Whether carwash owners are new or experienced, they have a lot of capital riding on their investment; so they need to be strategic about how they operate.
Getting past viability to long-term profitability with express carwashes, a fast-growing area of the industry, is all about performing consistently excellent to attract loyal long-term customers.
“In the past few years, a surprising number of people have jumped into the express tunnel wash business,” says Dan Pecora, who opened an exterior conveyor carwash in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1963, along with others in six states.
“An express carwash can cost several million dollars today and is essentially a single use facility,” adds Pecora. “Get something wrong, and you could drive customers away. Get it right, and continue getting it right, and the reward can be decades of healthy profitability.”
Modeling the success of carwash pioneers is perhaps the surest route to success. With millions at stake in a typical new express wash, here are four tips on how owners can boost their profit now, and long-term, while minimizing the risk.
No. 1: First impressions count
One tactic that express carwash owners use with a new facility is to hold a grand opening, during which the washes are heavily discounted or even free for a limited time. This brings customers in, but it does not always turn them into repeat customers, particularly if the operator is inexperienced and does not deliver a quality wash and a friendly experience.
“An express carwash grand opening can bring in many thousands of new customers over the promo period,” says Pecora. “If the owner can turn many of the new customers into long-term clients, and continue the friendly experience, he [or she] will have a successful wash. Do a poor job, however, and they won’t return and neither will their friends or family.”
Since customers usually ride through exterior tunnel washes today, it is important that each step of that process be gentle whether the owner is holding a grand opening or not.
“Customers have a close-up view of the tunnel wash on the ride through and notice every bump and noise,” says Pecora. “So the transition onto the conveyor should be smooth and the brushes gentle. Failing this, the customer is not likely to return.”
No. 2: Brush up on your brushes and cloths
According to Pecora, the surface you are cleaning, brushing or polishing will determine the stiffness of the brush you should use.
In conveyor washes, Pecora says firmer synthetic filaments are appropriate for tires and wheels while soft cloth or gentle foam is better for the painted car body — for which a softer approach is required to produce a shiny car.
“Tough cloth or tough foam might last a long time, but won’t clean the car’s nooks and crannies,” says Pecora. “Soft cloth or gentle foam, when done correctly, is gentler on paint and will clean these hard-to-reach areas.”
According to Pecora, an exterior carwash using a high-quality “gentle foam” with smooth wash equipment can further reduce damage claims to near zero, while offering a quieter wash and better final polish. Unlike typical foam, which is usually offered at standard levels of softness, gentle foam significantly increases the level of softness.
For any trouble spots that commonly need to be touched up during the conveyor wash process, such as around headlights, license plates and door handles, Pecora recommends using a hog’s hair brush at the carwash entrance.
“Hog’s hair — actual hair that comes from hogs — has the smallest diameter tapered filament, which helps to make it the softest,” says Pecora. “Since it is soft, tapered and feathered at the tips, it tends to release grit when properly lubricated and will not grind it into the car surface. Because of the taper, the hairs still retain stiffness for washing up close, if scrubbing is needed.”
To prevent potential paint marring from grit, Pecora advises washing any grit from the brushes before use. During the wash, he says employees should dip the brush head into a soap solution in a tall drum. The employee should stroke the car a few times, then redip the brush, allowing the grit to fall to the bottom of the barrel.
No. 3: Quality counts
While there is always the temptation to save a little on materials, sacrificing quality to save a dollar or two is the definition of penny-wise and pound-foolish. Because the brush touches every surface of a vehicle, cutting back on quality can virtually guarantee a subpar wash that will turn-off customers. Beyond this, poor quality materials generally do not last, while quality supplies can often perform well for years.
“A poor quality brush can do an awful job right off the bat,” says Pecora. “It can have the wrong filaments, can be too hard or soft, or the backing can be wrong, allowing the filaments to pull out or the employee to bump the client’s car.”
“A quality brush starts with quality filaments, laid in correctly at the right angle, so that it is neither too hard nor too soft for the job,” adds Pecora. “Conferring with the carwash supply manufacturer can help you tailor your materials to the job, provided their focus is on the carwash industry and not something unrelated, like construction or scrubbing steel.”
Pecora advises that using quality chemicals is also necessary. “While a conveyor wash could get by with just a few chemicals when I started out, today a dozen or more are typically used in express washes,” continues Pecora.
Pecora recommends that owners consult with the best carwash chemical specialists.
No. 4: Keeping customers long-term
Carwash owners looking to increase profit often offer add-on services for a few dollars more. These typically enhance protection or shine, such as a wax arch or tire blackwall service. While such services can boost sales dollars, Pecora cautions that the sales bump may only be temporary and decline over time, unless consistent high-quality and high-value are delivered.
“One trouble spot in getting a quality tire shine, for instance, occurs when tires are not thoroughly cleaned before brushing in the chemical shine,” explains Pecora. “This usually happens when wheels and tires are very dirty and are not cleaned properly.”
With extensive experience with carwash brushes, Pecora focused on creating two brushes for conveyor carwashes specially designed to clean tires and wheels. These brushes’ filaments gradually vary in length between three to seven inches to create a wave-like pattern. As a vehicle travels through the automated carwash, the longer bristles reach deep into wheel crevices while the shorter bristles clean the tire and wheel surface.
“Use the right cleaning material, followed by the right tire shine brush to buff the chemical into the blackwall, and the tires will shine so they turn heads at stoplights,” says Pecora.
Another vital aspect to keeping clients for the long-term, Pecora points out, is having a caring, smiling, professional at the carwash entrance.
“Putting your friendliest employees at the point of customer contact and have them act as consultants helping improve the client’s wash where needed can influence how customers feel as much as anything else,” says Pecora. “Customers must like and trust them, or they may resist coming back if they feel they are being sold unneeded services.”
Pecora says that without a friendly professional to greet and consult with customers, the next best option is to have an automatic payment system with no interpersonal contact.
By following these tips to ensure consistent quality and value, and always considering the end result from the customer’s viewpoint, Pecora concludes that carwash owners can keep profits coming back for the long-term.
Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, California. For more information, call 800-711- ERIE ext. 3743 in the U.S., and 773-477-9620 internationally; Fax 800-798- ERIE ext. 3743 in U.S., and 773-477-6030 internationally; email [email protected]; visit www.eriebrush.com; or write to Erie at 860 West Fletcher St., Chicago, Illinois, 60657.