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Putting on the shine with car wash chemicals

Invest in new soaps and coatings to bring an added sparkle to cars and your bottom line.
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Car Coming Out of Car Wash
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Successful car wash operators focus on creating awareness and branding the car wash experience for customers.

Some of that focuses on the ‘aesthetics’ of the car wash experience, from the actual physical location of the operations— design of the buildings and vacuum areas, interior and exterior lighting and signage—to fun bells and whistles, such as music, coloured foam etc. However, another key component is investing in advanced car wash chemistries to improve the overall wash of a vehicle.

“Then there is the visual elements, such as seeing that a thick foam is being used on your car…as well the special cleaning solutions you asked for…and in the last while we have been getting into using multiple-step cleaning processes from the traditional two-step processes,” says Tim Walker, president and co-founder of Hamilton, Ont.-based Soapy Brushy, a full-service car wash consultancy and brand strategy provider for the car wash industry in Canada.

Because at the end of the day, what you are providing to vehicle owners (and what it is they want to see) is a clean, dry and shiny car.

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Vehicle with Soap Cleaner
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A better wash for a better shine

Larry Azevedo, chemical field operations manager at Mark VII Equipment Inc., a provider of car wash solutions and chemicals in North America, says a regular car wash routine is vital to maintaining a vehicle. While it was once more common, surveys done by the car wash industry find that people are not washing their vehicles as often as before (budget restraints and economic uncertainty are no doubt playing a role) sometimes going weeks at a time between washes.

“These ‘maintenance washes’ as we sometimes call them, need to be done frequently enough to maintain and protect the vehicle,” he says. “When a person washes their vehicle often, and applies the right protectors to their vehicle, they will see a true difference.”

That is why today’s soaps and presoak chemicals, as well as additional treatments, are being formulated to do a better job in removing accumulated grime and dirt from the vehicles. Along with more advanced paint protection, this helps ensure the exterior of one’s vehicle maintains its showroom shine, and overall appearance for those longer periods between washes.

READ: Mark VII Equipment appoints Uwe Scharfy as new CEO

Rob Raskell, director of national sales with Sonny’s Chemistry by Diamond Shine, says the trend today with cleaner and treatments has been to concentrate them more so they perform better and for a car wash operation to be able to charge a bit more for a wash, as they can position these better products as an added value to the vehicle owner.

“There are a lot of extra services you can add onto a wash to add value for the vehicle owner who comes to you,” Raskell says. “While we talk a lot about the cleaning side, we should also remember the second part of the wash experience and that is the shine and drying.”

The evolution of clean

For a while, waxes were all the rage in the car wash industry, then there came a shift to ceramics, which, according to Raskell, proved a step-up from traditional waxes.

Ceramics caught everyone's attention, as they added an extra layer of protection to a vehicle’s exterior, protecting against the effects of oxygen, water, acids, bases, and salts—all those things that over time tend to take away the shine and finish of a vehicle. Another benefit of ceramic is they are highly hydrophobic, meaning that they are great at repelling water. So, when a car comes out at the end of a wash, any remaining water will bead on the surface and slide right off, adding the effect of an ultra-clean car with a quality finish.

Raskell says today the industry has moved to graphene, which provides an additional level of clarity and gloss to a vehicle’s surface when it comes out of the wash, such as that provided by the Sonny’s Graphene Xtreme solution

FUN FACT: According to CoStar Group data and B+E research, the car wash market is projected to reach US$68.9 billion by 2031, expanding globally at a CAGR of 6.7% between 2023 and 2031.

For those who like a bit of technical data, graphene is a single layer (monolayer) of carbon atoms, tightly bound in a hexagonal honeycomb lattice, and is more specifically, an allotrope of carbon in the form of a plane of sp2-bonded atoms with a molecular bond length of 0.142 nanometers.

Beyond the technical jargon above, the difference between ceramic and graphene comes down to this: Ceramic coating, while still excellent and desired by many, provides excellent UV and environmental protection to automotive surfaces. Graphene is better in that it is tougher and provides a higher level of sealing and protection to the vehicle’s surface.

Kelly Maria, vice-president of chemical and service operations for North American with Mark VII, says that when it's graphene infused GraphiteGuard is paired with ShineTecs, the combination creates layer of protection that fills in micro-scratches on a vehicle and gives a vehicle a real shine that lasts longer than other conventional treatments.

“When I add that to my car and take it home, I get people coming to me and saying how much they like the shine on my car and ask where I got it done,” she says. “When I have the car at home in the garage and open the garage door and look at my car as the sun is coming up, I’m just ‘Wow. This really makes a difference.’”

Selling added value

And it is that difference that will make the upsell to a more premium wash using these newer cleaners and treatments easier for the car wash operation. As Michael Howe, general manager with WashLinks, says, you need to offer something more to justify a higher price, especially as car wash operations are often raising their wash rates to cover the increasing costs of running the operations (not to mention the price increases on everything due to inflation).

“You are concerned that if you increase your prices, you are going to drive a customer away, who are going to say they can no longer afford to wash their car,” Howe adds. “So as a car wash owner, you are looking for products to add to your mix that you can justify saying to that customer, ‘I’m giving you a better value. I can give you a cleaner car. I’m going to make it ‘pop.’ Or I’m going to give you a better cleaning package for a little bit more. The customer does not want to feel they are being slighted or gouged. So, these new products make an upsell easier.”

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