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    Ready to Go More Pro?

    C-stores can go head to head with professional car-wash businesses.

    By Renee M. Covino, Convenience Store News

    NATIONAL REPORT — If you’re a convenience store operator already hooked up to a car wash, but you want to create additional sales and customer loyalty, you may be part of the rising group that’s in a “shift” phase, approaching the level of a more professional car wash.

    “The key operators are looking at what they’re offering in type of washes and services available with that wash, and adjusting accordingly,” said Rob Deal, vice president of international and corporate sales for Innovative Control Systems (ICS). “We see real movement from the in-bay automatics, which don’t move a lot of cars, maybe 12 an hour, to a conveyor system, which can move 100 cars or more per hour. So, it’s growth by volume, not by sites — they’re looking at replacing an existing model with a new model.”

    While this transition requires more capital investment, plus the land necessary (65 feet minimum for an ideal conveyor environment, as well as a trench/underground installation of the system), the payback is typically more rapid. “The more volume you can put through, the faster you can pay back the investment required to do this,” according to Deal.

    Charlie Zimmerman, national sales manager for Genesis Modular Car Wash Building Systems, agreed that c-stores have embraced the “express model” and are building “short tunnels” to support the model. But he also cautioned that it must first be determined that the location has the space to produce the cars and warrant the investment.

    Aside from system type, upgrades in brushes and cloths are also part of the more professional car wash experience, and thus being considered by forward-thinking retailers.

    In conveyor washes, firmer synthetic filaments are appropriate for tires and wheels; soft cloth or gentle foam is better for the painted car body, where a softer approach is required to produce a shiny car, explained Dan Pecora, part-inventor, with his father, of the first exterior-only car wash in the 1960s and now owner of Erie Brush and Manufacturing Corp. in Chicago.

    “Tough cloth or tough foam might last a long time, but won’t clean the car’s nooks and crannies,” Pecora stated. “Soft cloth or gentle foam, when done correctly, is gentler on paint and will clean those hard-to-reach areas.”

    Furthermore, an exterior car wash using a high-quality “gentle foam” with smooth car wash equipment can reduce damage claims to near zero, while offering a better final polish, according to Pecora. Unlike typical foam, which is usually offered at standard levels of softness, gentle foam significantly increases the level of softness, he stated.

    For those c-stores that have an “automatic culture” and cannot afford or do not have the space and/or volume to upgrade to a conveyor system, there are still paths for improvement.

    “The successful ones are including more options like tire shine, hot wax and lava to their systems to compete with tunnel washes and increase revenue,” noted Zimmerman.

    Beyond increasing vehicle throughput, c-stores are also elevating their car washes by “adding free vacuums and creating loyalty- and incentive-based purchasing programs,” said Kevin Collette, vice president of sales, CTO (Compact Tunnel Organization) for Sonny’s Enterprise. Such sites are increasing their revenues and bottom lines by 300-400 percent, he cited.

    Utilizing customer information is imperative. Obtaining emails for marketing and monthly wash programs is another big way c-stores can boost business, Zimmerman advised.

    “We see coffee and food programs, apps and buying programs aimed at keeping and capturing c-store customers. These must be done with the car wash as well,” Collette concluded.

    By Renee M. Covino, Convenience Store News
    • About Renee M. Covino Contributing Editor Renée M. Covino is a veteran researcher, editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in the mass retail sector. Her articles and columns have appeared online and in print for dozens of industry trade magazines, newsletters, metro newspapers, Fortune 500 company reports and college textbooks. Covino is a self-named “store connoisseur” who not only writes about retail, but happily supports it.

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