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Operations and Management

Big draw vacuums

Consolidators and large, well-funded investors continue to change the professional carwashing industry’s landscape and image. Today, modern washes feature attractive facades and attention to detail when it comes to the customer experience. In addition to the precision nozzles, spinning brushes and innovative chemical applications, other integral equipment, such as carwash vacuums, have also advanced in recent years, specifically in the areas of function and form. 

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Today’s carwash vacuum systems are more dependable and also more stylish.   

According to the Professional Carwashing Industry Report: Third Edition, developed by this publication, a key feature in express exterior carwashes is self-serve vacuums, often offered to customers free of charge. According to our report, a majority of express exteriors (77%) offer this service and that number continues to climb each year.

Also, according to our survey, 42% of all conveyor respondents noted that they offer self-serve vacuums as an additional conveyor feature. 

We recently caught up with Wes Taggart, vice president of Sonny’s Vacuums by AutoVac, to discuss the importance of high-performing, attractive vacuum systems at a professional carwash. 

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Seeing colors

Many manufacturers of vacuum equipment can and should be able to design systems and components that match the branding of your carwash, which is an option that was not widely available decades ago. From the hoses and nozzles to the canopies and arches, also known as vacuum booms, it is common to infuse your wash’s branding strategy into vac areas. These touches help streamline the site’s design, but today’s operators can go even further. 

“An operator can take it a step further by color coordinating the vacuum producer and filter separator when they are set outside. Even the small accessory items, such as vacuum tools, towel buckets and mat holders, can share in the color scheme. Additionally, towel buckets can be ‘stickered’ with the carwash logo,” explains Taggart. 

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Operators can also take advantage of the brilliance and security that LED lighting provides in vacuum stalls and areas. LEDs have helped to transform the tunnel carwash experience, adding to the show appeal of chemical applications and signage, and now this technology is carrying over into vacuums. 

“Another advent in today’s technology is RGB LED lighting,” confirms Taggart. “During service hours, these lights provide bright white light, making it easy to use the facilities offered in each vacuum lane. After hours, the operator can use these colored lights to represent the colors of the wash and even present a very colorful light show if desired.” 

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Especially during the fall and winter months when natural light is scarce during final traditional operating hours, LEDs can also help customers feel safer and more secure while using this equipment on the lot. 

Attracting customers

Whether it’s following a strategy that relies on activity breeding more activity or benefitting from the fact that people like free services, successful operators are bringing more customers on-site and converting them to club members with free vacuums. Many customers are making carwash choices based on the site’s customer experience and vacuums play a huge role.

“Vacuums, and more specifically quality vacuums, are the major draw in today’s carwash selection. The designed vacuum system completes the program, offering an accolade of options for the customer to choose from, such as vacuum tool styles for vacuuming, microfiber towels for drying and cleaning surfaces, shaded parking stalls, trash cans for excess debris, air guns for the particular drops still hiding in the crevices and even window cleaner to finish off the wash experience,” says Taggart. 

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Simply put, customers want value and their expectations to be exceeded. They visit a carwash because they want their vehicles completely cleaned. In other words, if the average customer of an express exterior site spends 10 minutes or less of his or her day on your carwash site, you better make it memorable for the right reasons or you risk opening the door to the competition. That includes paying attention to the details from start to finish with such amenities as the ones described earlier. 

Keeping customers

While an attractive design and brand colors can help streamline the site’s appearance and help to draw customers in, equipment performance is of utmost importance when it comes to customer retention. Your wash’s spacious vacuum areas can feature all the bells and whistles the industry has to offer, without proper performance and results, customer satisfaction likely cannot be achieved. 

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“Now that customers more commonly vacuum their own vehicles, they expect an exceptional vacuum experience,” reminds Taggart. 

According to Taggart, an operator in the market for a new vacuum system must work with a reputable manufacturer that will design the setup and system with the following considerations in mind: 

Design for simultaneous users 

Consider the placement of the vacuum equipment, which affects site flow

Account for proper line loss calculations for the vacuum manifold 

Manage the collection and disposal of debris.

“Even high altitude is considered,” continues Taggart. “An additional impeller should be added to the producer to compensate for density altitude for sites over 3,000 mean sea level (msl) to maintain the expected performance. When the vacuum producer is manufactured with precision to perform, it should serve the customers of the carwash for many years with truly little maintenance needed. This should be an expectation for every carwash owner in today’s competitive marketplace.” 

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What’s ahead for vacuums

Similar to customers’ interest in getting value in product and service purchases, carwash operators should have the same expectation when selecting and installing a vac system. In addition to noting the total cost of ownership, accounting for such variables as maintenance, operators should consider the equipment’s warranty and reputation and expertise of the manufacturer. Many leading vacuum providers have been in the carwash industry for decades and some of their employees and leadership have experience as operators themselves. 

These manufacturers continue to refine the appearance and functionality of this equipment. So, what are these companies working on today to help increase vacuums’ value and branding potential at a carwash in the future? Taggart offers insight.

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“Longevity and performance — the expectation that every operator should have about their vacuum system purchase. Vacuums today should be fabricated with the highest quality materials due to the environments they serve as well as being used by the unmanaged public,” he says, adding that materials such as aluminum are replacing older steel parts, such as bell housings, impellers and hubs. 

“Aluminum lasts longer, dissipates heat better and makes for an easier operation on the vacuum producer. It even saves the operator money because a lesser load is applied to the electric motor during start-up,” educates Taggart. 

Similar to any successful business, a strong reputation in the market is key to attracting and retaining customers. Today’s operators are benefitting from the advances in carwash vacuums to help strengthen their customer and community relationships. 

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“The greatest branding potential a carwash has is its reputation. When an operator builds a tunnel where the output is a clean, dry and shiny car, the customer is happy and tells a friend, family member or co-worker. When the customer has a wonderful experience detailing the inside of their car in the vacuum stall, the customer is happy and tells someone. And with today’s social media, that telling someone is really telling hundreds, if not thousands, of potential carwash club members,” concludes Taggart.

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