C-stores Should Borrow These Pro Car Wash Practices

NATIONAL REPORT — Imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also be a wise business move. Take, for instance, convenience store car washes. What better way to improve service than to imitate a few moves from the pros?

Evaluating the overall business, it helps to recognize what most separates the way a professional car wash service is run vs. the way a c-store car wash service is run.

A retail professional car wash typically generates all of its income from washing cars, so the process of cleaning cars gets 100-percent focus from the owner/operator.

“Wash quality is constantly monitored, and problems are caught early and addressed immediately,” said Steve Robinson, vice president of marketing for Mark VII Equipment Inc., a provider of vehicle washing equipment and car wash technology.

What’s more, the main focus of the professional car wash today is based largely on the customers’ experience — “making it fast, convenient and even entertaining, with high-quality LED signage and lighting packages that combine with specialty chemical packages to not only produce clean, dry and shiny cars, but also enhance the wash experience with vibrant colors and pleasing scents,” said Kevin Collette, vice president of sales and CTO (Compact Tunnel Organization) for Sonny’s Enterprises Inc., manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts and supplies.

Additionally, many professional car washes invest in a high-quality central vacuum system that’s offered to all customers as “free vacs.” These are seen as professional, easily accessible, and are a huge traffic-builder magnet, according to Collette.

In contrast, convenience stores have many product categories competing for the attention of the owner/operator, meaning wash quality may not be monitored as closely. “If it’s not, wash quality will deteriorate over time and dissatisfied customers will look elsewhere to get their cars washed,” said Robinson. “This can be easily avoided with a conscious effort by the owner/operator to monitor wash quality, ensure preventive maintenance is performed, and quickly resolve any issues that arise.”

More specifically, here are top operational practices that c-stores can “borrow” from professional car wash businesses, according to supplier experts:

Inspect the bay several times daily. Ensure that it is clean and inviting for customers. “Clean up any debris in the bay and make sure doors, lighting and customer signage are in good condition and working order,” said Robinson. Also, make sure disposal cans are emptied and the vacuum area is inviting, added Collette, and check that the signage is current and easy to follow.

Run test washes every day to assess wash quality. “If there’s an issue, contact your service provider to have it addressed immediately, before it leads to downtime and costly repairs,” Collette advises.

Invest in dedicated car wash staff. Having staff with specific job duties designed to ensure the car wash is running at optimal levels every hour that it is open will mimic a professional car wash, according to Collette.

Consider your point-of-sale system. Do you have state-of-the-art POS equipment that allows customers to pay easily and upgrade easily beyond the average ticket sale?

Make a chemical and equipment check. “Wash chemicals have to be applied properly and consistently, while teaming with the cleaning equipment, to provide a fast, safe, clean, dry and shiny car,” said Collette. Investments in equipment and in your wash tunnel that allow for wash demand to be captured is key.

Look in the April issue of Convenience Store News for more car wash best practices.