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11/30/2021

The Champagne of car washes

Edmonton’s sparkling new Bubbles Car Wash & Detail Centre takes service to new heights.
Kelly Gray
Editor, Octane
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The customer waiting lounge.
The customer waiting lounge. (Photos: Supplied)

Bubbles is big. Not only is the 10-group chain the largest full-service car wash company in Canada, but its new two-storey Edmonton facility at 6231 Andrews Loop SW is among the largest in the country. Important, says Bubbles Car Wash and Detail Centre COO Natasha Toffoli, is that everything, including vacuums, is now inside. “It gets cold here, and this all-interior service greatly adds to the comfort of our guests and team members.”

The new 23,000-sq.-ft. location, opened to the public June 5, 2021, features a 7,500-sq.-ft. detail shop with 12 bays on the second level and a ground floor 100-ft. PECO tunnel to complete the service-heavy package. While services are being performed, customers have the option to wait in the site’s high-style lounge area. Here, customers can relax with a Nespresso or cold drink and watch the action while vehicles get cleaned. Natasha reports that each location offers customers a well-appointed lounge to kick back, but the new Andrews Loop site has taken design and comfort to the next level. Inside, guests find WiFi, television, fireplace, as well as a selection of air fresheners and other products. Bubbles distributes its own brand of fresheners, as well as offering Areon fresheners from Europe. “We attended Car Wash Show Europe and saw this line. We were attracted by the quality and selection, so we brought it in for the Canadian market,” she says.   

Toffoli’s father, Silvio Toffoli, started Bubbles Car Wash and Detail Centres 40 years ago. His idea was to focus on the guest experience, an aspect of the business that is still front and centre at each location. Vehicle wash packages include hand wash and dry even with the tunnel. Prices start at $19.95 for a Bubbles exterior wash, with services as much as $1,000 for the top comprehensive detailing package.  From shampoo services to rid the carpets of dirt and salt, to deep cleaning and conditioning of leather seats, there is a service fit for just about every vehicle cleaning need. They specialize in paint decontamination, correction and protection, and offer GT Quartz nano-ceramic coating (to transform the depth, colour and shine of vehicle surfaces to deliver superior, long-lasting protection. (They even detail boats.)  

"We have a team at the front end of the tunnel that pressure wash and hand wash to remove any film before the vehicle goes into the tunnel. At the tunnel end, we air and towel dry,” she says, mentioning that through the winter months, they air dry all locks, latches and door seals as well as treat the lock mechanisms with a de-icing agent. “It is all about the details, and we work at getting at the little things like side-view mirrors and bumper steps. By having staff hand clean and dry, nothing is left off, and our customers are happy,” she says, mentioning that their level of service is what makes them stand out in the local markets they serve (Calgary, Edmonton, St Albert, Kelowna, and Sherwood Park).  

Bubbles employ a team of 250 workers across ten outlets. “We need about 20 members at each site to offer our signature service. And, we train all our guest experience personnel in customer relations. This training includes greeters, quality control staff, and car delivery personnel as well as others who have direct contact with our customers.” According to Toffoli, the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered their ability to hire and recruit new staff. “We were closed for eight weeks at the beginning of the pandemic. When we reopened, it was hard to get some of our people to return and continue to face staffing shortages like many other service businesses,” she says, mentioning that locations are on reduced hours to accommodate the lower number of workers. 

Water is another important component of the wash. Bubbles use only freshwater for the car wash. At the chain's locations, they reclaim reject water from the softeners and reverse osmosis water (RO) to flush the track and trenches to keep the entire system as grit-free as possible. According to Toffoli, the system is scheduled to flush every 15 minutes and can be adjusted depending on the season. They utilize RO water and a softener on the final rinse.

Across the chain, the equipment mix is largely the same with PECO tunnels (Bubbles is a distributor for PECO Car Wash Systems) and detailing operations. Traditionally, staff take the car from each customer on arrival. But, with COVID presenting challenges, Bubbles introduced an optional drive-thru tunnel service that allows people to stay in their vehicles to limit exposure. Customers still get a high level of exterior attention with front-end and blower-side crews working on the details. For those who prefer to wait in the lounge with a coffee in hand, cars glide past window walls while tunnel mechanicals perform undercoats, Rain X applications, Clear Coat and Wheel Blaster functions.

While Bubbles offers no loyalty programs, they do offer three monthly subscription tiers for unlimited car cleaning. Subscription packages start at $59.99 for the Silver package with unlimited hand wash and dry. The Gold package is $74.99 and features unlimited hand wash and dry, as well as a Clear Coat, foam polish and underbody rinse. The top tier is Bubbles’ Platinum package at $84.99 that adds Rain X and tire dressing to the mix.

“We are not solely focused on volume at Bubbles. Rather, we try to maximize on the additional services and the quality of these services we sell to each customer,” says Toffoli, reporting that they are in development of another site in Calgary and will be introducing the Bubbles brand to Saskatoon shortly thereafter.