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That’s entertainment! Operators win by enhancing the wash experience

Car wash is a highly competitive field. Operators battle on price, programs, and overall customer experience. Sites that succeed in this market have to go beyond the basics of clean tires and a spot-free finish to win and retain customer attention. To really keep customers coming back, you have to make the most of the overall experience. Where does your site stand as a source of ‘Wow!’?

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“Upping the experience is holistic, from the minute the consumer enters the site to the minute he/she leaves, everything in between forms part of creating the experience,” says Sylvain Blouin, originator of Alberta’s Rock-N-Wash and the operator of a new car wash site going up in Sherwood Park.

Blouin remarks that when he developed the Edmonton Rock-N-Washlocation, he had as many as 50 competitors in the area. To win over customers, he stepped up the entertainment level with a dedicated on-site radio station playing ’50s and ’60s classic hits, displays with coloured foams, and twinkling lights and themed secondary services such as a ’50s-style soda counter.

“Be creative, be different, you and only you know the location/market conditions of your wash facility. Have fun with it and make it fun for the consumers,” he says, adding that at the minimum the site offered music playing in the background, tri-colour foam brush and foam wax as well as pleasant scents in wash chemicals, and friendly interactive staff.

“Our slogan is ‘Revolutionizing the Car Wash Experience®’ so, creating a unique, fun experience truly begins during the design stage. We’ve planned this new facility to offer 12 different complementary services. Our Groovy Rock-N-Wash® fans will be able to enjoy any of our services and use one convenient loyalty payment method for everything and actually earn rewards,” he says. Blouin’s Groovy Rock-N-Wash will also be hosting weekly Cruise Nights. “Given our theme, there’s obviously going to be Rock’n Roll music playing inside and outside of our facility.”

According to Blouin, the new site will offer tri-colour foam, laser light show and lava soap/wax in the automatic. “Upstairs we will have a retro waiting lounge where consumers can relax while we detail their vehicles or celebrate birthday parties. The lounge is also where our Groovy Car Clubs meet for their monthly meetings. We’ll also maintain our online presence on several social media platforms and continue to interact and build relationships.”

Innovation drives market

Screen Shot 2019-09-12 at 3.39.24 PMManufacturers have been pushing the entertainment envelope for years with innovative lighting and chemical products. A leader is TSS, a company that has recently partnered with US-based National Carwash Solutions, a company with brands such as MacNeil and Ryco. TSS has announced Blaze FX, an in-wash lighting and arch display system that generates excitement with a holistic approach to engage the senses.

“When your wash site offers something amazing, people put this on social media and this drives business and loyalty within the younger demographic,” says TSS vice-president Bobby Jones. “There is so much disruption in the market, operators need an edge to stay in the game.”

 

Mikiz Pitt Stop dazzles the local market

A good example of a small operator that has stepped up their wash program is Mikiz Pittstop in Lunenburg, NS. Operators Alex and Mike Pittmanhave utilized their PDQ Laser 360 and tri-coloured foam applications to create a twilight laser wash entertainment feature. They report that this utilization of their wash equipment has created an entertainment draw that has families showing up for an evening drive through the facility before grabbing a quick dinner at the site’s small takeout café.

“I’m a fan of ’60s and ’70s culture, especially the cars, and this fits right in,” says Alex Pittmann. “People can now drop in during the evening for our Twilight Laser Wash, grab a quick bite and maybe wash the dog all at the same time. It’s a package where all the pieces fit together in a community where this is something new. It’s a small market and we took a bit if risk with the investment, but it’s paying off with customer support.

To a large extent the entertainment factor is the result of the creativity of operators and how they maximize entertainment opportunities using their equipment resources.  Here, Sylvain Blouin concludes, “Focus on the overall experience, and customers will come back over and over and over.”

 

U.S. example points to power in partnerships. Will we see this level of team play in Canada?

In the US, Northfield Park, Ohio, operator RockStop Gas & Wash is offering the ‘Vegas’ experience to its gas and fuel customers. The site, located about 30 kilometres between Akron and Cleveland, has partnered with the Hard Rock brand and offers a casino (Rocksino) and entertainment complex adjacent to its car wash, forecourt and c-store. The forecourt features Hard Rock-style lighting effects and LED TVs, which broadcast music videos and commercials. RockStop also delivers entertainment with a car wash with soundtracks for guests to enjoy and a full retail store including limited edition Hard Rock merchandise. RockStop also utilizes coloured foams, fruity scents and hard-driving tunes to keep customers thinking about the total experience available at the location, which is Ohio’s number one gaming destination.

This article originally appeared in the March/April issue of Octane. 

 


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Wash operators share 5 strategies to reduce staff turnover

Good hiring practices set the stage for employee retention

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Staff turnover is expensive. Operators who fail to hire and keep good employees can run heavy costs for recruitment, training and supports. According to Peoplekeep, a US-based benefits provider, the cost of replacing an employee is about 16% of annual salary in high-turnover, low-paying jobs where employees earn less than $30,000 a year. For instance, the cost to replace a full-time worker earning $10/hour is more than $3,300. 

Here are five tips to help stay on the right side of employment challenges.

 

  1. Thoughtful recruitment

    Have a solid hiring plan and stick to it. This includes a formal interview and hiring process. Go beyond simple basics—‘Can you wipe a car window?’ or ‘Can you work the POS system?’—and look for soft skills that will make a difference in customer experience. Is the applicant energetic? Does the applicant have good social skills? 

 

At Valet Car Wash, an Ontario-based multi unit operator, compliance and training manager Karen Smith sees recruiting as an ongoing process. “Even if you don’t have a position available, be prepared to find something if a ‘perfect’ applicant comes along.” She recruits through organizations, such as Second Chance in Guelph, Ont. and the YMCA, while using federal government programs to assist with training. 

Valet Car Wash also relies on Indeed, Facebook and word of mouth. “Friends tell friends if the employment environment is good,” she says adding that the company looks for employees with similar core values. “When the fit is there, retention is high. During our interview I tell applicants about Valet’s values and ask them to give two examples of core values they possess.”

Valet also works with local universities and colleges to post job openings on online career pages and the company has had some success with local high school co-op programs, resulting in hiring after the co-op term finished. “This includes students with disabilities, who have developed into valuable employees,” says Smith.

 

  1. Show, don’t tell

    When workers see management creating positive interactions with customers this goes a long way toward connecting the dots in an operation. The same is true of simple tasks that need to be done well. As part of an effort to get everyone on the same service page, management must be prepared to clean floors to demonstrate standards and techniques.

At Tony Heembrock’s Dreams Eco XPress Car Wash in Okotoks, AB, new staff participate in three four-hour introductory shifts to shadow a co-worker. “Then, new workers do a full shift with a supervisor. You can’t just let new people take on a roll in the business without meaningful supports. There is too much at stake,” says Heembrock, adding his company’s HR process has earned respect from workers, many of whom have been with the company since the beginning. 

 

  1. Set high standards for training

    Don’t wing it, instead be prepared with a full training and intake program that includes manuals and expectations regarding the job itself, as well as how workers should behave with one another: Negative employee interaction stands out as a leading cause of staff turnover. 

As well, your training program should take applicants to higher levels of understanding. Create a culture of success and support, and then follow through with on-going training to keep staff up-to-date regarding industry innovations, such as new chemicals and systems.

Heembrock uses a substantial employee handbook to clearly outline the job, performance expectations and details about the company. Dreams Eco Wash relies on suppliers to provide added information on new products and technical data for items, such as waxes. All the information is shared with staff.

 

  1. Think benefits

    It’s a competitive world and businesses that offer more to employees experience lower turnover. A good wage is a starting place, but benefits, including monthly prizes and recognition, as well as health plans, go a long way toward keeping workers happy at work. 

 

  1. Communicate with workers

    If you don’t ask, you don’t know. Conduct exit interviews to gather valuable information and help management get on the right track. Take this one step further by talking to satisfied workers to find out why they stay. Take the information and fine tune it as part of your employee retention plan. 

 

While Valet doesn’t do exit interviews with general labourers, they do so for managers and supervisors. Smith says this offers tremendous insight and helps shape how the company operates: “The goal is continuous improvement in everything we do.”


Fuel and wash sites embrace digital solutions

Screen Shot 2019-08-01 at 11.00.52 PMGlobal market analysts at Accenture recently looked at forecourt and the retail fuel sector to determine leading forces of change in the industry. Key among the discoveries is that digital systems provide the tools necessary to navigate the considerable changes impacting the forecourt and related services, such as car wash. 

Disruption is accelerating

In Fuel Retail Digital Survey 2018, authors Neale Johnson, managing director of Fuel Retail Europe, and Brian Gray, managing director of Retail Fuel North America, found that disruption to the market, from electric vehicles (EV), consumer behaviours and other factors, are accelerating.

Here in Canada, EV sales are moving forward at breakneck speed. In fact, sales have increased by more than 66% every year for the previous five years. These days about 8% of vehicle sales in Canada are electric.

The provinces and federal government are helping drive this change. For example, Quebec uses a quota system to push EV that requires auto dealers to sell a minimum percentage of EV or pay a penalty. British Columbia has recently expanded its zero emission vehicle policy to ensure that no gas-powered vehicles be sold in the province after 2040. Also, The federal government has increased its rebate program for electric vehicles.

Here, opportunities exist to develop more charging sites alongside traditional fueling centres.  Canada sports just 5850 EV charging stations, a number that shows fewer than one charging station for every 100-km of road across the country. The uptick is that with chargers taking about 30 minutes to juice electric vehicles, fuel centres have longer periods during which to sell convenience and culinary products.    

Commitments to digital investments

In the survey, 80% of respondents said they planned to make significant investments in digital solutions during the next five years. Operators said that these investments would allow them to better engage with customers and improve services. Investments include apps and POS systems to boost speed of service and enhance loyalty. Already we are seeing wash-site operators take up the digital challenge and run with it.

 For instance, Ontario-based operators such as Valet Car Wash and Klassic Car Wash have developed their own apps that are available via the App Store, Google Play and other sites. Users can load cash, activate washes, earn loyalty bonuses and explore other features. In the App store alone, there are more than 100 wash and fuel site operators, including Shell, McEwan Oil and Co-Op.

According to Mike Black of Valet Car Wash, Canada is more advanced than the U.S. when it comes to digital payment systems. He says that in the U.S. the wash business is 70% cash, with operators using coin boxes, while sites in Canada are exploring contactless payment, cards and apps.

At fueling sites, the coming fifth generation of Internet connectivity (5G) will bring huge enhancements to marketing and convenience at the pumps. Already auto manufacturers, such as Honda and Land Rover, have are installing features so that vehicles can facilitate payments for gas and other items. In Canada, our systems are not prepped for this activity and gas apps, including Shell and others, are not ready yet to perform purchase functions at the pumps. With 5G, however, everything is on the table, such as beacon technology delivering marketing messages to onboard visual displays and digital payment portals effortlessly taking payment.

Analytics enhances performance

With the increase in digital investment comes the ability to enhance analysis. Operators are now better able to predict customer behaviour thanks to sales tracking made easier through apps and POS tools. In wash systems, for instance, sensors now measure and work with electronic dispensers to more accurately deliver chemicals and water to the wash process. Operators are able to examine every stage of the system and fine tune for performance that can increase profits, as well as customer satisfaction.

At the forecourt, digital analytics creates greater efficiency in fuel delivery, margin control and staffing. And, the tools are all accessible remotely, allowing management to review and input from anywhere at anytime.

HIGHLIGHTS:

Digital maturity is the goal

The report emphasizes the need to continue investments in skills training, automation and partnerships. The authors say these are essential for operators to realize their digital aspirations. Already 42% of fuel operators report they are digital savvy and have launched systems to take advantage of the shifts in technology.

Better foundations needed to realize digital value

Fuel retailers may only be at the start of their journey, but they know where they are headed,says Accentures Brian Gray, adding that 75% of retailers surveyed saw digital systems as a major benefit to their business.   

 


Collision with vehicle in car wash claims life of Calgary gas bar owner

The owner of a Calgary gas station is dead after emergency authorities say it appears he was accidentally run over by a vehicle in the station’s car wash.

The 64-year-old man was pronounced dead at a Centex outlet in the city’s southwest around 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Police believe a driver intended to pull forward inside the car wash, but instead reversed and struck the owner.

The station remains closed while Occupational Health and Safety investigates.

The victim has not been identified and Centex Petroleum says in a statement that his family has requested privacy.

Company spokesman Shafiq Bhura says in an emailed statement to CTV News that the owner was a kind gentlemen whom he had known for a number of years.

“We are deeply saddened and heartbroken and are doing our best to support his family through this difficult time,” said Bhura.


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Make CleanTouch FX your competitive advantage

 

Photo Jun 24, 2 57 12 PMCleanTouch FX is a revolutionary car wash experience that combines our proven wash formulas with lighting and marketing support to turn an ordinary operation into a spectacular display of colour, sound, scent and motion.

See customer loyalty, ticket averages and profits increase when you add this show-stopping display to your wash site. Each step of the FX experience is designed to wow customers while providing an unparalleled clean to the vehicles. Take your car wash to the next level with CleanTouch FX!

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Mikiz Pitt Stop: Small market, big service

Lunenburg family takes the local car wash market to a new level

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Operator Alex Pittman          Photo: Peter Zwicker

In October 2017 Lunenburg, Nova Scotia got an upgrade when Mikiz Pitt Stop opened  to deliver a multi-service site with self-service wash bay, tunnel wash, doggy wash, and detailing centre. This year they added a convenient takeaway restaurant to the mix making this location a rare find in the historic community of 2,250 people on the province’s south shore.

Mikiz is operated by Alex Pittman and father Mike alongside mother Izilda and wife Jamie-Lee. The Pittmans are Lunenburg natives who knew a great idea when it came along. Alex had been operating a detailing centre for the past decade and recognized the opportunities available to those with the right location and equipment. So, a couple of years ago he and the family took the plunge and created a plan for a multi-service site where each part supports the next.

A destination wash site

 “A couple can come in and while one washes the car in the tunnel the other can take the dog over to the dog wash for a quick bath, and then they can both stop for a quick bite at the restaurant,” says Alex. “We have become a destination where people can obtain several types of service in a convenient setting and then go about the rest of their day. We save time and take the hassle out of keeping up appearances by helping to keep vehicles – and dogs – looking great.”

 Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 11.47.58 AMAccording to Alex, they are fortunate to be located on a site that is close to both key tourist areas as well as prime local attractions. “We are just 500 ft. from old Lunenburg and very close to the hockey arena, curling club and school, so our visibility is greatly maximized. Everybody knows who we are and where to find us,” he says.

 Mikiz turned to Maritime Car Wash in Elmsdale, NS for installation of water systems, wand-wash and PDQ’s Laser 360 in the tunnel. “I did a lot of research before committing to any equipment type. We like the smooth operation and the ample pressure offered by the Laser 360 and it gives a great show as well,” says Alex, mentioning Mikiz’s Twilight Laser Wash that has become a popular after-dinner attraction in the community.

Says Gord Ryan, president of Maritime Car Wash Sales and Service, Alex went for a lot of upgrades to the basic package. “The folks at Mikiz Pittstop went out of their way to create something great for the community,” he notes, adding that Alex chose Extreme Shine, Over Glow, Gatling Guns for the wheel, tire and rocker-panel areas, Tri-Colour Foam Wax, Rain X and Undercoating. Mikiz also uses state-of-the-art Zep chemicals in the wand wash, detail site as well as the tunnel, making Mikiz the only operation in Atlantic Canada to do so.

 Alex mentions that as good as the Laser 360 is, it still requires fine tuning and maintenance like all other wash systems. “You have to stay on top of equipment and put a regular maintenance program into play to get the most out of any system you install,” he says. He has a lot of experience with machinery such as vintage cars, but an illness saw him wake up one morning several years ago to discover complete permanent blindness, a fact that has only slowed him marginally. “I’m fortunate to have great staff who know their stuff,” he says, pointing to Logan, Heather and Jackie, who all work in the operation and keep things running smoothly. “I don’t tend to take just one person’s advice either. My experience tells me its best to listen to wide range of opinion and then wade through the clutter.”

Opportunity knocks

 The idea from the outset was to create a business that was easily understood by the public and utilized previous experience. “I’ve been involved with vintage cars for years and so the detailing business was a good first step,” he says, adding that he has been in this end of the trade for over a decade. “There was a need for more car care facilities in the community and we were ready to offer this service. We have a lot of older residents and there is some money in the town that is a centre of tourism. We could see there was a good opportunity.”

Today, Mikiz Pitt Stop is slammed with business for the tunnel and self-wash with the single bay detail centre handling about 1.5 cars a day with a premium service that can top $300 per car. He saw the Doggy Wash as a natural add-on to a business that is all about water and clean. Alex looked to BC-based Furever Clean for their K9000 dog wash system. “We have a lot of dogs here in Lunenburg and the people who own them have welcomed this service. It’s fast, easy on pets and keeps the facility clean with a second generation drainage system and three-part filtration system which ensures a hair-free and water-free floor. Mikiz Doggy Wash offers shampoo, flea treatment and conditioning as well as blow dry for just $10 for a 10-minute session.

The wand wash equipment came from Winnipeg-based Magikist through Maritime Sales and Service. According to Alex, the wand wash section offers about 15% of the site’s business. They installed Magikist’s Easy Pull wand and foam brush as well as vacuum and water flow system. The self-clean site uses warm filtered water for the best clean and then offers an Armor All vending centre to help optimize the final appearance. Here customers can pick up a drying chamois for $1 or Armor All Lemon Wipes for the interior ($2) or Armor All specialty wipes for the exterior trim ($2). 

 Marketing drives business

 Mikiz also drives business through a variety of marketing efforts. For example, customers might receive a free ice cream, a doggy wash or other products like a fee car wash in what Alex calls Pitt Stop Give-A-Ways, a program that gets people trying out the services. Mikiz offers loadable gift cards as well. “We also give free ‘merch’ to our detailing customers. These include things like hats with our logo. We are also involved in local car shows where we can heighten our profile with the vintage car crowd as well as the general public.” 

 When it comes to water use Alex suggests no amount of attention is equal to the importance of this key aspect of vehicle wash. “In the past, people on the coast were very loose on pollution standards. Water waste and effluent were just sent out to sea. We could see right off that we could do better,” he says. Alex and his team looked to Maritime for a specialty tank that takes all used water through a 12-step process. “We can reuse almost all of the water that goes through the system with only a small portion being sent off as grey water effluent. I could have gone with a less powerful system, but this was a personal choice and one I’m glad I made.”

Alex mentions that he is also very pleased with the new takeaway restaurant. “It’s small, but serves the need,” he says. The new facility is just 30-ft. by 30-ft. and can accommodate 10 people on the patio. Menu is classic fare with shakes and burgers, hot dogs and fries topping the list. “I’m a fan of ’60s and ’70s culture, especially the cars, and this fits right in. People can now drop in during the evening for our Twilight Laser Wash, grab a quick bite and maybe wash the dog all at the same time. It’s a package where all the pieces fit together in a community where this is something new. It’s a small market and we took a bit if risk with the investment, but it’s paying off with customer support. People appreciate the time saving and we appreciate their business.”


Wash operators compete by adding value

Canadians are keeping their cars longer and this is good news for wash operators looking to diversify their services. The average age of a car on Canada’s roads is beyond 11 years and those who are buying new vehicles are holding onto them longer before trading them in. We are also spending more on routine maintenance with annual averages running around $700 per vehicle. This means services such as tire rotation and glass repair as well as lube and oil change are perfect fits for sites that seek to grow revenue.

Industry reports show that customers spend on average more than $50 per vehicle for lube service, and sites see around 1,200 jobs per month at multi-door operations. Typically, lube and glass operations are tied to detail and hand wash centres where customers expect to leave vehicles for care.     

Popular Car Wash lives up to its name

Screen Shot 2019-06-11 at 10.12.28 AMIn Etobicoke, Popular Car Wash has been making a name for itself since 2011 with a wide range of services that include lube and oil change, window tinting and repair, full detailing service, tire shop, and rust proofing. The business started out as a regular full-service tunnel car wash with a 110-foot tunnel (West Mall) and a 135-ft. tunnel (Rexdale Blvd.) and then branched out to offer complementary services to drive revenue. “When we opened the lube shop we found we were doing 400 cars a month with no advertising,” says owner Jolly Thind. The exposure offered by a steady car wash trade was all it took to attract these customers to its secondary services. “We are seeing numbers grow and we are very busy as a result,” he says, adding that they will be adding two more sites this year to create a local chain of four locations.

Thind reports that it’s really all about creating customer relationships and offering services that contribute to greater convenience. “Once people discover all the things we can do for them, they become our loyal customers, and we find the person who uses the lube service also is interested in rust protection or window tinting. The car wash is the draw to get people onto the site. Once we have them, we can suggest other services such as new tires or brake repair.”

Popular Car Wash is seeing gains in rust proofing. The centre offers Corrosion FREE rust proofing products that are a clean, clear and drip-free lubricant gel. “Numbers are growing for this service because only Canadian Tire offers anything similar in our market area.”

Making a big splash

Splashes in Whiterock, B.C. has exceeded customer expectations with a slate of five services to complement their WhiteWater car wash, a site custom built and patented by Splashes. The wash is a flat deck conveyor-fed touchless system that uses robotic profiling to maximize clean on vehicle surfaces. The facility, owned and operated by Greg Horton and Ryan Oliver, opened in 2008.

According to Splashes manager Saskia Goodacre, autoglass is their most profitable service. The site offers window tinting as well as a full windshield replacement and repair service. “We are located in the South Surrey Automall, and as such we have good exposure to new and used car buyers, and we do work for the dealers in the mall,” she says, noting that the close proximity to dealer service centres had them decide not to offer oil change.

Splashes’ list of services includes Armaguard protective coatings and packages such as rust protection and undercoating, windshield tinting and full autoglass repair, the X-Kote paint renewal system as well as their tunnel wash and full detailing service. They also sell and install car bras, roof racks and cargo boxes. Goodacre reports that the range of services has seen the business grow steadily. “Five years ago, we had about 20 people on staff. Today we have 40,” she says, remarking that the business is very labour-intensive.

Great Canadian Oil Change beats the competition

Great Canadian Oil Change set up shop three years ago in Terrace, BC, and has become a strong competitive force in the town’s vehicle care sector. According to Grant MacDonald, lead hand at the site, the location’s PDQ LaserWash 360 system delivers three wash packages to customers who come in for lubricants. Oil change clients receive $5 off any package. “Car wash is really the leading service, especially in the summer. But, oil change is now starting to pick up thanks to things like brand awareness and our highly visible location, which is just off Main Street.” He reports that space is a challenge at the current site, so they are a bit hamstrung in terms of adding new services. However, they are considering upping the ante at the wash by adding music to a package that already uses coloured foams and lava as well as the PDQ LaserWash 360’s lighting array.

As Jolly Thind of Popular Car Wash says, “The more services you can offer a customer, the more you increase the level of convenience. Greater convenience creates loyalty and gives you an edge in the market.”


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