01 December, 2004
Unless retailers look after their facilities on a daily basis, car wash business could become a wash-out
Car washing offers the most impressive margins on the forecourt, but with retailers placing a greater focus on their shops, equipment is being neglected by many operators, according to UK car wash suppliers.
Mike Ambrose, managing director of Car Wash UK, says: “With shops turning over so much of retailers’ businesses, shop sales have more of the emphasis now, which is not a bad thing, but it means that they have neglected the car wash side of the business.“Car washing is a service that customers want but operators need to make sure the facility is always available and is kept nice and clean. Retailers also need to get more professional in selling the facility because some aren’t getting the full potential out of it.“I think retailers are trying though, but it’s a continual thing and they must keep investing in signage and point of sale because cashiers are so busy getting customers through the petrol station.”What retailers could do to improve their car wash facilities, says Ambrose, is more basic daily housekeeping: “Operators have got to walk through the wash bay every day and see if they can do it without slipping over,” he says. “Walk right round the forecourt and see what the customer sees. Litter makes the machine stop working and it’s difficult to clean a car wash if it gets too dirty because of all the limescale. It’s also important to always have plenty of chemicals and foam.“Operators should watch the car wash once a day to check it’s working properly and listen for any strange noises. Customers don’t know one machine from another so the most important thing from a customer’s point of view is, is it working? They’re not too bothered about the make. If customers go to the site two or three times and the car wash isn’t working, they will assume it’s broken and never return.”When it comes to the marketing of car wash facilities, Ambrose says the single biggest thing an operator could do when a customer comes in to buy their wash is to always sell them the top wash. “The bottom wash has to be cheap and competitive for particularly price-sensitive customers such as taxi drivers, who would be high users, but there are some customers who will always want the best so the top wash isn’t that price sensitive, it’s service sensitive and is where you make the profit,” he says.“Retailers have got to tell staff what each programme does and the benefits they bring. They should get cashiers to offer the top wash first off or automatically give them the top wash unless they say otherwise. Incentivising staff is always good – the operator could give them 50p a wash if they sell the top wash, for example.”A spokesman for Washtec, meanwhile, says that paying more attention to daily housekeeping could also save money in the long run: “None of the housekeeping tasks are difficult but if operators carry out the work on a regular basis they can ensure the maximum up-time for their car washes and reduce the cost of the service visits by engineers. We produce a simple guide of the work involved and train and encourage all our customers to follow these guidelines.”Wilcomatic, in partnership with Otto Christ, is offering retailers a free 35-page booklet giving advice on how to improve car wash revenue, make customers loyal, and promote the facility. It offers tips on active selling, staff motivation, promotions, customer communication, competitor analysis and advertising.As well as keeping car wash facilities clean and tidy, service contracts are another must for operators. A contract on an automatic car wash can cost anywhere between £3,000 and £4,000 depending on the level of service.“Service is a very important part of a car wash operator’s purchase requirements,” says Peter Spencer, managing director of Atlantis International, which distributes the Istobal and Karcher ranges of car washes in the UK. “The car wash machine may be the best thing since sliced bread, but if the supplier can’t fix it should it breakdown, then it becomes a white elephant.“A car wash is an electro-mechanical device and therefore is prone to breakdown,” he adds. “While the car wash service provider will do everything possible to get to the site quickly, the call will be wasted if the fault is a simple one which could be remedied by the retailer.”Atlantis reports that one of the biggest causes of ‘abortive’ call-outs is chemicals, or more importantly, lack of them. “Many calls we receive are ‘No Faults Found’, where something other than the machine has failed,” says Spencer. “This may be something simple such as the power or compressor has been switched off, which is easily fixed by the site. The biggest issue, however, is the site reporting poor wash or dry quality, mainly due to the chemicals not having been topped up that morning.”Atlantis says that traditionally ‘What to do if...’ diagrams were issued with each machine, so the customer could easily identify a fault, but developments in the internet and communications, particularly SMS, (text messaging) mean that the machine can now tell suppliers when it has failed rather then the site having to report a fault in the usual way.Atlantis operates such a system for ExxonMobil, where faults are reported via GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) and logged on the Atlantis service database. Wash volumes can also be collected in this way for analysis and reporting.“Reporting of car wash performance is vital to large car wash operators,” says Spencer. “They want to know the ins and outs of how their investment is performing against pre-determined criteria. Car wash suppliers are now asked to provide a suite of reports each month reporting on areas such as wash volumes, hours out of action, response time, first-fix rate, type of fault, accident damage, fix time and most importantly, total downtime.”During the busiest washing season – winter – the most important thing for an operator to check is that the frost protection system is operating correctly. Spencer says: “The frost protection system is designed to ensure that water retained in the pipes and machine doesn’t freeze. It is not a system that allows you to keep washing in sub-zero temperatures. For that, you need a heated bay and building with either a grated or heated floor.”To ensure your frost protection system won’t shut down your machine prematurely, have your service provider check your settings, which is something they should be doing as part of your winter service.GROWING COMPETITIONMarketing and servicing becomes increasingly important as forecourt retailers face growing competition from standalone operators and hand washing businesses. “Hand wash facilities could be a potential problem because people who are worried about machinery damaging their cars will use them,” says Car Wash UK’s Mike Ambrose. “Car park washing – where they operate from a shopping trolley – is a problem because of the convenience factor.”David Leng, sales executive at Ryko, says: “To some extent the success of hand washing indicates that the motorist likes the human touch.” And Leng adds that the standalone operators such as ARC also bring benefits because they have somebody on hand at the car wash to guide and advise the customer.“Everybody feels more comfortable and women especially are more likely to use a wash that has an attendant,” he says. “The attendant is not just there to greet customers but should be employed in order to add value to the wash by carrying out prep work, cleaning those areas of the car that are especially dirty with a lance wash, or perhaps finishing the car by drying the windscreen.”But while there is interest in setting up standalone car washing centres, growth has generally been slow, bar ARC, claims Leng. “There are a number of operators with small chains and the desire to expand but this expansion is usually restricted by the difficulty in finding suitable sites in the right location,” he says. “Sites are available, however the competition comes from the usual sources, fast food chains or for residential use where the return is much quicker, and as a result, prices are too steep, sometimes over £1m for a minimal site.”SYSTEM UPDATEHelping to keep retailers competitive in the car washing arena, suppliers continue to develop the products available to forecourts, and rollover car washes remain the most popular automatic system on the forecourt.The Primus is Wilcomatic’s most popular rollover wash in the Christ C150 range. Recent enhancements to this model include new side jets so that the air stream reaches the vehicle’s contours at every angle, even the so-called problem zones such as mirrors and side skirts.On the wheel-wash unit, the standard scissor technique has been replaced by a new linear technique, which means that pressure is evenly applied to the wheel rims, and the oscillated movement (changing of rotational direction) removes even tough-to-rid grime and residue.As we approach the prime washing season, speed of wash and minimising car wash queues becomes a bigger issue. Wilcomatic is now offering what it claims to be Europe’s fastest single-gantry car wash, offering a full wash and dry in just two minutes 30 seconds. In partnership with Otto Christ, it has launched the racer upgrade package for the Christ C150 Primus. The racer upgrade package features an extendable pair of telescopic foam nozzles to soak the car in thick foam during the brush wash pass. The car is then dried by increased blower capacity to both the sides as well as the roof to give the perfect dry quality in one pass.“Wash and dry times can be reduced by up to 40% giving more profit on peak washing days, reduced costs from the installation and maintenance of a single-arch machine as opposed to a twin gantry and more satisfied customers prepared to take the top programme but not prepared to have to wait,” says Kevin Pay, managing director of Wilcomatic.Other rollovers in the Christ range include the C152 Primus 1+1 – a double-gantry machine with separate washing and drying sections; and the C115 Autojet, designed for forecourts who want a multi-speed machine with programme flexibility. Nearly 80% of car washes supplied by Wilcomatic to the forecourt industry are also sold with the patented jointed brush, which is said to offer a high-quality clean to the entire side of the vehicle. The patented design is available on the Christ C115 Autojet, C150 Primus and C152 1+1 twin arch ranges.Istobal, meanwhile, has launched a new corporate identity to accompany a new product range from the entry-level M7+ to the “state-of-the-art extremely-quick” M18+. The + (Plus) range of machines features a number of new innovations such as slow and quick speeds, more powerful drying, quieter drive systems and better remote diagnostics. Within the Istobal range, the M12+, with more features, will be the choice of many medium- to high-volume forecourts.Karcher has also recently launched the first of three new car wash machines – the CB1. The CB1 includes many new features such as sealed-for-life drive motors and gearboxes, and very low maintenance bearings. The CB1 is targeted at the entry-level car wash operators, with more comprehensive machines to come in 2005. Both Istobal and Karcher machines are distributed in the UK by Atlantis International.Meanwhile, the Premier Plus five-brush rollover from Ryko has been a successful choice for Tesco sites. This aluminium machine is very durable having a design life of some 400,000 washes. It is quick and smooth in operation and can carry out an eight-pass programme in five minutes. This top programme includes TriFoam (three-colour foam) for great visual effect and a pre-wash to remove mud and grime prior to the soft washing action of the FoamBrite brushes.For a practical three-brush machine offering different options to assist in maximising revenue then the Ryko Excel offers TriFoam, and ‘Side Hydrobot’ – a 120-bar pencil jet pre-wash that moves up and down as the wash passes down the car to ensure effective removal of mud before the brush cycle. The Excel also has a new polishing programme, where a special hard wax is polished onto the car by the brushes after the car has been washed and dried.The special wax is said to provide a longer lasting shine and improved protection of the cars’ paint surface.With the Ceccato range of car washes – distributed in the UK by Car Wash UK – there are four different rollover machines. The Aries – starting from £22,500 including Codax – is a multi-programme machine offering wash, wheel wash, foam-bath and wax ‘n’ dry. “The outstanding reliability comes from the simple, patented swing design of the brushes and the dryers,” says Mike Ambrose.One of the unique options available on the Aries model is a central lubrication pump that greases all the bearings at once when you pull down the handle. Fewer parts to break means fewer to mend, so service contracts on the Aries are available at a 20% discount for the life of the machine.The Orion is the latest model from the Ceccato factory, and has multi-channel current-sensors to provide perfect pressure control for the side brushes as well as the top brush. The machine is priced at £25,000 including a Codax system.The Advant Plus from Ceccato has composite doors and fascia panels, microprocessor-controlled overlapping side brushes, contour-following roof dryer, fixed side dryers and current-sensing on the main brushes, as well as optional high-pressure touchless programmes. Other options include remote diagnostics and low chemical alarms for when shampoo levels run low. Prices start at £27,500 including Codax.Car Wash UK has just installed two Advant Plus machines at two Fuelforce Jet sites – one in Morpeth, Northumberland, and the other at Dolphin Filling Station in Cockfosters, Hertfordshire. These are two of several other Fuelforce sites scheduled to be equipped with similar facilities in the coming months, representing a £1m investment for the independent chain.The Challenge is similar in design to the Advant with two separate moving arches performing the washing and drying functions simultaneously. A patented option enables product to be applied from both arches at the same time. “The Challenge is designed for really busy sites where there is a requirement to wash and dry a car in only 2.5 minutes,” says Ambrose.Washtec, meanwhile, supplies a range of car washes from basic entry-level models up to conveyors and includes the twin-gantry Juno, which is said to be one of the fastest car washes available in a bay as short as nine metres in length.The company’s Softcare range comes in two models – Softcare Intro and Softcare Pro. The Intro version is designed to meet the needs of small petrol stations with low operating costs, minimum maintenance requirements and a high level of reliability. The Pro version incorporates top-grade technology including self-diagnostics of all the important components to ensure maximum operational availability.CONVEYER CAR WASHESWith fewer service stations serving the same volume, David Leng from Ryko says this is affecting retailers’ choice of machine, and as such there has been more interest in conveyor car washing.“We have just commissioned a new Ryko Super Vista Conveyor Wash in Keighley for the Kay Group,” says Leng. “This machine has been installed to meet the client’s view that car washing is a growing market and he required more capacity than can be provided by a single or a twin-frame rollover.“Conveyor washes like the Super Vista can wash over 60 cars per hour and one of the benefits of the Super Vista is that it comes complete with its own enclosure and with electric doors for security.”Wilcomatic, meanwhile, supplies the Christ and Belanger conveyor car washes. The Christ modular system has a pre-wash zone, main wash zone with either textile or brush wash, after-treatment zone, drying zone and exit zone.JET WASHINGJet wash facilities are largely considered a must-see on UK forecourts. And the DDA (Disabled Disability Act 2004) introduced in October 2004 has far reaching implications for fuel retailers, and relates to coin/token-operated equipment, which includes Jet washes. Atlantis’s Peter Spencer says: “Any jet wash where the coin mechanism is not positioned one metre from the floor could be a problem. Our new Revolution jet wash fully complies with this new act to allow disabled users to use it without any danger to the operator.”Most car wash suppliers offer jet washes but THI-Manufacturing claims its most successful jet wash is the ‘A Wash with Colour’ triple-coloured foam machine because it offers retailers a point of difference. “The triple foam unit allows the retailer to offer something different to his customers that will attract them to his site rather than the one down the road,” says Peter Heaton, managing director of THI. “It doesn’t wash the car any better than the standard foam, but as a marketing tool it really brings in the customers. It only costs a little more than the standard machine, but has massive benefits.CONTROL SYSTEMSRetail car washing services provide operators with a high-margin business of around 75-80% but with poor controls of the income and usage, there are risks of loss of revenue from areas such as: give-aways; under reporting; over-booking of test washes by engineers and station staff; black sales; inadequate reconciliation of machine usage compared to actual reported income; unauthorised use of equipment; price control; maintenance issues related to unreliable card readers.PSD Codax is now well established as the market leader and industry standard for car wash income and access control throughout Europe, and PSD’s managing director Graham Round claims that the team at PSD has significant know-how when it comes to producing control systems for car wash and associated equipment. Round says it’s not just about replacing the traditional card reader; added features within the control system should help retailers to introduce marketing promotions, especially when discounting.Recent additions to the Codax system are an Off-peak Sales feature and Multi-use Access Tickets. And for the future is an internet-connected Virtual Ticket Issue Terminal. “This innovation will further extend the ability to be creative with ticket life, usage and remote sales, plus offer centralised reporting,” says Round.He also claims that PSD’s Codax system has greatly increased the reliability of car wash equipment. And over the past 18 months PSD has been working with many of the leading point of sale manufacturers and together they have developed links between Codax and the POS terminal.“The use of tokens and/or cash on the forecourt is becoming history,” says Round. “A number of major retailers have also seen great benefits by extending the Codax system to include jet wash, vacuum and tyre inflators. There are many benefits in adding this tried and tested technology to such equipment making life much simpler for customers.”The car wash industry is continuing to change and innovate to meet the requirements of the motorist, says Ryko’s David Leng, and those sites that are applying the same attention to detail that they have used so successfully in forecourt shops, are finding that car washing continues to be a most important profit centre.