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01/17/2022

Innovations in car wash vacuum systems drive customer satisfaction 

The self-service vacuum system is often the last thing a customer remembers before they leave a site: Create a positive impression.
Kelly Gray
Editor, Octane
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Person paying coins to self service automatic car vacuum machine. cleaning concept.
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Great vacuum systems make for happy car wash customers. Poor suction, noisy machines, and payment challenges are just some of the complaints customers level at wash site management. Like a good cup of coffee after a delicious meal at a restaurant, the self-service vacuum system is often the last thing a customer remembers before they leave a site. If the system is poor, needs repair or is challenging with hoses that don’t reach, it doesn’t matter how good the tunnel or wand wash might be. The customer leaves disappointed and may never return.

At Mississauga, Ont.-based Klassic Car Wash on Derry Road, its customers come in for the vacuums, but stay for the wash. The site offers a 13-position vacuum plaza that is free for customers to use. The site uses Vacutech, a well-known solution provider to the car wash industry. The central vacuum system on offer at Klassic delivers a range of options to enhance car wash capabilities. For example, configurations allow for multiple vacuum hose locations on each side of the vehicle, overhead piping and hose management, wet and dry solutions for cleaning floors and seats, and tools for cleaning all vehicle areas. It’s reasons such as these that earned Klassic Best Car Wash accolades from the media for the past 10 years.

Innovating to meet challenges 

Vacuum equipment manufacturers have been innovating to help operators meet customer service challenges. One company that is offering a unique program is AIR-serv. One of the world’s largest suppliers of on-site vacuum and tire inflation equipment with more than 80,000 units globally (6,000 gas station locations in Canada), AIR-serv partners with local and national charities through its Air for Charity program. Under the program, equipment site locations contribute up to 20% of vacuum and inflator revenue back to needy organizations. One example of vacs giving back is Petro-Canada where vacuum services have been paired with Canada’s Olympic and Paralympics teams under the AIR-serv Canada/Petro-Canada Tire Inflator Program.

With more loyalty programs and app features now available, the industry will see more operators utilizing points for payment on vacuum systems and using digital payments as the way to go overall. For example, AIR-serv has been offering Flash Pay on its equipment as a nod to greater convenience. At my neighbourhood Petro-Canada car wash, I place the wash ticket bar code up to the Flash reader on the AIR-serv vacuum unit to obtain eight minutes of complimentary service. 

Vacuum manufacturers have worked to reduce cash-on-site issues, such as coin-box theft. For instance, Kleen-Rite offers a high-security coin and bill collector that utilizes seven-gauge reinforced steel to keep money away from thieves. AIR-serv has developed a concrete coin vault to help limit this expensive problem where criminals rip the coinbox off the wall or the machine.

According to the Canadian Carwash Association (CCA), wear and tear on vacuum systems occurs most often when the system is on.  A pay box protects the vacuum equipment and dramatically extends its lifespan, says the association, pointing out that free vacuums have high usage and stay running for longer periods. When usage is limited by a paybox and timer system, breakdowns become less frequent and vacuums become cheaper to maintain.

On the flip side, the CCA points to the positives of free vacuum service. They note that car washes with free vacuums consistently attract more notice, draw in more traffic, and expose more customers to the car wash itself. Indeed, many wash owners report a 20% uptick in memberships and wash sales with the introduction of free vacuums. And, with a no-charge vacuum program, coin boxes and their challenges become a thing of the past.

When it comes to new maintenance features, AVW deserves the spotlight with their new Dirtbag option. This option is a pre-filter attachment that grabs dirt and debris before they reach the vacuum filter. This system works to extend the life of motors and greatly reduces clogging. The company reports the product reduces maintenance time by half and extends the life of the entire system.

NCS division Vacutech has come forward with innovations on its vacuum delivery arches. Vacutech’s Rival Arch accommodates continuous hard canopies for complete weather coverage and protection while customers vacuum. The Rival Arch also supports solar panels (not manufactured by Vacutech) to allow wash sites to collect power for things such as lighting. Vacutech's Sentinel Arch is designed to help operators stand out from their competitors with innovative styling. Sentinel Arch utilizes a fabric covering. Both models offer an above-head debris separator. This separator makes searches for items lost during vacuuming or a unit clean-up as easy as opening the access door and letting dirt and debris fall into trash receptacles.