One trend that will always be prevalent in the car care market is the addition of on-site profit centers. From classic vending options to lobby sales, the modern carwash template now seems to include additional profit centers regardless of wash type or location. One of the newer additional profit offerings — ice and water vending — has become more widespread since the turn of the century.

Ice vending’s growing popularity is a result of the profit center’s reputation as a low-stress option for carwash owners looking to boost traffic and revenue. Whether operators selected a small vending unit or a high-capacity, standalone ice vending structure, many have added to their bottom lines while attracting more customers.

As water quality is normally high for carwashes — and since few additions or new resources are required — ice vending has provided an easy and measurable “bang for the buck” when added to high traffic washes.

Even so, experienced operators who have found success selling ice and water are always looking for new tips and best practices. How can carwashes add ice vending to customer loyalty programs? What is the proper way to market ice and water sales? How can ice and water options be used to increase customer retention?

Heat up cold sales potential

For customers, drive-up ice vending is popular due to its convenience. According to Ben Gaskill, director of sales with Everest Ice and Water Systems, the profit center attracts all types of customers, and everyone who uses the ice vending center will drive up to the machine in vehicles. These are vehicles that potentially may need washing.

But, this relationship can work in reverse as well. Carwashes typically have a built-in customer base, and these dedicated customers can help the ice vending profit center get off to a fast start. Gaskill explains, “As time goes on and news of the new machine spreads, it will pull ice customers to the carwash owner’s property that will patronize the wash. It’s really a great relationship and a natural fit.”

Ice vending profit centers don’t attract customers just due to their convenience of use. The product’s quality will bring in new users as well, notes Jeff Dyson, vice president of sales and marketing with Kooler Ice. In addition to curbside convenience, these profit centers typically offer a better tasting and fresher ice product for a significantly lower price than grocery and convenience stores. This is due to the fact that the ice is made, stored and dispensed on-demand by the machine. And, since the vending machines or facilities do not require an operator or other supervisor to sell product, ice can be sold 24 hours a day.

Refreshing best practices and trends

Operator best practices for an ice vending machine may seem familiar for many carwash owners. Dyson states that these guidelines are similar to many accepted practices for operating a carwash. The list of recommendations includes:

  • Maintain the machines. “The main key to protecting the asset is maintaining the equipment in good working order,” Dyson reveals. “In fact, some ice vending manufacturers not only require this to maintain the integrity of their brand name but will also perform the recommended maintenance every six months.” Often, the maintenance is simple and straightforward and will not require a lot of time or energy to complete.
  • Keep it clean. Also similar to a carwash, owners will want to keep the machine and the area around it clean and aesthetically pleasing, Dyson notes.
  • Always advertise. Most carwash owners know that it is difficult to think of any business that will perform well without some advertising to inform customers. “Depending on the manufacturer you choose, some offer assistance and promotional items to help you advertise and can give you tips on ways to advertise without spending a lot of money,” Dyson says.
  • Ask for advice. Gaskill notes that his company has a prepared list of the nine biggest mistakes an ice vending machine owner can make. The document outlines mistakes and explains how not to make them.
  • Be selective. When comparing manufacturers, follow through on due diligence and make sure that the companies have been in business for a while, Dyson recommends. The best manufacturers will have a strong service and support system in place.
  • Look for new technology and software. New machine owners should look for the manufacturers to offer updated technology. These offerings will make the management of the machines easier, Dyson states. Further, the manufacturer should develop software, apps and the ability to use social media applications to help drive customers to a carwash to buy ice.
  • Select smaller footprints. Another new trend in ice vending that makes the profit centers even more affordable is higher levels of production in a smaller machine footprint. Dyson notes that with some models, an operator can choose the size of the ice maker to be placed inside the machine. Thus, its design can be made compatible with the expected sales for the location.

Solidifying loyalty program practices

Another best practice many carwash owners have found success with is adding a free ice option to existing wash loyalty programs. Added  offerings and features will only enhance existing programs and further drive loyalty over the competition. Here, the cost of an ice vend lends itself to a cheap reward for dedicated customers.

Gaskill notes that leading machines will have the ability to accept free vend coupons. Since the cost of producing a 10-pound vend of ice can be as little as 15 cents, carwash owners can give away a value of $2 to $2.75 and have little cost associated with the promotion.

Free vends are a great way to promote more expensive wash packages as well. “Offering a free ice or water vend with a specific wash the owner wants to promote is a great way to call attention to both businesses,” Gaskill says.

Dyson agrees and reinforces the example of promotions where customers can get a free bag of ice with a specific wash or a certain number of washes. “It is a great way of bringing customers back to both the wash and the ice vending machine.”

More cool features of ice vending

For carwashes with ice vending, probably the most important feature to have is a great remote monitoring system, according to Dyson. While most machines have some type of monitoring available, if an owner cannot monitor his or her machine from a smartphone and computer, the machine will not be managed efficiently. This results in more time and effort spent managing the profit center. “With a remote monitoring system, owners can work smarter — not harder.”

Other features operators should consider are payment options and lighting systems. Most owners want customers to be able to pay using a credit card or cash to enhance the service’s convenience. Dyson notes that some vending systems include special lighting features that not only allow the machine to stand out and be seen at night but also to provide additional safety for the customer.

Gaskill points out two ice profit center features that increase both convenience and simplicity for users. First, customers love the convenient way that ice can be vended directly into their ice chests or coolers. This unique feature alone can drive the growth of an ice vending business and ensure that customers come back.

Next, the key to any ice vending machine is simplicity, according to Gaskill. Ideally, they are simple to own, use and operate. “We try not to add any ‘bells and whistles’ that aren’t necessary to operate your business,” he says. “As with all mechanical equipment, such as an ice vending dispenser, fewer moving parts means less downtime and maintenance, and fewer headaches for the operator.”

Solid state of popularity

Carwash owners have known about the availability of ice vending for years, and while it is growing in popularity, it is still a new concept in many areas.

When a carwash operator offers a service or convenience to consumers first in a market, it creates a “buzz,” and people want to check it out, Dyson notes. Potential customers who may have driven by without ever coming in for a carwash will now come in to check out the ice vending machine and buy ice.

With time, the awareness of the machine will continue to grow and continue to make consumers think of the carwash and associate the carwash with ice as well. “When someone says, ‘Hey, do you know where I can get a bag of ice?’ the response will be, ‘Yes, check out the Red, White and Blue Car Wash. They sell it there, and they have that new machine,’” Dyson says.

In closing, Gaskill states that if an owner uses common sense, selects a good machine from a reputable manufacturer and places the machine where it is visible and customers can access it, he should have years of reliable income produced from the existing property.

“Ice vending has been growing exponentially year over year, and we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Gaskill concludes. “Ice vending started in the South, where it is still growing rapidly, but ice vending is still relatively new in the northern states. There is certainly a lot of growth occurring there as well.”


Thomas Hawkins is a freelance contributor.