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Touch-up

October 11, 2010
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This being December, the end of the year, it’s the time when people start looking ahead. So, Professional Carwashing & Detailing® asked Paul Fazio, a second-generation carwasher and president of SONNY’S the carwash factory, to put on his best fortune-telling outfit and give us a vision of the future.

Professional Carwashing & Detailing: Where do you see carwashing going? What are some of the things SONNY’S is working on for the future?

Paul Fazio: (laughing) Well, I’m not sure how much I want to tell you about what we’re doing. But there is one thing we’re all in agreement with. Conveyor carwashing is where the action is right now. The in-bay market had tremendous growth for several years. Now it is, at best, growing in small single digits, if not totally stagnant. And in that segment, there’s a switch away from touch-free to friction. The friction side of that market is growing, but the segment as a whole, personally, I believe is stagnant.

But SONNY’S is going ahead. Three years ago, we developed a friction in-bay machine because we saw that the friction in-bay market was where the growth would be. Since we have never been a player in that market, we can only grow.

PC&D: So what do you see for the conveyor segment?

PF: It is growing. For the 10 years prior to 2002-03, the growth was stagnant, or very low. Now the growth is double digits. It’s the express exterior model.

The full-serve business, because of the cost of labor, the cost of utilities, the overall costs in general, made it so the guys have had to price their product at a higher number. They are doing less volume, but getting more revenue per car. But as that number gets higher, the consumer is becoming more sensitive to what they’re getting for their money. It has become a carwash investment, rather than an impulse buy.

With the express exterior model, you’re not dealing with all that labor, you can now offer the product at a much more reasonable price which brings it back to an impulse buy, which takes some other factors, like the weather, out of the mix and can drive your volumes up.

Now it has become, attractive to the investor market and the owner-operators who want to expand, but don’t want to go full service.

There are also those customers that the in-bay market pulled out of the driveways and made professional carwash customers. Those customers now are looking for an alternative to the touch-free in-bay that used to be “free with a fill-up.” That wash went to $2, then $3. Now there is a base price of $7, and the third car in line has to wait 30 minutes, and the quality is, in some cases, questionable. These customers are looking for an alternative place where they can get what they wanted originally from the in-bay — a reasonable price and quick, convenient service.

PC&D: After equipment, the other big concern seems to be water, right?

PF: Big concern. If you asked the question, “What are you working on at SONNY’S that is a concern for our customers?” It’s cost-per-car. They are asking us continuously to drive down the cost of water and electricity.

To develop these ideas fully will take several years, but you will see products on the floor next year to do some of these things. But the next ‘big thing’ is what we touched on earlier, the express and the flex washing.

There is that much of a shift going on in our industry, it’s a paradigm shift. The ones who see it are the new investors coming into the market. Many of our long-time customers don’t want to see it, but they better wake up to it.

There is an absolute, grassroots change taking place in this industry. We see it as the future of where this industry going, if not express, then flex.

It’s the pendulum swing from where full-serve led the tunnel industry for many, many years to all the way to where it was express and it will probably end up being somewhere between express and flex.

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