Vending machines and goods are geared toward impulse purchasers. If the vendor is close at hand, the impulse to buy will be carried out and sales volume will increase.

In this special Q&A, we speak with Mike Oliver, general manager at IDX Inc., to learn about carwash vending best practices and ensuring a positive return on investment.

PC&D: Without mentioning specific products and companies, can you offer a little insight into the various types of carwash vending products commonly offered? Are certain vending services better for certain wash types?

MO: When it comes to vending, carwashes can choose from an extensive assortment of varying products, and even product types. Take towels, for instance; popular vending options for towels include paper and fabric in the carwash market. Fabric towels tend to be reusable and more environmentally friendly. They are a little more expensive but they last longer, and many people are willing to pay more for them.

Then, of course, carwashes can choose from various types of glass cleaners to vend. Some are better than others; some operators may choose alcohol-based cleaners, while others may prefer to vend products utilizing more environmentally friendly ingredients — many newer glass cleaners in the market are greener products. And, in general, we are starting to see more and more operators going toward more eco-friendly products because their customers are willing to go that route.

Additionally, different types of detailing products, from plastic and vinyl cleaners to tire cleaners, are available. And different manufacturers may go from a foil pack to spray bottles and foam cans — just depending on what the carwash owner’s machinery is designed to vend it from.

Air fresheners are also popular vending items. Traditional options include standard fragrances, such as pine, spruce, lemon and cherry. And now more custom fresheners are available. For example, you can now offer more personal options and popular culture items, such as a movie character or a photo of a loved one, in a scented product. And, then there are air fresheners that can fit in the ash trays and also can stick in the air conditioning vents. So there are a lot of new products in the product category.

Some operators even vend protective, plastic shoe coverings and gloves, which depending on the market area and wash type, could be used to apply different carwash chemicals or just to clean up around the wash.

However, the products you choose will normally depend on location and the price point/customer base. If you have more people who have the time to detail their cars, for example, you will see more of the higher end products offered — and thus more volume going through the wash and better revenues. Roughly 15 to 30 percent of the revenue will be there from what we have seen from a drop shelf or a spiral vendor.

PC&D: Are certain carwash vending services better for certain wash types?

MO: It all depends on the market area you are in, whether your carwash is more of the full-service style or express. Express washes may have the higher-dollar vending items, whereas a full-service may have a setting on the shelf where they might sell such products as sunglasses, scrapers and window shades —here you will most likely see slightly more expensive impulse merchandise.

A self-serve carwash may offer more do-it-yourself products such as protectants, towels, fragrances, etc. However, some self-serve operators might actually do better with higher-end products. Again, keep in mind your location and customer base.

PC&D: Moreover, are there specific wash formats that see better results when it comes to offering carwash vending products in general?

MO: It’s all really impacted by your market area; for example, operators with multiple locations most likely won’t offer the exact same vending products at each property because they look at their total clientele. And yes, some items will be identical, but others may cater to the clientele and current market trends.

For instance, cherry and pine fragrances may do great in one area; however, certain neighborhoods may prefer a piña colada or new car smell fragrance. These decisions have to be based on the clientele’s preferences — the same goes for the type of window wipes or whether it is a brand name vinyl cleaner or protectant versus a generic vinyl protectant, for example.

The products carwashes should sell needs to be based on the market area and the pocketbooks of the consumers there.

PC&D: Are there any best practices car care businesses should be mindful of when it comes to vending? And, in what ways can carwashes better market/upsell their vending, such as positioning and best spots for placement considerations?

MO: New drop shelf vendors are great for positioning and marketing the products; and glass front vendors seem to do a much better job at marketing the product because a customer can actually see what he or she is getting. If a carwash operator chooses to use the traditional drop shelf vendor, his or her volume will go up if he or she makes sure to constantly upgrade the product decals. And most manufacturers of those products will actually provide the decals for those vendors at no charge, which can be a better option for some operators.

Regardless of wash type, make sure your vendors are strategically placed, such as close to bill changers and also on the vacuum islands as well (if offered). Vending machines placed in convenient spots for customers are more likely to be used. It’s impulsive — if a customer can easily find/access the vending machine he or she is more apt to buy a product than if he or she doesn’t see the vendor right away and then has to search your site to find it.

PC&D: Are there any common pitfalls or mistakes regarding carwash vending? If so, what can owners and operators do to help avoid these issues?

MO: On the vending machine side, a lot of operators forget to make sure the machine is properly maintained, checking to see if every product will vend, and clean the decaling and the machine’s glass.

An operator may think, “Well the machine is making money, so I don’t need to check the shelving or I don’t need to check the machine to see why certain products aren’t vending.” However, what if there is a problem with the vendor so a product, or products, won’t drop? That is one of the biggest mistakes operators can make — not making sure the machines work correctly.

If the machines aren’t making enough money, or operators notice that the products aren’t dropping out of the vendor correctly, it’s probably because they weren’t properly maintaining the machine. That is one of the biggest issues for operators, whether it is a self-serve or express operator with vending-type machinery.

PC&D: In your opinion, what can we expect in the future regarding carwash vending? For example, any new technologies, features, trends, etc.?

MO: When it comes to technology, we are going to start seeing new vending machines that will also have a display screen that will promote the products; an owner can set up the machine and do a promotion through the week to attract customers to buy more products by offering a special.

For example, an operator may promote: “Buy the window wipes today, get a towel for free.” Well, the window wipe may be selling for $1.50 and then the operator can give away a 25 cent towel at the same time to entice more impulse sales from customers.

For this reason, the industry will start seeing more technology with displays and promotion functionality with voice controls. More features/technology hitting the market with vending machines include: more color options; a lot more machines offering credit card processers, and not just cash/coin operations; and maybe some centralized programming for which you can do special functions, such as promotions.

PC&D: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about carwash vending?

MO: Always look for what is new, and don’t be afraid to try something. Just because you personally don’t like the product, doesn’t mean your customers don’t like it either. They may like it or even love it.

An operator that I have known for many years determines what he will vend by looking around his site. He looks at scraps he finds on the ground and any leftover packages, products and wrappers left around the vacuuming and trash areas. He sees what customers leave behind that he didn’t sell to them, and then thinks, “Oh, this is something I could be selling that they could be buying from me instead of buying it from the hardware store or the supermarket down the road.” So he looks to see what the customers throw away, not just what they buy.

Check out our business directory for vending machine and vending supplies sellers.