How can carwashes separate their services from the competition and gain a loyal following of customers? While this article will address some of the ways your business can provide a unique service, especially through the application of chemicals like lava foam and providing a show experience in the tunnel, there are many variables that will affect durable carwash business success.

Most competitive edge solutions will come with time and experience. However, creating a fun, memorable theme at your carwash and supporting it with features that enhance the customer experience should be a component of your business.

“The carwash industry in recent years has evolved into not only providing customers with a clean car, but also now we’re focusing on more of the experience of visiting a carwash and the ‘wow’ factor,” asserts Alex Whaley, chemical and marketing manager for Complete Car Wash in Alabama, a distributor of carwash equipment, chemicals and supplies.   

Advanced foam application

With over two decades of professional carwashing industry experience, including expertise in the development, application and marketing of carwash chemicals, Douglas Marquis knows that carwash operators and owners today need product technology solutions that provide multi-faceted benefits.   

According to Marquis, vice president of business development for CSI-Lustra Car Care Products, over the past decade there have been many examples of impressive industry advancements in the application process of soaps and waxes in the conveyor/tunnel exterior wash segment.

“But, the advancements that stand out to me most are those that add ‘double-value’ to operators by both increasing revenues and reducing current ongoing expenses,” says Marquis.

On the equipment side, continues Marquis, what he calls modern “foaming application systems” have helped successful carwashes increase the show performance of the carwash while also reducing water and chemical demands.

“Foaming and sheeting systems are greatly evolved over what was available 10 to 15 years ago. These systems use less chemical and less water while creating much better foam shows,” adds Marquis.

Related: Is triple foam right for your wash?

While customers’ demand for the end result of a carwash — a clean, shiny car — has remained unchanged over the past 60 years, what is a relatively new and growing customer interest is the need for entertainment while at the carwash.

Regardless of the type of conveyor/tunnel you operate, customers want to see LED lights, colors and bubbles while at the carwash. Not only do they see these features as entertainment, but there is also perceived and real value from these elements.   

Whaley notes that the carwash experience today is akin to going to a music concert. “People go to a concert for the experience that they just can’t get sitting on the couch in the living room,” he says. “And, people like to go to professional carwashes not only for a better wash compared to driveway washing, but also for the experience.”

In addition to arches and applicators that use chemicals and water more responsibly, there are also vehicle profiling systems available to help reduce waste and avoid poor wash results. “Applicators that are controlled by sensors will shut off chemicals when over truck beds, for example. These systems have been game-changers in this industry. They are worth the investment because they will save you money in the long term,” explains Whaley.      

Chemistry elevated

The best equipment in the world will only be an attractive fixture if it is used without the proper water and chemical quality needed at a professional carwash. In addition to advancements made in modern equipment, professional carwash chemical manufacturers also offer advanced solutions to deliver on cost savings and a consistent, high level of wash performance.

“In terms of chemical developments, it has been staggering,” notes Marquis. “The science that goes into carwash chemistry today has completely changed since I came into the industry.”

A recent example Marquis provides is the intense interest of carnauba wax services, which he says hit the market about five or six years ago and created a new revenue generator.

“Now, chemical companies are producing products that add the same performance benefits for consumers, but it can be done for a fraction of the cost to operators, produce a better in-the-wash experience for consumers and rinse freely with less water. Chemical and water cost savings, combined with improved show, on products that are sold at add-on premiums [are evident]. Just a few years back, operators would pay over one dollar for the chemical to support just that one add-on service, and now they can do it for a quarter,” educates Marquis.

Owners and operators should obviously not overpay for better results and enhanced customer experiences. Creating equipment and chemical synergies at your carwash will help your business deliver consistency in the process, while realizing savings and not waste.

“Everything needs to work together, from the equipment to the chemistry,” reminds Whaley. “Also, if you change your fragrances and products too often, your customers will never accept or appreciate your carwash’s identity.”

And, while bubbles, foam and advanced chemical applications can enhance your wash’s performance, poor performing equipment can also have its setbacks. If your application equipment is applying too much chemical product, water spots, surface films and residues, trapped moisture/solution and other issues can arise.

“You want to be effective and not excessive. Everyone is looking at their ticket average and their chemical cost per car. You can’t sacrifice a penny to lose a dollar and you can’t spend a dollar to make 10 cents,” says Whaley, adding that routine maintenance and equipment checks need to be completed regularly.        

Stimulate senses and wake up wallets   

As mentioned throughout this article as well as at industry trade shows, providing customers with a show experience is in demand. Many successful carwash
owners have aligned their businesses with a theme, such as a farm, in order to attract customers and a loyal base. While these street show stoppers provide nice eye candy, creative carwashes also tie their themes into the entire carwash, including in waiting areas and in the tunnel.

Attractive LED lights, window cutouts and signage can draw attention to these family-pleasing areas of the wash. And, while you might think your carwash has sufficient space to accommodate your theme, experts recommend focusing on the customer touch points and staging areas first.

“For our customers — the motoring public — there is an awful lot going on in the 120 feet that we have their attention,” remarks Marquis. “Especially in the exterior market, we have to be sure to clearly let them know when each step of the process is happening or we risk sending them away feeling as though something they paid for might have been missed.”

According to Marquis, colors as well as fragrances are two ways carwash operators can meet this goal. However, finding the right match might require some trial and error, as well as an open, creative mind. “Today,” he adds, “we are even beginning to see fog machines being used and we are researching how to possibly use sounds to better communicate value. The goal is to stimulate the senses.”

Building your bubble-focused support team

There are common pitfalls to avoid when looking to implement a themed show experience and modern chemical application system at your carwash. Just as with many aspects of business and life, don’t simply buy on price, brand or design. Instead, speak with other carwash owners, suppliers and manufacturers about their experiences and recommendations.

Although our society is more on the go and digital than ever before, there is no better place to start than at regional and national industry trade shows. For new investors especially, industry trade show attendance is a must.

“Learning from someone who knows what options are available is important,” says Whaley. “Just because a product might sound good and look good on paper does not necessarily mean it is a good fit for your carwash. That is why using a partner like a carwash distributor is so important.”

If you are on the bubble of evaluating your older chemical and equipment choices, many carwash professionals would likely recommend bursting any hesitance and instead looking at the options on the market today. As expenses increase and competition surges, providing a memorable, fun and effective carwash experience should lead to a profitable future.