There can’t be many car wash and valeting facilities in the world that are guarded by two full-size Transformers but that’s the case at the Inner Space Stations site where you can clean your car under the watchful eyes of Bumblebee and Octopus Prime. Inner Space Stations, winner of the Best Valeting Facilities prize at this year’s Forecourt Trader of the Year Awards, is well known for its sci-fi branding and these two Transformers definitely add excitement to the forecourt’s valeting services. Some might perceive their presence as a mere gimmick but there is nothing gimmicky about the valeting services offered at the site, which draws customers from more than 100 miles away.

Inner Space Stations’ managing director, Graham Kennedy MBE, admits there’s a lot of competition from other car washes: "We have 13 hand car washes in York. They are all operating at a poor standard and most are illegal. We are working with the PRA to try to get the local authorities to investigate them but it’s a bit of a nightmare. However, the reason people come to us is that we simply have a better facility than anyone else. We have five jet-wash bays that are all covered and a unique touchless car wash, which is 100% scratch-free. And because the touchless car wash is so different, people come from as far as Newcastle, 100-plus miles away. They come as a car club. Our car wash is also recommended by the Tesla car club but most of our customers come from York and the surrounding villages."

Over the years, Graham says the company operated many types of car washes before importing the Touchless Wash from the US, in partnership with Washtec.

"It has taken years for touchless wash technology to perfect the cleaning of cars with the use of chemicals and water pressure, combined with heat and dwell time but the advanced system has the capacity to wash the vast majority of cars to an exceptionally high standard and offers three programme levels: The Blast Off, The Supernova and The Outer Limits!"

The Blast Off costs £6.50 and is completed in less than six minutes while The Outer Limits! costs £8.50 and takes less than nine minutes. Graham says 75% of customers opt for the top wash and as a result the machine generates more than £100,000-worth of income a year which he believes is probably one of the highest revenues in the UK from a single machine.

This is extremely impressive and Graham says they prosper because there are now so few good car wash centres left. "Also hand washes are now increasing their prices to the £10-£12 level. We are just about to order a new car wash so we shall see if I am right."

In addition to the touchless car wash, Inner Space Stations offers the Planet Wash facility, comprising five self-valeting bays. Planet Wash was recently refurbished, with £70,000 invested into separate water-feed systems, new pumps and computer-controlled analysis, which can vary the timings according to demand.

The advanced technology enables customers to wash and vacuum their car, check the screen wash, air and fragrance, and even blow-dry their car all from one station. Customers can switch between options at any time and even pause their session.

"The self-valeting bays, which work on a time-sell system, also produce income of over £100,000 per annum and are in constant demand," says Graham. "The jet washes are particularly attractive to young men with souped-up cars. Taxis are also regular users and we offer discounts to taxi drivers, NHS and service personnel.

Inner Space Stations promotes the car wash through a loyalty stamp card, which gives users one free wash after collecting five stamps. In addition, anyone spending more than £25 in the store (including on fuel) gets a 20% discount.

Time for touchless

Robert Lisle, business development manager at Wilcomatic, reckons touchless washing creates a whole new world of possibilities. "Over the years, technology has progressed at a rapid rate. There was always the debate between pressure and chemicals. Some manufacturers believed that the only way to create a fully touchless clean was to soak the vehicle in strong chemicals designed to skirt the limit between cleaning paintwork and removing it. Others believed that bombarding the surface of the vehicle with concentrated high-pressure jets was the only way to effectively remove dirt deposits. The engineers at Christ Wash Systems have been working tirelessly trialling different technologies, methods and chemicals to create the ultimate touchless wash system the Aquatus available from Wilcomatic."

Lisle says the Aquatus is a system that can truly deliver a touchless wash and it does it by effective use of chemicals and high pressure.

"The controlled high-pressure system is an innovation that ensures effective cleaning while still being gentle on paintwork. The combination of pressure, rotating jets, oscillating nozzles and contour-following manifolds ensures that every millimetre of the vehicle is reached by the array of jets. Up to 300 l/min of water at a pressure of around 70 bar means that nothing is left behind by the cleaning process.

"Chemicals are a concept that rely on coverage, dwell time and strength. The Aquatus range of machines not only has all-round jets for chemical application, but it also has the ability to follow the contours of the vehicle. This means that no surface is left untouched. By re-organising the standard sequence of events for a wash, we are able to create the maximum dwell time without extending the overall programme cycle time. The longer it is in contact with the vehicle surfaces, the more effective the clean. By using these two methods, less aggressive chemicals can be used and therefore safeguard against any dulling of paint and chrome."

However, Lisle adds that for those dealers who remain skeptical of the viability of a touchless wash, Wilcomatic can provide the Aquatus Prime.

"Unrivalled performance in both concepts of washing means this machine will appeal to customers at both ends of the washing spectrum. This can result in not only more washes, but more revenue for your site. This is the reason that these machines are appearing in more locations around the country."

Preferred supplier

This year has been a good one for Istobal UK, which has increased its partnership with Motor Fuel Group (MFG) to become the car wash preferred supplier of the largest independent forecourt operator in the UK. MFG renewed its contract with Istobal which includes the supply of car wash machines and chemical products, as well as maintenance services, for another three years. Thanks to this latest agreement, around 30 Istobal M’Start rollovers and 95 single-bay jet wash systems, vacuum cleaners and air units are being installed onto MFG sites.

In addition, the contract extends Istobal’s chemical top-up service to the sites that MFG acquired from MRH. Istobal now supplies its Esens-branded chemical product line to 305 car washes, 280 jet wash systems, as well as its fragrance line in vacuum units and screen wash fluid for air units.

In a separate move, Morrisons has entered into a revenue-share agreement for the supply of 138 Istobal M’Start and Flex5 rollovers into their network, all with the Smartwash management system and contactless/app payment facilities.

Tom Byrne, sales director at Istobal UK, says: "This year has seen a great resurgence in car wash purchases from Istobal and this is due to us being able to offer our customers innovative state-of-the-art rollovers, jet wash systems, vacuum and air equipment, complete with market-leading service back-up.

"We are also able to assist our customers through our Smartwash digital management system, which allows them to plan promotions, evaluate breakdowns and services, visualise revenues by programme and trends and much more."

Byrne says that around 200 M’Start machines were purchased this year: "This model combines quality, high performance and flexible programming which allows customers to adapt their needs and requirements. It is available in four different lengths, it has on-board high-pressure, gloss polish and a superb drying system. We have also witnessed great growth in our jet-wash sales with the Istobal N’Joypack series, because petrol retailers are investing heavily in upgrading their jet wash equipment or adding additional bays."

As for looking after a car wash facility, Byrne believes it’s important that retailers have a comprehensive service agreement in place, that their sites are kept immaculately clean, the site promotions are frequent and updated regularly, and that the staff are fully engaged with the selling of car-wash services.

"A car-wash facility carries more profit per sale than any other item sold within the shop for the same value," he says, adding that Istobal can help with developing marketing plans and promotions so that they maximise their assets. And by using the Smartwash digital management system, retailers can offer promotions and loyalty through the Istobal app.

Next generation

There’s no doubting the fact that some car owners prefer a jet wash to a fully automated car wash. Active Carwash Supplies Ltd (Active CWS) has been working with PTC Services to bring the ’next generation’ jet wash called Electrajet to the forecourt market. Already over 700 Electrajet machines have been installed in Scotland in high- volume car washing installations such as car auctions and main dealer centres. More recently the machines have been appearing on forecourts in the Midlands.

Tony Davies, director of Active CWS, says that what differentiates the Electrajet machine from current market offerings is the fact that it has designed with longevity and robustness in mind. "Built from heavy gauge stainless steel it has welded seams for even more strength," he says. "The Electrajet machine has two additional features that will build repeat use and offer enhanced customer experience. The first is a separate snow foam gun, because all customers love snow foam. The second feature is a dedicated wheel-cleaning gun.

The machine also features a separate hot foam brush and the rinse lance. Davies says this rinse lance features arguably the highest pressure of any jet wash on the market.

The machines feature robust locks and a strong cash safe but can also come equipped with a Nyax touchless credit/debit card reader or a Codex system, catering for any method of payment while reducing opportunities for theft or damage.

"Perhaps the most striking feature is the least apparent and visible," explains Davies. "Every Electrajet machine is individually password-protected which means it’s only accessible by the site owner/operator.

"They can adjust and set any operating parameter using the customer display screen on the front of the machine."

Benefits of touchless car washes

Leighton Ricketts, sales director at Nushine outlines the key benefits of switching to a touchless car wash:
Vehicle damage almost eradicated. With no brushes, the chances of damaging a vehicle are greatly reduced.
A great clean in hard-to-reach places. Touchless washes are still able to reach rear number plates, behind the door handles and other recesses to give a great clean.
Fast wash times. Our touchless washes can clean, wax and dry a vehicle in just two minutes.
Ability to operate in freezing conditions. Touchless washes can actually operate in freezing conditions, so no lost revenue when it gets cold!
More profitable than a hand wash. Washing a car by hand is slow and only as good as the hand washer doing the job, so bits can get missed. A hand car wash gives a profit margin of about 15% but a touchless automatic wash has a typical profit margin of 75-80%.
Our touchless automatic car washes have a typical lifespan of about 15 years. This is due to the stainless steel and aluminium construction of the framework and the fact there are very few moving parts.
They are perfect for unattended sites. Touchless washes do not make contact with a car so the risk of trapping a customer is massively reduced. No more tripped-out brushes on tow hitches and spoilers either so it is a great option for unattended sites.
Good touchless washes make more money. We typically see the revenue at least double when sites move from a brush wash or hybrid to a touchless wash.

Understanding unattended payment kiosks

Effective payment kiosk systems are more important than ever for car wash businesses, according to PSD Codax. The company explains that payment systems and integrations are no longer an optional luxury bonus for businesses, but rather a key piece of business equipment that is a minimal requirement for operation.
In addition to simply receiving payments, businesses may need to have the systems in place to track sales performance and business insights for multiple locations to make strategic decisions moving forward.
PSD Codax says unattended payment systems have become increasingly more valuable for car washes that want to scale or that have multiple locations. Payment systems make it easy to collect revenue and increase profits per location (and per device) and to understand what is working and what isn’t working in the business.
Some benefits of unattended payment systems include: improved customer experience with immediate purchase at wash; increased wash volume; mobile wallet and contactless electronic payment methods acceptance; sync sales and business data seamlessly and in real time; understand sales performance per location across entire network; track and monitor operational issues in real time; sync sales data with a CRM to track customer loyalty; seamlessly reward loyal customers at the kiosk; multi-lingual capabilities (particularly important for international expansion); track equipment uptime performance; easier accounting and bookkeeping; track new promotions in real time; advanced reporting; and PCI payment compliance. PSD Codax says its mission is to help grow car-wash businesses through innovative technology. It says it has worked specifically with pos system manufacturers to create a simple but effective integration option so retailers can collect key data from almost any sales desk. By integrating your pos system with a PSD Codax car-wash payment system, the firm says it can ensure you extract the valuable data in a user-friendly way, making interpretation and action quick and easy.

Driving up hand car wash and valeting standards

The Responsible Car Wash Scheme (RCWS), developed to drive up standards in the hand car wash and valeting industry, is a multi-agency/industry collaboration managed by the Downstream Fuel Association.
The RCWS Industry Code of Practice provides a framework for operators to work to, and a tool for landlords to assess the compliance of their supplier.
Teresa Sayers, managing director of RCWS, says: "There is growing pressure from within the hand car wash industry to improve standards and to bring all sites up to a level playing field. Furthermore, it is important for compliant sites to get recognition and this is likely to be a major driver in raising standards.
"The RCWS intends to harness this momentum to bring about positive change."
Having completed a trial with supermarket sites in the West Midlands earlier this year, the RCWS has been focusing on engagement with independent operators.
"We’ve worked with a major fuel retailer to provide an assessment of the independent car wash operators on their forecourts and, most recently, worked with the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit, under Operation Flinch, targeting independent sites within a local policing area.
"This operation saw the RCWS working with Thames Valley Police visiting sites within the Slough area to collect intelligence, promote the Responsible Car Wash Scheme and to invite operators to a workshop regarding the RCWS and its Code of Practice."
Sayers says the workshop was well received with over 70% of the sites visited being represented with both operators and landlords attending. "Following this workshop, we are now supporting sites as they work towards RCWS accreditation.
"And following the success of Operation Flinch, the RCWS is working with police forces across the UK with the aim of rolling the campaign out within other policing regions. This will complement our continued engagement with supermarkets, petrol retailers and other major landlords.
"To support our work we will promote the RCWS to consumers to educate them on their choice of car wash."

Car Wash Show Europe 2019

Nearly 2,300 people from over 54 different countries visited the Car Wash Show Europe when it was held at De Kromhouthal in Amsterdam in September. The Show hosted more than 60 exhibitors and included 12 different presentations.
The event also included a Car Wash Tour, where three buses of visitors went to three different sites in Zaandam, Purmerend and Wormerveer with car washes from DICO, Holz and WashTec.
During the Show, the Car Wash Hall of Fame Awards were held and the PRA’s Brian Madderson, who is also chairman of the UK’s Car Wash Association, was honoured with a Distinguished Achievement Award for his work in the fight against illegal handwashes. The next Car Wash Show Europe will take place in 2021.