Mike Perry: Does it seem ironic or problematic that carwash manufacturers are making very functional equipment, yet operators seem to be washing fewer cars now at their sites than they were ten years ago?
Paul Fazio: This question is very interesting because it depends on who you ask as to whether guys are washing more or less cars than 10 years ago. The business is not the same as it was ten years ago. The face of the conveyorized industry is not the same as it was ten years ago. Yes there are some locations doing less volume but I would tell you there are more washes today than ten years ago doing more than 100,000 cars a year. There are more doing 200,000 a year. There are more doing 300,000 than ten years ago – and in cities and states that ten years ago we all would have said could never happen. Doing it today the way you did ten years ago may be the issue – or at least part of it. There is more competition today. The ICA consumer studies show the mindset is different than ten years ago. Those studies also show there are 12% more people washing professionally than in their driveway than 10 years ago. So it isn’t that the market is shrinking. According to the studies, you just need to be appealing to that group and they will come.
Mike Perry: How would you compare equipment function and “wash quality” for full-service tunnels and express wash operators?
Paul Fazio: The express model needs cars to come out clean, dry and shiny with no labor. Why wouldn’t you do the same for full service and just use your labor as needed for the extra services that you get paid to deliver? Labor is expensive.
To get a consistent product in a consistent time should be delivered by machinery not people. And more and more full serves are adding an exterior lane. Even more reason to deliver that clean car with the same machinery. For a full serve to compete today they need to deliver a great product consistently and professionally in under 15 minutes. So again, the same package.
Mike Perry: Assuming an operator has a good piece of dirt, why should that investor build one type of wash versus the other one?
Paul Fazio: Any location evaluation is going to look at the market, the competition, the demographics etc. Then a recommendation is made as to what model or models of operation would work there. But typically the investor has a model in mind and wants to make sure the site analysis works for that model. You’re not going to convince an investor that wants to build an express to go full service. Typically they won’t budge. You can tell them yes or no for that site and what you would build. But if they are set on a type, they will keep looking until they find a site that works for their vision. It goes to their personal definition of success, and based on the numbers we discussed before, for 80% that means express.
Mike Perry: What will be the next “breakthrough” in the tunnel market?
Paul Fazio: There are two “breakthroughs” out there now that will continue to gain traction and make a difference. One is the mini tunnel. I believe with time this segment will grow and take share from in-bay and self-serve, as well as move large operators into smaller towns to expand and solidify their brand. The second is these new high end polishes and waxes being delivered on-line. Done correctly, they are helping operators bring their ticket averages up significantly making for a much stronger bottom line. This can take a site from being marginal financially to being very profitable. That is why to me this qualifies as a breakthrough.
Mike Perry: Your Car Wash College plays such a critical role in the success of tunnel and express wash operators. Have you been surprised by the industry’s response to this important value-added innovation?
Paul Fazio: It took years for operators to trust that there really was a lot to gain by using the College. Now we have several clients that make the CarWash College courses mandatory to become a manager at their locations. That way they know their employee is getting the same level of education and can be held accountable for the full curriculum taught by the college. It puts all their people on the same foundation. It gives them a great chance to make sure that the processes and procedures are adhered to and gives them operations that are more effectively and efficiently managed. Classes are well attended now and we are proud of the level of instruction given at the school. We love the idea of having a way to give what we have learned over our 60 plus years as operators to other carwash professionals. CarWash College was at the top of my father’s list of what he was most proud of at Sonny’s. He loved knowing we were doing something very tangible to contribute to making our clients more successful.
Mike Perry: Do you see any real or potential threats looming in an uncertain future which could negatively impact upon suppliers like Sonny’s?
Paul Fazio: The economy is the real issue. Is it going to continue to get better? According to the ICA numbers, we saw the conveyor niche shrink from approximately $135MM in total equipment sales to $85MM. That’s a drop of over 35%. We have seen the niche slowly gaining ground these last few years. Hopefully we will see continued growth. There is always change in the competitive landscape but that is expected. It’s the outside, unexpected event that can keep you up at night.
Mike Perry: What advice would you give operators with six to 10 year old machines?
Paul Fazio: This is typically an in-bay question since in the tunnel business 6 – 10 years with proper maintenance is no big deal. Usually the client makes a change to keep up with a new advancement. At the last show everyone was looking at the different wash materials, the cloth drying machines at the exit end of the tunnel and the new extra service arches like the LAVA process. So all I would say to guys with older equipment is make sure you add the pieces you need to stay current. And make sure the presentation is still fresh.
Mike Perry: When do you think it makes sense for an operator to replace a current carwash?
Paul Fazio: It is essential that your facility look appealing. You definitely want to make sure your cars are clean, dry and shiny. You certainly want to take advantage of the latest pieces that will make you more efficient and add to your bottom line. With our clients, we try to make sure our new item introductions and improvements can be added to their existing equipment, making it more of an upgrade than a replacement. It saves them money and keeps them current. But with properly maintained tunnel standard equipment pieces, we have clients that go more than 20 years of use before needing to replace them.
Mike Perry: What one thing would you like to see your customers do better the second half of this year?
Paul Fazio: Focus on the basics. Sometimes we get so caught up in the latest new thing that we lose sight of the basics. If we stay really good at the basics it gives us a great foundation to build from. So as you look at these new waxes etc. don’t forget it’s a waste of time unless you are putting out a great car in a clean facility every day.
Mike Perry: What one thing would you like to see Sonny’s do better?
Paul Fazio: One thing! There are too many to list. In the last 2 years we started over. New software, new machinery, new processes etc. I want to see us do everything better. We are the largest in the world when it comes to conveyorized equipment sales, and yet I believe we can perform better. I think we made it this far because we are from the industry, we care, and we are never satisfied. I wish there was only one thing!
For more information on Sonny’s The Car Wash Factory, including catalogs, and other Free resources for operators, visit their website: www.sonnysdirect.com.