan underneath that catches extra product and recycles it back into the system. It also utilizes a tire shine chemical with a thicker consistency. Geller called it a "no-sling" product.

Adding to bays

Over the past few years, the popularity of reliable and consistent tire shiners has made them attractive to in-bay operators as well. For in-bay operators, automatic tire shiners do not save labor, but they make it possible to offer tire shine in an unattended wash bay. "An in-bay tire shiner must get the application right on every vehicle and satisfy the customer the first time, every time," McLaughlin said.

To achieve this, McLaughlin noted that an in-bay tire shiner needs to do more than accommodate the tire — it needs to accommodate the vehicle, as well. With no conveyor in play, there can be quite a variance in vehicle alignment within a bay. The best in-bay tire shiners correct for vehicle alignment issues with an articulated knuckle and floating head design that actually brings the shine to the tire.

While some in-bay operators are interested in offering the service a la carte, many are limited by the capabilities of their current point-of-sale (POS) systems, which may only support three or four total wash selections. For these operators, it is best to bundle the automatic tire shining service into the top package, and adjust menu pricing as they see fit, according to McLaughlin.

Geller said a tire shiner system has even been developed for the coin-op industry. The machine is a manual shiner that resembles a self-serve vacuum. A customer pulls up to the machine and deposits money; then they use a foam brush to shine their tires. This machine can fit on a vacuum island, or it can stand on its own.

What is needed?

Tunnel and bay space is the main requirement when it comes to installing a tire shiner. Geller estimated that a shiner may need anywhere from 13 to 15 feet of space, and it normally fits in the drip area of a tunnel.

McLaughlin said a tire shiner may be installed partially under other compatible pieces of equipment to save room, and he noted that shiner units normally require just one controller function to operate. This makes the service easy to add to an existing tunnel.

When it comes to in-bay shiner installation, the typical floating head design requires just over 16 feet of space to accommodate the full travel of the machine. It may also be installed partially under other compatible pieces of equipment to save room, McLaughlin explained.

Part of packages

Once it's installed, how can the tire shine service best be marketed to customers? Geller said some owners offer it as an a la carte item. "That's the first way," he explained. "But most fellows I see putting it into their gold package or top end package, where if [a customer is] getting the triple shine, and the wax, and the under wash, then they're getting this also."

"For tunnel operators who favor a simpler 'package' menu approach, or who do a lot of volume, then adding automated tire shining to the top package — or creating a new top package — may be the best bet," McLaughlin said. "In this case, the operator is in the best position to decide whether to adjust package pricing, or use the service as a 'value add' to drive a higher percentage of top package sales — thereby increasing revenue."

Kelliher said the shiner service can be promoted using driveway banners, signs and point of application electric signs. Also, an informative video advertising the service at auto cashier kiosks is a good way to market as well.

Other suggestions McLaughlin added included instructing any on-site attendants to talk up the service when interacting with customers, promoting the tire shine in any external advertising or couponing and offering the service free for an introductory period.

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