Summer is coming, and this scorching season brings days filled with lots of bright sunshine, warm weather and azure skies — an ideal combination making for a busy, profitable day at the carwash. Yet opportunities to heat up sales during the warmer months of the year do not have to be limited to providing washes and detailing services.

Keep your consumers cool and your wash hot by offering additional profit centers such as ice vending.

Drive in more traffic and sales

Although certainly heightened during the warmer months of the year, a carwash can obtain an additional flow of revenue by offering ice vending all year long. “It’s well known that the ice vending business is a $4 billion dollar industry, and it’s an industry that has been projected to keep growing for decades to come,” states Brad Lefkowitz with Bag of Ice. “[Ice provides] a great income stream throughout the year — even when it’s cold outside.”

According to Michael E. Little, vice president of marketing and dealer services with Ice House America LLC, adding additional profit centers like ice vending helps establish a carwash as a one-stop shop offering more than one desirable service to consumers. “Simply speaking, a carwash owner can add an ice and water vending machine and require only minimal additional maintenance, but the location should enjoy an increase in customer traffic,” he notes, adding that this upsurge in business generates the strong possibility for consumers to purchase more services/products — and boost the chances of return business.

“[To create] a long-term income stream from [ice vending], search the Web, call around and ask several manufacturers about their product lines,” advises Lefkowitz. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Manufacturers place machines every day, so use their experience to your advantage.”

Like with most things in life, it is better to research, investigate all options, weigh the pros and cons and decide the best plan of action over simply selecting any ice vending service and hoping for profit. Ice vending machines come in many different types, sizes, speeds, functions, costs, maintenance requirements, etc., and it is important to know the differences to ensure the right machine for the right location.

When it comes to selecting the right size for a carwash, Little offers insight into the three main categories of ice vending: large, medium and small formats.

  • Large format: Large format vending machines are destination-type setups good for driving traffic to a site. They typically hold about 6,500 pounds of ice at any given point, and their ice makers on top can produce anywhere from 4,500 pounds up to 10,000 pounds of ice in a 24-hour period. This format is typically two parking spaces long — about 24 feet — so it is a strong billboard.
  • Mid-sized format: Usually about a parking space in size (12 to 16 feet long) this format has the same type of concept as a large format, but for the tighter spots that can’t host one of the bigger machines.
  • Small format: As far as footprint goes, a small format ice vending machine is going to be very similar to a soda vending machine, around  4 by 3 feet.  This format is more for convenience than destination. With these systems, you typically can do ice and water vending out of the same machine.

He adds, “Assuming you’ve got the property to be able to go with these [ice vending formats], you can create a new destination [for] your location or you can just add some supplemental revenue like you would with a small soda vending machine, depending on how your outlook is for your that business, what your long-term plans are for that business and the location.”

Location, location, location

Another crucial factor to consider when selecting an ice vending machine is location — and subsequently, local demand. Little explains that demographics, the type of trade/businesses nearby, the road’s speed limit and the amount of traffic all come into play.

When determining whether to add an ice vending system, knowing who lives in the area is key to determining if the machine, and what type, is the right move for a wash. Little suggests carwash owners/operators ask themselves, “Who is coming to my site today, who lives around my site and who is driving past it? And, do those demographics fit what an ice vending machine likes to supply?”

Lefkowitz also stresses the importance of demand. “Everyone would like to sell 100 bags per day every day of the year, but that may not be reasonable for your location,” he says. “Given that [ice machines] can run between [$20,000 and $140,000] and up, look for a machine that best suits the demand in your area. If you don’t know what your local demand is, ask the manufacturer representative to help you research.”

Selecting the right system

In addition to considering location and the type of format, owners and operators must investigate the specs of the various ice vending systems available and consider elements such as storage capacity, speed, longevity, initial investment cost as well as the price of the ice and other miscellaneous specifications like if the machine will bag the ice and/or vend it into a cooler. Little and Lefkowitz suggest a carwash select an ice vending system that requires minimal maintenance.

“Everyone wants to simplify their life, including in business,” says Little. “What is simpler than adding incremental income to your existing business without having to add extra employees and a profit center that requires minimal upkeep? The [ice machine] you choose should require very low maintenance, including weekly upkeep including collecting money, refilling bags and general ground upkeep.”

In addition to maintenance, Little notes the key to ice vending  success is choosing systems “that are freestanding, open 24/7, automated destinations and those offering bagged or straight-to-cooler ice that is filtered, clean and made on demand.”

Lefkowitz recommends turning to smart technology to boost success. “Technologically advanced, unattended carwashes can depend upon their drive-thru POS [systems] to remind their customers that ice and purified water are available on-site,” he explains. “These reminders put the focus on your location, and the ice vending does the same for the carwash.”

Most ice vending machines are commonly equipped with near-field communication (NFC) readers, adds Lefkowitz, to allow payment through smart phone applications like Apple Pay. Little reports operators can also use these smart technologies in ice machines to promote free ice days with “blue light specials,” from the smart device, which triggers a blue light to flash on the machine to signify free ice is available. He also explains smart technology can be used to manage the system as efficiently as possible by controlling when ice is vending throughout the day/night.

The opportunities for boosted profitability and productivity by adding additional profit centers like ice vending are vast. “If you feel [ice vending] is a good fit for your business, then go for it,” asserts Lefkowitz. “But just as in any business, good manufacturers will sell you a good machine; great manufacturers will sell you a great machine and keep you happy so that you buy more. Because carwash owners know: Repeat business is the best business.”