Modernize your carwash to stay competitive - Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Modernize your carwash to stay competitive

How upgrades can help operators keep up with the ever-changing car care industry.

Many carwash owners may take time after a busy day of cleaning cars, SUVs and trucks to dream about their ideal wash location. Thinking of potential upgrades and comparing an existing car care business to the competition down the street are not just mental exercises — they are often industry best practices. In fact, breaking down the offerings of nearby washes and figuring out what services attract customers allows an operation to address obvious deficiencies and to create a basic plan to continue evolving.

Today, the widespread adoption of new carwash technologies has left many older locations an obvious step behind the competition. Car care businesses that put off changes lose customers to updated sites that offer all the bells and whistles visitors have come to expect. Yet, for busy washes looking to boost offerings and grow daily sales, performing a full site overhaul might be an impossibility. Instead, a piecemeal modernization approach must be utilized that can slowly bring the wash on line with its competitors.

For owners interested in modernizing their sites, there are a myriad of options available, including new software, tunnel controllers, light fixtures and more. Only by researching the best steps to update a carwash site and then making smart decisions can an operator hope to compete with the latest and greatest locations in this now high-tech industry.

Technology and tunnels

Technology has never been more important in carwash tunnels than it is today. Thankfully, most upgraded tunnel controllers now allow for simple installation and timing configuration of equipment, according to Judy Kansa, senior account manager with DRB Systems Software. As a result, options such as configuring tunnel timing on a smartphone, iPad or other tablet helps ensure the most accurate and to-the-inch operation of devices.

Also, the advancement of the sonar technology that works with controllers means the profiles of vehicles can be measured to the inch, Kansa states. This includes automatically identifying and adjusting for pickup truck beds. Further, modern tunnel control systems allow for precise chemical disbursement, saving the operator money on chemistry expenses.

“With the right software, the chemicals are delivered at such an unprecedented level of control that there is no wasted chemical,” Kansa explains. “This gives the operator comfort in knowing that they are using all chemicals that are being distributed.”

Miguel Gonzalez, president of Micrologic Associates, also references “smart” controllers that will precisely measure a vehicle for appropriate chemical saturation. Here, tunnel devices such as tire shiners and wraps will dispense a more cost-efficient amount of chemical solution while providing for a cleaner car. A reduction in utility expenses may also be realized for carwashes with this more precise vehicle measurement.

The enhanced sensors are also a point of emphasis for Gonzalez. The newer generation of tunnel controllers should be adaptable to the increased use of “ultrasonic sensors.” This technology will allow operators enhanced control of tunnel equipment around the vehicle, such as open/closed-bed pickup detection and mirror positioning. Finally, many controllers now allow for remote configuration and adjustments via the internet.

Software and sales

To get the most out of new controllers and updated equipment, the software used in a carwash may need an upgrade as well. Gonzalez reveals that there are broad ranges of carwash software offerings throughout the industry. The features and functions can range from a basic point-of-sale cash register to an enterprise system providing: point-of-sale devices, control gates, RFID readers, statistical analysis reporting, unattended payment kiosks, chemical tracking and facility maintenance modules.

For an operator looking to modernize and improve net earnings, a number of software factors can be involved. Earnings can be directly impacted via controlling costs, increasing productivity through operational efficiencies, marketing resourcefully and creating a positive service experience to generate customer loyalty, Gonzalez notes. Thus, when upgrading carwash software, the new choice should encompass features such as key performance indicators (KPI) and offer ease of data analysis accessibility via the internet. Other options to consider include promotional marketing plug-ins as well as built-in operational efficiencies to improve customer loyalty.

Gonzalez says, “System functionality as it pertains to your specific mode of operation is a key essential to selecting a technology provider. Comparative cost analysis based — upfront and ongoing — on preferred features should be factored with the provider’s experience and demonstrated ability to adapt to industry change to keep your software and investment current.”

With new software in place, an owner will be able to offer more technologically advanced and better purchasing options to his or her customers, Kansa states. For example, with a fully integrated monthly unlimited wash program, an operator will be able to easily monitor and track revenue growth through system reports. This is accomplished when the software completes the full cycle of selling the customer into the plan, properly maintaining the membership and automatically rebilling the customer on the proper date.

“With this new software in place, the owner will be able to wash more cars more easily and enjoy the profits of having customers be billed on a monthly basis,” Kansa explains.

Another benefit provided by new software is the processing of vehicles faster and easier at the tunnel entrance. With the proper software in place, a carwash operator can queue cars into the tunnel faster and more efficiently than ever before, Kansa notes. Vehicles will line up in order at the tunnel entrance, and the attendant simply has to guide the customer onto the conveyor and send the car. In modern washes, the vehicle runs over a tire switch that automatically kicks up a roller. This process allows the carwash to wash more vehicles and not skip a roller.

Site light fixtures

Updating light fixtures is another step needed to modernize many older sites. Jason Baright, president of G&G LED Lighting, explains that a bright bay or tunnel clearly communicates to customers that a carwash is open for business. By improving the lighting quality and the overall appearance of a carwash, lighting upgrades are an easy way to give any site a facelift. With new wall paneling and updated lighting, it can look like the whole carwash has been renovated.

“I think a lot of operators may underestimate the effect that a bright, crisp, white bay can have on their business at night,” Baright says. “I think a dark or a dingy bay … it’s just not very inviting, and a lot of people won’t even think about going there.”

Related: Out of the Dark Ages with LED lighting

Ease of installation is another point that operators should consider when modernizing a carwash, and new lighting systems can be easy to install, Baright notes. Some are plug-and-play, and the systems are “connectorized.” “It comes with all the wiring and cabling you need, so there’s not a lot of hardwiring in the field,” he adds.

A new feature available with carwash lighting options is a dimming kit. The kit works with the fixtures and a mounted occupancy sensor in the bay, Baright says. When a customer pulls into the bay, it will brighten up to a bright white. A few minutes after the customer leaves, it will dim again. An operator can set the timing, and the fixture will dim down to about 50 percent until the next vehicle pulls in.

Another benefit provided by updated LED fixtures is great energy savings. “It’s a really good way to save a lot of power, and the fixtures last longer too,” Baright adds.

Modern protectants

The technology and equipment in carwashes are not the only things that have been updated in the world of vehicle care. According to Andrew Zeppa, president with Element 119 Manufacturing (, volatile organic compounds (VOC) in paints led to a huge change for vehicle manufacturers. These VOCs were recognized as ozone layer depletion compounds, which were thought to contribute to global warming and fauna/flora degradation. Because of this, new regulations were developed for automakers.

Now, waterborne paints have replaced older VOC options, and many of these new paints have several disadvantages — especially for the car care industry. The primary issue Zeppa has seen is that most modern automotive paint is water-based, using a low solvent urethane that produces a softer, more porous paint. This makes the finish more swirl prone and less effective when it comes to UV degradation. Thus, these new paints and clear-coats can benefit from a hard layer of protection.

Related: Mastering paint protection

One option that can be used to modernize a carwash’s service menu is a no-paste, no-wax ceramic protectant formula designed for these new paint finishes and varnishes, Zeppa notes. The active ceramic resin binds with the paint to provide a durable layer of long-term protection, and no special tools or equipment outside of typical polishing equipment are required. These coatings can be used on all exterior paint surfaces, including alloys, and they require no further maintenance other than washing.

After employee training as well as the addition of the service to the menu, Zeppa recommends marketing on social media, including photos of completed work, and letting customers post testimonials to showcase their results. Operators can also contact local businesses, vehicle dealers and rental car companies to build a new client base. Long-term paint protection services lengthen the time between washes, make cleaning quicker and protect the valuable company image that fleet managers are in charge of

In short, now more than ever, you can make investments that will improve services while at the same time driving sales and developing customer loyalty.

Eugene Allen is a freelance contributor.

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