With the closure of many hand car washes, there has never been a better time to be in the automated car wash business
Fraser’s Budgens of Marlborough was the winner of the Best Valeting Facilities accolade at the Forecourt Trader of the Year Awards 2021 and it’s easy to see why. It is a well-established site, built in 2012, which has always had excellent valeting facilities. But last year – during the pandemic – it reinvented itself with a new £200,000 Jet Wash Centre. Previously it had two jet washes and a rollover; today it still has the rollover but the two jet washes have been replaced by four undercover jet wash bays.
The Jet Wash Centre has been a big hit since it opened, bringing new people to the site and interestingly, the rollover has actually got busier since the Jet Wash Centre opened.
Fraser’s director Jonathan Fraser explains: “I think this is because people see us as a ‘destination’ for valeting now, so customers have a choice – rollover or jet wash. We have customers who prefer one over the other but often if the rollover is not available, people will use the jet wash and vice versa. And people using the valeting facilities also use the shop. It’s hard to quantify what this means in terms of sales but a lot of people have a coffee while they’re washing their car.”
Washtec supplied Fraser’s with the rollover and also supplied the new Jet Wash Centre. Says Jonathan: “We have a strong relationship with Washtec and have found their rollovers to be amazingly reliable. We knew they offered jet washes in Austria and Germany but not in the UK so we went and had a look and chose them to put in the equipment here.”
The rollover offers four different washes. Top price is £7.99 and Jonathan says this is the most favoured option. The Fraser’s loyalty card gives members half-price washes three days a week, and this is a very popular offer. With the jet wash £2 buys four minutes wash time and Jonathan says typical spend is £6-£8. The jet wash is contactless and the rollover will go contactless in the New Year when the machine is upgraded. Jonathan says the rollover and jet washes are all easy to use, but staff are always on hand to help anyone who needs it. The jet washes have colour-coded instructions to match the colour of the hoses for ease of use. There is also a step-by-step guide. And in each jet wash bay, there are hand sanitising units to help with hygiene.
“When using the lightweight lances, customers have the option of skipping certain steps if they only need a quick wash. There is also signage, advertising the power foam option – a snow-like detergent which ensures the cars are cleaned to the highest standard and is very much the USP of this wash,” explains Jonathan.
Externally the new Jet Wash Centre is hard to miss. Customers can clearly see the ‘Marlborough Jet Wash Centre’ sign and this, combined with the signage advertising half-price car washes for loyalty club members leaves no doubt that this is the place to wash your car. All of this is well- advertised across the site, with a video on the pump screens, as well as on social media, ensuring customers and potential customers are well aware of the offering.
As well as the Jet Wash Centre and rollover, the store has a bank of high-quality vacuums.
Michael Franks, director at Electrajet, believes now is definitely the time to get back into the car wash market. “Self-service car washing is experiencing huge growth. With the number of hand car washes decreasing, customers are actively looking for a quality alternative,” he explains.
Car wash is an integral part of the business at Ascona Group’s forecourts. The fast-growing company has 50 sites of which nine have rollovers and 22 have jet washes. Of those 22 jet washes, the vast majority are supplied by Electrajet. Colin Russell, director of valeting and sales at Ascona, says: “We were looking for something new and different and Electrajet provided us with that.
“For a start, the machines have an LCD display across the top which can show customers videos about the machine or can be used to promote other products.
“The Electrajet machines are contactless which was important because of Covid and means less handling of cash and coins, plus it helps deter vandalism and theft.
“Other features include a wheel cleaner which breaks up the brake dust – it turns from white to red as it works. There is snow foam, which is popular, and a high-pressure reverse osmosis streak-free rinse which means drivers are not left with spots on their cars.”
Colin says car washing has always been profitable but agrees with Franks that with fewer hand car washes around, business is booming.
Ascona customers buy time for the jet wash which means they pay £2, £4, £6 or £8 according to how much time they want. Colin says the average spend works out to just over £4. “Buy time is good because it means if someone misses a spot on their car they can go back to it.”
And he says he is very happy with Electrajet as their machines are popular and very reliable.
Franks says their jet washes with additional features are proven to increase site revenue. “Our jet wash is the only machine available in the UK with a genuine pure water final rinse and dedicated wheel cleaner applicator,” he explains. “And we have recently introduced an LED advertising screen for the top of the jet wash, that draws attention to the machine and can be used to highlight in-store promotions.”
On the rollover side, Ascona has Istobal machines which he describes as “absolutely brilliant”. Colin says: “Some of our sites have a rollover and a jet wash and this is important as some people want to do the washing themselves while others like to sit in their cars and have it done for them.”
Electrajet’s Franks’ advice to forecourt retailers is simple: “Make sure your valeting facilities are a welcoming option for customers. The bays should be clean andwell lit, and the equipment checked daily to make sure you’re offering a consistently high service.”
RCWS commitment to raising industry standards
The Responsible Car Wash Scheme (RCWS) is working on a pilot with Nottingham Trent University (NTU) to test the efficacy of a range of different interventions in raising standards across the industry. This has seen the RCWS working in partnership with the police and a local council in one location, and the RCWS working alone targeting hand car washes in a different local council area.
RCWS managing director, Teresa Sayers, explains: “Working in partnership with the police and the local council, using their powers of civil inspection, resulted in a significantly higher level of operator engagement, with two sites being awarded RCWS accreditation and four other sites currently working to provide the evidence to support their application.
“In comparison, the RCWS working alone, resulted in limited engagement, with operators providing misinformation during the visit and subsequent engagements.”
In another strand of the pilot, working in a separate local council, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority identified and contacted landlords with tenant car washes, highlighting the propensity of car washes for labour exploitation as well as other regulatory and criminal activity.
The pilot is being independently evaluated by NTU and the resulting report will be finalised in the New Year.
Apps drive motorists to car washes
If you’re keen to boost traffic to your car wash then you should consider signing up to an app such as GoWash or myAutomate.
With most people glued to their smartphones most of the time, nowadays they expect to be able to find everything they need via an app.
Apps such as GoWash direct drivers to a nearby car wash that takes payment via the GoWash app, but it also includes price lists, services and opening times
Petrol retailers can sign up for free on the GoWash website, where it says the app can help attract new customers and also give you access to fleet customers who only wash their cars at GoWash sites.
GoWash recently declared its support for the Responsible Car Wash Scheme (RCWS), by encouraging car wash sites joining its nationwide network to achieve RCWS accreditation.
Jonny Billing, founder of GoWash, says: “Concerns over irregularity in this industry have increased public interest and, in tandem with the RCWS pilot project, our team at GoWash is supporting the push for better regulation.”
Teresa Sayers, managing director, RCWS, says: “Payment methods offered by car washes are one of the main indicators of whether they are operating as legitimate businesses. Cash-only payment could be a sign of non-compliance with business or employment regulations.
“The GoWash app provides transparency over business transactions and convenience to the public looking to find and pay for a car wash nearby.”
The myAutomate app is also free for retailers to sign up to. Earlier this year the app announced a new partnership with IMO which gives its users access to a further 240-plus car wash locations across the UK.